Ryder Cup stands alone as golf's grandest spectacle

By Randall MellSeptember 27, 2012, 6:40 pm

MEDINAH, Ill. – The 39th Ryder Cup will be played across a sprawling stage.

That’s what Medinah Country Club is this week.

It's more stage than golf course with this event evolving from a little international team competition into the game’s grandest spectacle.

Giggling girls chased pop star Justin Timberlake across the property in the Captains/Celebrity Challenge earlier this week. His fiancée, actress Jessica Biel, paraded after him in sunglasses and under a parasol. Grown men chased around actor/comedian Bill Murray in the same exhibition wanting to be photographed with him.

Over on the driving range, where the real golfers warmed up, chants of “USA” rolled across Medinah so boisterously you wondered if they heard it all the way down at Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain, the Old Water Tower and the Navy Pier.

This wondrous noise began Tuesday, on the driving range, during practice rounds.

“First practice round, we get to the tee, and there are 10,000 people,” American Ryder Cup rookie Webb Simpson said. “I felt like I was in the final group of a major, and it’s a practice round.”

Bubba Watson was so overwhelmed with the roar he got at the first tee in that practice round that he choked up with emotion sticking his tee in the ground.

“I might have teared up a little bit,” Watson said.

That’s what the Ryder Cup does. It percolates more emotion, more passion, than any event in the game. You saw that with Jeff Overton screaming “Boom Baby” in Wales two years ago after holing a shot from a fairway in the second round. You saw it with U.S. captain Paul Azinger riding around in a cart in front of critical matches, like some crazed cheerleader, exhorting the American crowd to get noisy at Valhalla in ‘08. You saw it with the American players and their wives turning the 17th green at Brookline into a dance floor before the event was even clinched in ‘99.

“Paul Azinger said it the best,” U.S. captain Davis Love III said. “We see the greatest shots ever, more shots holed, more incredible things in this, and I think that you have to have that kind of pressure for there to be the excitement and the competitiveness of this event.

“It's very, very intense. It's almost unfair to the players, but I think these guys love the challenge of that.”

The Americans are favored on their home turf, but they’ve lost four of the last five Ryder Cups, six of the last eight. The competition is expected to be so close that former Euro captain Nick Faldo predicted it would end in a tie.

The importance of every point, every half-point, will ratchet up the excitement.

You will see more fist pumps this week, hear more roars when putts drop, than you will in any other event all year. You’ll sense more hearts breaking, too.

More than any other test in golf, the Ryder Cup makes grown men cry.

Mark Calcavecchia, a tough, gruff American player, famously stumbled down to the beach and wept after blowing his singles match with Colin Montgomerie at Kiawah Island in ’99.

Hunter Mahan fought the same feelings after the Americans lost to Europe in Wales two years ago. He broke down in tears trying to answer questions about his chunked chip sealing Europe’s victory.

Like Watson, U.S. captain Davis Love III has already teared up this week. Love got emotional Wednesday in the interview room talking about Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and how his veterans have gone out of their way to help him.

“I’ve heard the Ryder Cup is exponentially more, in each area, than the Presidents Cup,” said Simpson, who made his American Presidents Cup debut last year. “Just a little more exciting, a little more emotional.”

The Ryder Cup is a strange amalgam. It’s a little bit of the Academy Awards, with players getting red-carpet treatment on their way in and out of the clubhouse. It’s a little bit of the Olympics, with the patriotic flag-waving. And it’s a little bit of rowdy British soccer with the creative chanting.

Notably, all this excitement comes with no purse or prize money at stake. It’s about pride.

“It’s funny, it’s just that little trophy we want to win so badly,” Watson said. “So there’s going to be good shots I’m going to cry about, and there’s going to be bad shots I’m going to cry about . . . It’s just for the love of that little trophy that we want to win, and we want to win for our countries.”

There will be no better place to absorb just how different the Ryder Cup is than on the first tee Friday at the event’s start. It can feel like a frat party.

American and European supporters will do more than chant. Their creative back-and-forth can be comical.

In Wales two years ago, American Stewart Cink was waiting to be introduced when Euros began chanting: “We got more hair!” Cink playfully removed his cap, showing his bald dome.

When Americans began chanting back “We’ve got the cup,” Euros returned fire with “Not for long, not for long, not for long.”

Most championships, the early rounds just set the stage for the back-nine Sunday run at winning. In the Ryder Cup, there’s winning and losing at every hole.

“I've never been so nervous in my life,” said 10-time European Ryder Cupper Bernhard Langer. “There are times where you're just so nervous you're shaking in your shoes and feeling almost out of control. I've felt that a few times in the Ryder Cup.”

It’s just part of what makes it golf’s grandest spectacle.

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

Hailed as a hero to some and as golf royalty to others, Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of The Open and the only player in the 20th century to win the championship for three straight years, died Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members, Golf Australia said.

The first Australian to win The Open, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by American Tom Watson.

The Australian's wins came in 1954, '55, '56, again in 1958 and lastly in 1965 against a field that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Only Harry Vardon, with six titles between 1896 and 1914, won more.

Thomson also tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and placed fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played the PGA Championship.

In 1998, he captained the International side to its only win over the United States at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

Asked by The Associated Press in 2011 how he'd like to be remembered, Thomson replied: ''A guy who always said what he thought.''

Veteran Australian golfer Karrie Webb was among the first to tweet her condolences, saying she was ''saddened to hear of the passing of our Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game .... so honored to have been able to call Peter my friend. RIP Peter.''

Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Thomson was ''a champion in every sense of the word, both on the course and in life.''

''Many know him as a five-time champion golfer of the year or as a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team.'' Finchem added. ''But he was also a great friend, father, grandfather and husband. He was golfing royalty, and our sport is a better one because of his presence.''

Former golfer and now broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, called Thomson his ''hero'' - ''Peter - my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence and valuable guidance over the years.''

From Britain, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers praised Thomson's plans for the game's future.

''Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going, which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf,'' Slumbers said. ''He was one of the most decorated and celebrated champion golfers in the history of The Open.''

Born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Brunswick on Aug. 23, 1929, Thomson was a promising cricketer. He scored an unbeaten 150 runs for the Carlton club against a men's side as a 15-year-old.

But golf became his passion, and he turned professional in 1947.

He won the national championships of 10 countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times and Australian Open three times. He first played on the PGA Tour in the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, finishing 44th and 25th on the money list, respectively. He won the Texas International in 1956.

Thomson won nine times on the Senior PGA tour in the U.S. in 1985, topping the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Overall, he won 26 European Tour events, 34 times on the Australasian PGA tour and 11 on the seniors tour in the U.S, as well as once in Japan.

In later years, Thomson wrote articles for many publications and daily newspapers, was club professional at Royal Melbourne and designed more than 100 golf courses. In the 2011 Presidents Cup program, Thomson provided an insightful hole-by-hole analysis of the composite course at Royal Melbourne.

Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else's.

''All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,'' Thomson told golf historian and author Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.

''The circumstances change so much, and so do the players' attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income.

''When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,'' he said. ''So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.''

Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn't afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.

That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer's prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.

''Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,'' blared the headline of a story he wrote. ''Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.''

But he was always happy on the golf course.

''I've had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,'' Thomson said. ''I don't think I did a real day's work in the whole of my life.''

Thomson served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years and worked behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

In 1979, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf, and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.

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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.