U.S. rises above controversy to win Solheim Cup

By Jay CoffinSeptember 20, 2015, 6:50 pm

ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – Does the comeback ever happen without the controversy? It’s a key question that can never truly be answered although the two episodes forever will be linked.

Both the U.S. and Europe woke up early Sunday to complete three fourball matches at the Solheim Cup with the plan of moving quietly on to singles matches. That itinerary quickly came to a crashing halt.

Suzann Pettersen found herself smack in the middle of a nasty controversy that seemingly provided a huge spark to the Americans, resulting in one of the most interesting days in the history of women’s golf.

In the end, the U.S. staged a Brookline-type Ryder Cup effort by erasing a 10-6 deficit to win, 14½ to 13½, at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club. The Americans won 8½ of 12 singles points to record the biggest comeback in Solheim Cup history.

To think, four years ago, on the eve of Sunday singles in Ireland, many of the headlines screamed that the biennial matches were bordering on irrelevant. Europe staged a great comeback to win those matches, then dominated the Americans on U.S. soil two years ago to hand the red, white and blue a second consecutive defeat.

Now this.

With a crucial point up for grabs in the morning, Pettersen and Charley Hull were all square with Alison Lee and Brittany Lincicome on the 17th hole. Lee missed an 8-footer for birdie to win the hole then scooped up the ball that was 18 inches past the hole. Pettersen contends that Lee’s putt wasn’t conceded and the Americans lost the hole, and ultimately, the match.

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Social media went berserk. Pettersen didn’t back down. It was ugly.

“It was very clear from Charley and me that we wanted to see the putt at the time of play,” Pettersen said. “With Alison being kind of the only one left of the two on the hole, that was clearly a putt we wanted to see.”

U.S. captain Juli Inkster was miffed.

“It’s just B.S. as far as I’m concerned,” Inkster said. “It’s just not right. It puts a damper on the whole thing.”

Lee, a 20-year-old Solheim Cup rookie, was caught in the crossfire and, although she did break a rule, she believes the whole situation was avoidable and insists she heard someone tell her the putt was conceded.

“Obviously I was really flustered,” she said. “I had a lot of different emotions going through my body. I was really disappointed, also, because I really wanted to make that point. Not because of what Suzann did, but because I thought Brittany (Lincicome) and I had played so well.”

Long-time European Solheim Cup stalwart Laura Davies, in Germany commentating for British television, did not mince words regarding her former teammate.

“She’s been very unsporting,” Davies said about Pettersen. “We’ve got the point, but they’ve got the moral high ground.

“She’s let herself down and certainly let her team down. I’m so glad I’m not on that team this time.”

Then, the Americans went on a tear that the previous 13 versions of the Solheim Cup have never seen.

When Anna Nordqvist beat Stacy Lewis, Europe had collected 13½ points and only needed another half point to retain the cup. Americans Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer each comfortably led their respective matches on the back nine.

Only the Gerina Piller-Caroline Masson match and the Angela Stanford-Suzann Pettersen match hung in the balance.

Piller made bogey on the 17th hole and took a 1-up advantage to the final hole. Masson, playing in her native Germany, hit her approach to 10 feet. Piller’s approach slid right of the green and into nasty, gnarly rough. Piller’s chip shot landed just inside Masson’s ball. Masson missed the birdie putt, Piller drained the par putt to earn a full point for the U.S. and the Solheim Cup still was up for grabs. If Masson makes her birdie, Europe retains.

“If I don’t make this, we lose,” Piller said. “As much as you practice it at home or as a kid, it’s just not the same, obviously. I just can’t believe I made that putt.”

Added Morgan Pressel: "Watching Gerina make that putt  the most clutch putt I've ever seen in my life on 18  just sent shock waves, I think, through our whole team and also to Team Europe."

Next up? Stanford vs. Pettersen: The ultimate test for the golf gods.

This was already a touchy match. There’s the aforementioned Pettersen controversy for starters. For Stanford, she’s struggled to play well in the Solheim Cup during her entire career and had a 3-13-3 record. She hadn’t won in her previous nine matches.

Stanford raced out to a 3-up lead, but she coughed it all up and the match was all square with three holes remaining. Stanford birdied 16 and 17 and closed out Pettersen, 2 and 1.

“At some point you think it’s bound to happen, right,” Stanford asked about her winless streak. “People kept telling me numbers, but it’s bound to happen. But it’s all because of these ladies. I kept thinking if they’ll just keep me in it, if they’ll just give me another chance and they did. Very happy to help today.”

Kerr ended her match with Charley Hull because of a ridiculous nine-hole stretch where she made eight birdies. Wie did the same against Caroline Hedwall and made eight birdies in 14 holes.

Creamer, the much-maligned captain’s pick, was the only American left on course, and it was only a matter of time before she ended her match against Sandra Gal. With the myriad stories of the day, it’s still fitting that it came down to Creamer to end the Solheim Cup.

The cup veteran had struggled with her game all summer and was battling confidence issues. But Inkster, Creamer’s longtime idol, picked Creamer for the team and even put her out first on Friday in foursomes with Pressel. They won that point. And Creamer sealed the deal for the Americans by winning the final match.

“I’m ready for people to stop asking me about a captain’s pick,” Creamer quipped. “I had my job. I had my role as much as we all did.”

In Pettersen, the Americans found motivation in a place they never expected to find. Whether it came from the desire to protect their innocent rookie (Lee), the craving to send Europe’s best player (Pettersen) home with her head down, the hunger to win the cup for the first time since 2009 or the sheer willingness to please Inkster, the Americans made history.

“Juli deserved this today and that’s all I can say,” Stanford said about her affable leader. “She is a class act. She deserved it.”

Said Inkster: “I think they were ready to go, but I also think (the Pettersen controversy) maybe just lit the fire a little bit more. I think in their bellies they wanted to just maybe do just a little bit more. And that little bit more got us the Solheim.”

Moments later, Inkster was pure Inkster. Funny, endearing, to the point. 

“I’m over it,” she said. “We got the cup.”

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Kisner (66) leads Open by 1; Woods 5 back

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 7:44 pm

The course was playing firm and the winds never truly gusted, but it was still quite a mixed bag for some of the world's best during the first round of The Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things stand as Kevin Kisner moved into the lead in search of his first career major:

Leaderboard: Kevin Kisner (-5), Erik van Rooyen (-4), Tony FInau (-4), Zander Lombard (-4), Brandon Stone (-3), Brendan Steele (-3), Ryan Moore (-3)

What it means: Van Rooyen took the early lead in one of the first groups of the morning, and he remained near the top despite a bogey on the final hole. But that left a small opening for Kisner to eke past him, as the American put together a round with as many bogeys as eagles (one apiece). Already with two wins on the PGA Tour and having challenged at the PGA Championship in August, Kisner tops a crowded leaderboard despite never finishing better than T-54 in three prior Open appearances.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Round of the day: Kisner started slowly, as a bogey on No. 5 dropped him to 1 over on the round. But that proved to be his lone dropped shot of the day, and he quickly rebounded with an eagle on the par-5 sixth. Kisner added four birdies over his final 11 holes, including three in a row from Nos. 13-15, and successfully navigated the difficult closing stretch to post the only 66 of the day on the par-71 layout.

Best of the rest: Van Rooyen held a four-shot lead heading into the final round of the Irish Open two weeks ago, but he fell apart at Ballyliffin as Russell Knox rallied for victory. He's off to another surprisingly strong start after a 4-under 67 that included only one bogey on No. 18. Van Rooyen has never won on the European Tour, let alone contended in a major, but he's now in the thick of it after five birdies over his first 15 holes.

Biggest disappointment: Two major champs were among the short list of pre-tournament contenders, but both Patrick Reed (4 over) and Dustin Johnson (5 over) appear to already be out of the mix. Reed has finished T-4 or better each of the last three majors but made only one birdie in his opener, while Johnson was the consensus betting favorite but played his last three holes in 4 over including a triple bogey on No. 18.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Kisner is no stranger to the top of the standings, but keep an eye on the chase pack a few shots back. The group at 2 under includes Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. Tiger Woods is just five shots off the pace after an even-par 71 that featured three birdies and three bogeys as Woods made his return to The Open for the first time since missing the cut at St. Andrews in 2015.

Shot of the day: Stone put his head on his hands after pulling his approach from the rough on No. 18, but his prayers were answered when his ball rattled off a fence, bounced back in bounds and rolled to the front of the green. One week after winning the Scottish Open with a final-round 60, Stone turned a likely double into a par to close out his 68.

Quote of the day: "I've been taped up and bandaged up, just that you were able to see this one. It's no big deal." - Woods, who had KT tape visible on both sides of his neck after a bad night of sleep.

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Rory 'convinced' driver is the play at burnt Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – There are two distinct schools of thought at this week’s Open Championship - that Carnoustie is either best played with a velvet touch and a measured hand off the tee, or that it makes sense to choose the hammer and hit driver whenever and wherever possible.

Count Rory McIlroy in the latter camp.

Although the Northern Irishman’s opening 2-under 69 may not be a definitive endorsement of the bomb-and-gouge approach, he was pleased with his Day 1 results and even more committed to the concept.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I’m convinced that that's the way that I should play it,” said McIlroy, who hit just 4 of 15 fairways but sits tied for eighth. “It's not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well for me and I would have taken 69 to start the day.”

From the moment McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, made a scouting trip to Carnoustie a few weeks ago, the 2014 Open champion committed himself to an aggressive gameplan, and there was nothing on Thursday that persuaded him to change.

The true test came early on Thursday, with McIlroy sending his tee shot over the green at the 350-yard, par-4 third and scrambling for birdie.

“That hole was a validation for me. It proved to me it’s the right way for me to play here. It was a little personal victory,” said McIlroy, who played his opening loop even but birdied Nos. 12 and 14 to move under par.

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Report: USGA, R&A to 'severely restrict' green books

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 6:42 pm

The detailed yardage books that many players rely on to help read greens at various tournaments could soon become a thing of the past.

According to a Golfweek report, the USGA and R&A are poised to "severely restrict" the information offered to players in green-reading books, which currently include detailed visuals and specifics about the location and severity of slopes and contours on each putting surface. The change is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Green-reading books have come under scrutiny in recent years as their use has increased, seen as both an enemy of pace of play and a tool that can take the skill out of reading the break on putts.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

"We believe that the ability to read greens is an integral part of the skill of putting and remain concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round," the R&A said in a statement. The USGA also reportedly issued a statement that they plan to update their review process on the books "in the coming weeks."

Speaking to reporters after an opening-round 72 at The Open, Jordan Spieth seemingly implied that the rule change was all but official.

"I don't think we're allowed to use them starting next year, is that right?" Spieth said. "Which I think will be much better for me. I think that's a skill that I have in green reading that's advantageous versus the field, and so it will be nice. But when it's there, certain putts, I certainly was using it and listening to it."

According to the report, new language in the Rules of Golf is expected to address the presentation of the books and "end the current level of detail."

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'Super 7' living – and loving – frat life in Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It’s not exactly “Animal House Scotland,” but it’s as close as the gentleman’s game allows itself to drift toward that raucous line.

For the third consecutive year, some of golf’s biggest and brightest chose to set up shop on the same corner of the Angus coast, a testosterone-fueled riff session where feelings are never spared and thick skin is mandatory.

Among the eclectic “Super 7” who are sharing two houses in Carnoustie this week are defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Kisner – a group that ranges in age from 24 (Spieth) to 42 years old (Johnson).

The tradition, or maybe “guy’s week” is a better description, began in 2016 at Royal Troon when Spieth, Fowler, Thomas, Walker, Johnson and Dufner all roomed together. Kisner was added to the mix this year and instead of baseball – the distraction of choice in ’16 – the group has gone native with nightly soccer matches. Actually, the proceedings more resemble penalty kicks, but they seem to be no less entertaining.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

For the record, his flat mates will attest to Dufner’s abilities as a goalie, although asked about his chances to make the U.S. national team Thomas was reluctant to go that far.

“As a U.S. citizen, I hope he does not make our team, but he's a pretty good backyard goalie,” Thomas said.

The arrangement comes with a litany of benefits, from the camaraderie to the improved logistics of having so many VIPs under the same roof.

“Honestly, it just makes everything really, really easy because there's a lot of cars going to and from the golf course. They know our address. We have food essentially at our beck and call. And we have friends. I mean, we have some women [wives] in there to keep the frat house somewhat in order,” Johnson said. “But I mean, every individual there is great. It's fun.”

But this goes well beyond some random male bonding for what at the moment represents nearly one-third of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This is a snapshot into a curious side of golf that’s as rare as it is misunderstood.

Unlike team sports, golf is a lonely pursuit. A player can collect as many swing coaches, sports psychologists and handlers around them as they wish, but there’s a connection between athletes at this level that creates a unique flow of ideas that’s normally only present during the annual team events, be it a Ryder or Presidents cup.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this level, players talk a language only they understand that’s littered with the kind of insider give-and-take one would expect from PGA Tour winners and major champions. Between the two houses, which are adjacent to each other, there are eight major victories.

“I have zero, so I don't know how many they have,” Kisner joked when asked about his accomplished roommates.

Kisner is southern like sweat and sweet tea and can trade good-natured jabs with the best of them, but given the pedigrees assembled between the two houses he seems to understand the importance of listening.

“Everybody is just really chill, and it's a lot of fun to be around those guys. There's a lot of great players. It's really cool just to hear what they have to say,” Kisner said. “Everybody's sitting around at night scratching their head on what club to hit off of every tee.”

It’s worth pointing out that The Open winner has come from this group twice in the last three years, including 2017 champion Spieth, who took no small measure of inspiration from Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews in ’15.

Nor is it probably a coincidence that four of those players now find themselves firmly in the mix and all within the top 20 at Carnoustie, including Kisner who will have bragging rights on Thursday night following a first-round 66 that vaulted him into the lead.

“I probably get to eat first,” he smiled.

In their primes, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player would occasionally share a house, they even vacationed together from time to time – you know, SB1K68 – but the practice fell out of favor for a few generations. It’s hard to imagine Greg Norman enjoying a friendly kick-about with any of his contemporaries and even harder to think that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson could share a cab ride, let alone a house for a week.

Some say this type of fellowship is the product of a new generation who grew up playing junior golf against each other and logically took their bond to the big leagues, but that ignores the 40-somethings (Johnson and Dufner) in the frat.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of America’s Ryder Cup rebuilding efforts or an affinity for non-stop one-liners and bad soccer. Or maybe it’s a genuine appreciation for what each of the “7” have to offer.

“[Kisner] is good friends with all those guys, he likes to cut up and have a good time and talk trash. It’s a good little group,” said Kisner’s swing coach John Tillery. “This last year or two and the Presidents Cup and being on the teams with those guys has just escalated that.”

Some seem to think these friendships run a little too deep. That sharing a bachelor pad and dinner for the week somehow erodes a player’s competitiveness. But if the “Super 7” have proven anything, other than American golfers probably aren’t the best soccer players, it’s that familiarity can be fun.