Piller endures the disappointment of defeat

By Jay CoffinAugust 21, 2016, 12:53 am

RIO DE JANEIRO – Gerina Piller signed her scorecard, did a couple brief television interviews and ducked outside the ropes to receive comfort from her parents.

The day didn’t go anything like Piller envisioned, and she just wanted a few moments to get over her disappointment in private.

That task wasn’t so simple.

Fans wanted autographs. Some wanted photos with the woman who had America’s best chance to track down Inbee Park for a gold medal at the start of the day. So Piller, nicely, sweetly, wiped away tears and did her damnedest to give them all what they wanted.

Then she looked toward her mother, Rita, and stepfather, Alan Stevenson. Rita threw her arm around Gerina. Alan, a strapping man, softly held Gerina’s hand and the family wandered off to a quiet area near the clubhouse.

No words were spoken. None were necessary.

“What would you say?” Rita said to reporters who asked.

There was pain. There was hurt. But mostly, there was love.

It was a powerful moment.

Gerina began the day within two shots of the lead at the Olympics, an event she’s watched passionately for two decades. She’s never won a professional tournament and this one was within reach. Hey, even if a victory wasn’t in the offing, a medal for a top-three finish seemed highly likely.

None of the above happened.

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Piller got off to a shaky start, rebounded but eventually missed key putts down the stretch and shot 74 to miss the podium by four shots.

“We’re heartbroken with her,” Stevenson said, himself struggling to hold back tears. “We’re just as emotional as she is, because she’s our daughter and we care about her. We want what she wants but some days you don’t get that.”

This seemed like it finally was going to be the day Piller was going to get what she wanted. Only four days prior she sat in front of assembled media from all over the world and was brought to tears when asked what it would mean to win a gold medal for the red, white and blue.

Piller, 31, played progressively better over the first three days. A third-round 68 in blustery conditions that produced winds of over 30 mph was one of the best rounds of the week. It allowed her to join Park and Ko in the last grouping on the last day with history on the line.

To add to the dramatics, Martin Piller, Gerina’s husband, had missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship on Friday, meaning he’ll have to go through the Web.com Tour Finals in order to secure his PGA Tour card for next season.

Throw all those elements into one neat package and the stage was set.

But the emotions, which Gerina said she would use to her advantage on the eve of the final round, got the best of her.

“I didn’t even think I had a chance to be here, so to come and to be in contention is all I can really ask for,” she said. “Just going to learn from it and move on."

Just five weeks ago Piller wasn’t on this U.S. Olympic team. A player must be ranked inside the top 15 of the world rankings to qualify and Piller had hovered just outside that mark all summer. Finally, at the U.S. Women’s Open, the last tournament before the Olympic field was set, Piller shot a final-round 70 to tie for eighth place. The result vaulted her barely inside the qualification line.

To put it lightly, the last month has been a roller coaster of emotions for Piller and her family.

“The thing about Gerina in her heart, she’ll keep coming back,” Stevenson said. “She’ll keep showing up, she’ll step up on the tee box and keep swinging at it. She wants to win. Someday she will win. Today wasn’t that day, but she competed and she put her heart and soul into it.”

Said fellow American Stacy Lewis: “Gerina is going to get over this hump pretty soon. She needs the experience of being in these final groups. It’s a different pressure and it’s a different mentality, especially when you have Inbee that’s going crazy. She’s got the game and she’ll get there soon.”

Piller does have the game, that’s the thing. This isn’t a player who just isn’t good enough to close the deal. Sure, the emotions got the best of her this time, but she has eight top-10 finishes on the LPGA this season and is 13th in earnings.

She’s also the single biggest reason why the U.S. defeated Europe last year in the Solheim Cup in Germany. With the cup on the line, Piller drained a key 8-foot par putt to defeat Caroline Masson late in Sunday singles. If she had missed that putt, Europe would’ve won for the third consecutive time.

“It’s tough, just because there’s just so much on the line with golf being back in the Olympics for the first time,” Piller said.

Stevenson matter-of-factly said that his family, Gerina in particular, is not defined by winning or losing, trophies or medals.

“We care about it, that’s why we’re here, that’s why we compete,” he said. “It does break our hearts to see her hurt, but we know that life is bigger than golf. You can learn a lot of life through golf.”

Piller plans to stick around Rio for another couple days and will walk in the Closing Ceremony since she wasn’t able to walk in the opening festivities two weeks ago. She’s bound to feel more emotions – both happy and sad – just like the ones she experienced over the last four days on the golf course.

As the day was drawing to a close, Piller had collected her belongings and had just stepped outside the clubhouse. She was asked one last time if she could attempt to explain what happened during the final round.

Tears began to fall. She couldn’t speak. She was spent.

Piller then looked at Rita and Alan for comfort, just as she had 20 minutes earlier. It was time to leave.

“She’ll shake it off, she’ll be fine,” Martin Piller told reporters in North Carolina. “She ain’t going to let it bother her.”

Her family will make sure that it doesn’t.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.