The Game of Risk

By Randall MellSeptember 7, 2010, 10:25 pm
LEMONT, Ill. – Rickie Fowler is a gamble.

He’s as much a captain's risk as he is a captain's pick.

There’s no way around it.

He’s a PGA Tour rookie who has never won a professional event.
Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler is the first U.S. captain's pick never to have won a PGA Tour event. (Getty Images)
You can be sure European fans are well aware that no American’s ever taken that resume to the first tee of the Ryder Cup in what is billed as golf’s most intense event.

That makes Fowler the boldest American captain’s pick in the history of the matches.

He seems destined to meet one of two spectacular extremes Oct. 1-3 at Celtic Manor in Wales. He seems destined to blossom or melt down.

A rookie on that stage? Is there any middle ground when you make your debut in the seventh game of the World Series? Because that’s what the Ryder Cup is like. It isn’t anything like golf’s major championships, where confidence and pressure build to a Sunday back-nine rush. The Ryder Cup is searing heat before the first shot is hit. It’s about winning and losing from the first hole. It’s about triumph and failure every hole. It’s about a player feeling as if he is lifting his team and country with every shot ... or letting them down. It's the kind of pressure that made American Mark Calcavecchia weep after he melted down and began hyperventilating at Kiawah Island in 1991.

“People tell you that you will be as nervous as you have ever been on the first tee of the Ryder Cup, and you say, `Nah.’ ... but you are that nervous,” American J.B. Holmes said of his Ryder Cup debut two years ago at Valhalla.

And that was a home game for Holmes.

The nature of the Ryder Cup stage is what makes Fowler a glorious gamble and a wondrous risk.

So is the fact that so many of his American teammates don’t see his selection as a particularly large gamble or risk at all.

American Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin polled his eight automatic qualifiers before he made his captain’s picks. He wanted to know who they liked. He even polled his first three captain’s picks, asking Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink who they liked before he named Fowler. Pavin wouldn’t have chosen Fowler if there were reservations within his newly formed team.

“I’m not surprised Rickie was a captain’s pick,” said Matt Kuchar, one of eight Americans who made the team on points. “I think he was a consensus pick. I think we all see Rickie as a guy who isn’t afraid of anything, as a 20-year-old with a whole lot of talent who’s got a bit of a swagger and plays with the feeling he’s bulletproof.”

Johnson also pointed to Fowler’s attitude when asked what he liked about the selection.

“His youth, the way he goes about his business, could be a good thing for the team,” Johnson said.

Fowler’s confidence and passion figure to collide dramatically with all that Ryder Cup history and pressure. It’s what makes Fowler the most compelling American storyline going into this Ryder Cup, more compelling than how Woods will fare.

Is Fowler being pushed out onto the this stage too early? Or is he just what this American team needs? Pavin had to be asking himself those questions before pulling the trigger on the former All-American from Oklahoma State.

Fowler was the blinding flash and spark Tuesday in the otherwise sedate unveiling of Pavin’s four picks.

Pavin didn’t take the safe path selecting Fowler in an announcement fittingly made at the New York Stock Exchange. Pavin made a giant investment in the future of American golf. He went all in on his belief Fowler will return a giant dividend as a can’t-miss blue-chip stock.

On a day when Woods was made a captain’s pick for the first time, Fowler practically upstaged that news. Fowler was all the buzz on the driving range at the BMW Championship.

You could hear the excitement Fowler generated in Sean Foley’s voice in the parking lot behind the practice range at Cog Hill. You could hear it after Foley hopped out of a car and spotted young European sensation Rory McIlroy.

Foley, who knows something about being a hot topic as Woods’ new swing coach, slapped McIlroy in a hearty embrace and immediately asked him what he suspects McIlroy will be asked a lot of over the next three weeks.  

“Are we going to see Rickie take on Rory in the Ryder Cup?” Foley asked McIlroy. “I think everyone wants to know that.”

In other words, are we going to see the future of American golf take on the future of European golf?

You can argue McIlroy’s time has already arrived with his breakthrough on American soil in his victory at Quail Hollow this year and his European Tour breakthrough victory a year ago.

Fowler, who’s shown spectacular potential, has yet to prove he’s a winner at all in the professional ranks. In 30 PGA Tour starts, though, he’s finished among the top-10 nearly a quarter of the time, with three second-place finishes, one of those in a sudden-death playoff loss.

Still, Fowler’s vast potential trumps his record in this selection.

McIlroy huddled with Fowler Tuesday afternoon near the equipment trucks behind the practice range at Cog Hill. McIlroy knows Fowler’s passion for national team events. Fowler was 4-0 helping the Americans beat Great Britian/Ireland in the Walker Cup matches last year. He’s 7-1 overall in Walker Cup play. Three years ago, Fowler teamed with Billy Horschel to defeat McIlroy and Jonny Caldwell, 2 and 1, in an alternate-shot match in Northern Ireland.

“Rickie’s a really good competitor,” McIlroy said. “He’s really good under pressure. He holes a lot of putts, and he isn’t a guy who is going to let down. He just keeps going. That’s a very good thing in the Ryder Cup.”

Zach Johnson got a close-up look at Fowler’s game under pressure at the British Open at St. Andrews this year. They were paired together in the third round. Fowler shot 71 to Johnson’s 74.

“You hear all the hype, but you never know until you see the player in person,” said Damon Green, Johnson’s caddie. “I watched Rickie, and my reaction was, 'Wow.’ He played fearlessly. I think he was bogey free that day. He drove the ball really well, just a very solid player, very impressive. I could see why there was so much hype.”

If Fowler doesn’t win the BMW Championship this week or the Tour Championship in two weeks, his most important victories as a pro will come at the Ryder Cup in three weeks. Perhaps his most devastating losses, too.

That’s what makes him such a compelling gamble and risk.

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys Documentary Series Continues Tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsMay 21, 2018, 8:27 pm

Monday’s third installment in the four-part series focuses on the Big 12 Championships and NCAA Regional Championships

Reigning NCAA National Champion Oklahoma Sooners and Top-Ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys Prepare for Showdown Friday at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships

ORLANDO, Fla., May 21, 2018 – Tonight’s third episode of the critically-acclaimed documentary series Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys (8 p.m. ET) wraps up the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season and turns to post-season play for the top-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and reigning NCAA National Champions Oklahoma Sooners.

Drivenwill take viewers behind the scenes with the conclusion of regular season play; the Big 12 Conference Championship, where Oklahoma captured their first conference championship since 2006; and the NCAA Regional Championships, where Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – both No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals – were both victorious and punched tickets to the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

The episode also will set up the showdown starting Friday at the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships, where Oklahoma State will attempt to dethrone Oklahoma as national champions, all taking place at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State’s home course. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be paired together for the first two rounds of individual stroke play Friday and Saturday.

Driven’s fourth and final episode will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16 at 5 p.m. ET, recapping all of the action at the NCAA Golf National Championships and the two programs’ 2017-18 golf seasons.

Golf Channel is airing back-to-back weeks of live tournament coverage of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. Golf Channel’s coverage begins today (4-8 p.m. ET) to crown the individual national champion and track the teams attempting to qualify for the eight-team match play championship. Golf Channel’s coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 22-23 will include all three rounds of team match play, ultimately crowning a team national champion. Next week (May 28-30), the same programming schedule will take place for the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

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Mann's impact on LPGA felt on and off course

By Randall MellMay 21, 2018, 8:00 pm

Just a few short hours after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965, Carol Mann was surprised at the turn of emotion within her.

She called her friend and mentor, Marlene Hagge, and asked if they could meet for a glass of wine at the Atlantic City hotel where players were staying.

Hagge was one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.

“I’ll never forget Carol saying, `I don’t mean to sound funny, because winning the U.S. Women’s Open was wonderful, but is that all there is?’” Hagge told GolfChannel.com Monday after hearing news of Mann’s death.

It was one of the many defining moments in Mann’s rich life, because it revealed her relentless search for meaning, within the game, and beyond it.

Mann, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer, died at her home in Woodlands, Texas. She was 77.

“Carol was a very good friend, and a really sincere and good person,” Hagge said. “She was intelligent and insightful, the kind of person who always wanted to know the `why’ of things. She wasn’t content to be told this is the way something is. She had to know why.”

Mann’s search for meaning in the sport took her outside the ropes. She was a towering presence, at 6 feet 3, but her stature was more than physical. She won 38 LPGA titles, two of them major championships, but her mark on the game extended to her leadership skills.

From 1973 to ’76, Mann was president of the LPGA, leading the tour in challenging times.

“Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”

Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Their moves helped steer the tour out of the financial problems that threatened it.

“Carol was willing to do something nobody else wanted to do and nobody else had the brains to do,” Hagge said. “She loved the LPGA, and she wanted to make it a better place.”

At the cost of her own career.

Juggling the tour presidency with a playing career wasn’t easy.

“My golf seemed so secondary while I was president in 1975,” Mann once told author Liz Kahn for the book, “The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version.”

That was a pivotal year in tour history, with the LPGA struggling with an ongoing lawsuit, a legal battle Jane Blalock won when the courts ruled the tour violated antitrust laws by suspending her. With the tour appealing its legal defeats, a protracted battle threatened to cripple LPGA finances.

It was also the year Mann led the hiring of Volpe.

“I could barely get to the course in time to tee off,” Mann told Kahn. “There was so much other activity. I burned myself out a bit.”

Still, Mann somehow managed to win four times in ’75, but she wouldn’t again in the years that followed.

“I had launched a ship, and then I had to let it go, which was not easy,” she said of leaving her tour president’s role. “I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later players wouldn’t give a damn.”

Mann’s reign as a player and a leader aren’t fully appreciated today.

“A lot of players in the ‘60s haven’t been fully appreciated,” Rankin said.

Mann won 10 LPGA titles in 1968, the same year Kathy Whitworth won 10. Mann won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year. She won eight times in ’69 and was the tour’s leading money winner.

“Those were the toughest times to win,” Hagge said. “You had Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, who is the best player I ever saw, and I saw them all. You had so many great players you had to beat in that era.”

Mann’s good humor came out when she was asked about her height.

“I’m 5-foot-15,” she liked to say.

After retiring from the tour at 40, Mann stayed active in golf, working as a TV analyst for NBC, ABC and ESPN. She found meaning in her Christian faith, and she was active supporting female athletes. She was president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for five years. She wrote a guest column for the Houston Post. She devoted herself to the World Golf Hall of Fame, taught at Woodlands Country Club and became the first woman to own and operate a course design and management firm.

“I’ve walked on the moon,” Mann once said. “I enjoy being a person, and getting old and dying are fine. I never think how people will remember Carol Mann. The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”

 

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Nelson win moves Wise to 12th in Ryder Cup race

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 7:12 pm

Aaron Wise received plenty of perks with his title Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but the victory also brought with it a healthy bump in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings.

The 21-year-old notched his maiden win at Trinity Forest in impressive fashion, holding off Marc Leishman in near-darkness. After starting the week at No. 46 in the points race for Paris, Wise is now all the way up to 12th with the top eight players after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically for the team.

Jimmy Walker moved from 18th to 15th with a top-10 finish in Dallas, while an idle Tiger Woods dropped one position to No. 32.

Here's a look at the updated standings, as the top 11 names remained in order this week:

1. Patrick Reed

2. Justin Thomas

3. Dustin Johnson

4. Jordan Spieth

5. Bubba Watson

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Brooks Koepka

8. Phil Mickelson

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9. Webb Simpson

10. Matt Kuchar

11. Brian Harman

12. Aaron Wise

It was also a quiet week on the European side of the race, where the top four from both the European Points and World Points list in August will join a roster rounded out by four selections from captain Thomas Bjorn.

Here's a look at the latest European standings:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Jon Rahm

4. Ross Fisher

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5. Matthew Fitzpatrick

World Points

1. Rory McIlroy

2. Tommy Fleetwood

3. Sergio Garcia

4. Alex Noren

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5. Ian Poulter