Struggling picks Creamer, Hedwall under microscope

By Randall MellSeptember 17, 2015, 5:49 pm

ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – American Paula Creamer and European Caroline Hedwall made reputations thriving in the Solheim Cup, but they know recent struggles raise questions about how they will respond this week to the most intense spotlight in women’s golf.

Will Solheim Cup pressure draw out the best in them?

Or will it widen cracks in their armor?

Creamer is 12-6-5 in five Solheim Cups. She has put up more points in this competition than any other American here this week, but she enters having missed her last four cuts in a row. She enters having slid to No. 48 in the Rolex world rankings, the lowest ranking of her 11-year career.

Hedwall won all five matches she played helping the Europeans rout the Americans two years ago in Colorado, becoming the first player in Solheim Cup history to go 5-0. She also was a vital part of the European victory in Ireland four years ago, when she turned around her match to claim an integral half point late in the Euros’ dramatic comeback.

She hasn't done much since Colorado, though.

Creamer, 29, knows there are doubts to slay this week, but she says she’s relishing the challenge.

“This week is so much fun for me,” Creamer said. “I love having partners. I love match play. It’s that format that brings out the fighter, that grinder that I have inside me. Getting here, wearing these colors, it’s motivating. There’s nothing better than that.”

Hedwall, 26, faces similar scrutiny heading into Friday’s start of the matches at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club.



“I’m not scared of the nervous feeling,” Hedwall said. “I really enjoy it, and I think that's the challenge.”

American Stacy Lewis, a two-time major championship winner, was asked this week how Solheim Cup pressure differs from anything else in golf.

“I think it's like playing the 18th hole of a major over and over again,” Lewis said. “That's the kind of pressure you feel on every single shot, on every single hole.”

American and European golf fans will be tuning in to see how Solheim Cup stars like Creamer and Hedwall react.

“I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Creamer said. “No matter what, I’m not going out and putting extra pressure on myself.”

U.S. captain Juli Inkster showed a lot of confidence in Creamer making her one of her two captain’s picks. She showed even more confidence in her on Thursday when she announced she was sending Creamer out in her leadoff match in foursomes for the start of the Solheim Cup. She’s teaming Creamer with Morgan Pressel Friday morning against what may be Europe’s strongest team, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and Sweden's Anna Nordqvist.

“I have faith in Paula,” Inkster said. “I have all the confidence in the world in her. It was a no-brainer for me.”

Foursomes is the toughest and truest team format because it’s alternate shot. There’s more pressure in those matches because a player’s wayward shot can put her partner in bad spots.

Creamer and Pressel are best friends. They’ve partnered together in the Solheim Cup twice before and haven’t been beaten (1-0-1), but they’ve never played foursomes together in this event.

“I watched Paula practice for three days,” Inkster said. “She’s hitting it great. She’s excited. I wanted to get her out there and get her feet wet, so to speak.”

Cristie Kerr has played practice rounds with Creamer all week and likes what she’s seeing.

“Paula loves this event,” Kerr said. “She just loves playing for her country. She rises to the occasion, and you’ll see that. I’ve never seen her make so many putts in practice and hit so many hybrids close to the hole. It was pretty amazing. I’m excited to see how she plays.”

Creamer has won 10 LPGA titles in her career. She won her last at year’s start in 2014, taking the HSBC Champions in a playoff, but she still slipped to 22nd on the LPGA’s money list at year’s end, the lowest finish of her career. Always one of the game’s best iron players, Creamer’s struggles are evident in her stats. She finished 51st in hitting greens in regulation last year. She led the LPGA in GIR in ’09 and never finished worse than seventh in that category in her first eight years on tour. She’s 69th in GIR this year.

“It’s really the first time in her career that she’s gone through a tough stretch,” Kerr said. “I think it’s humbling. Given the opportunity to shine here, I think she’ll do it.”

Creamer’s struggles date back to her attempt to find more distance three seasons ago, when she tried to change her swing with her driver, to get more of an upward, sweeping motion. She also struggled through some equipment issues while making swing changes, where her affinity for bending her irons to get more loft affected the bounce on them.

“I think Paula will rise to the occasion,” Lewis said. “I think all players, even great players, have bad streaks, good streaks, ups and downs, it happens. I think she'll rise to the occasion and she'll be just fine.”

Hedwall, 26, faces similar challenges finding form in a Solheim Cup. In the victory at Colorado Golf Club two years ago, European captain Liselotte Neumann called Hedwall one of her “Swedish Vikings.” Hedwall has played nine Solheim Cup matches and been beaten just once. She’s 7-1-1, but she’s also coming into this week having missed the cut in five of her last seven starts worldwide.

Riding that Solheim Cup boost late in 2013, Hedwall rose to No. 22 in the world. She has slid to No. 117.

“I'm hitting the ball really well, but I just haven't putted that well,” Hedwall said. “It kind of was the same situation when I came into Solheim in 2013. I didn't make many putts and all of a sudden it all worked. I'm kind of hoping for some magic this week, too.”

European captain Carin Koch believes match play will spark some fire in Hedwall this week. Unlike Inkster, however, Koch left Hedwall out of Friday’s opening session.

“Caroline is quite spectacular, usually, when it comes to match play,” Koch said. “And the times I watched her play this year, she was hitting the ball very well. So I'm not too worried. I think she can take care of herself. But it will be exciting to see what she can do this week."

For better or worse, Creamer and Hedwall both promise to be storylines given what they’ve meant to the Solheim Cup.

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First-, second-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 16, 2018, 12:20 pm

Three-time champion Tiger Woods is playing in The Open for the first time since he missed the cut in 2015 at St. Andrews. Woods will begin his first round Thursday in the 147th edition at Carnoustie at 10:21 a.m. ET, playing alongside Hideki Matsuyama and Russell Knox.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth delivered the claret jug to the R&A on Monday at Carnoustie. He will begin his title defense at 4:58 a.m. ET on Thursday, playing with world No. 2 Justin Rose and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

Other notable groupings:

  • Rory McIlroy will look to capture his second claret jug at 7:53 a.m. Thursday. He goes off with Marc Leishman and Thorbjorn Olesen.
  • World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is playing with Alex Noren and Charley Hoffman. They will play at 8:04 a.m. ET in the first round.
  • World No. 2 Justin Thomas goes at 8:26 a.m. with Francesco Molinari and Branden Grace.
  • Masters champion Patrick Reed will play with Louis Oosthuizen and Paul Casey at 5:20 a.m. ET.
  • U.S. Open champion and world No. 4 Brooks Koepka is grouped with Ian Poulter and Cameron Smith (9:59 a.m. ET).
  • Phil Mickelson, the 2013 Open champion, will begin at 3:03 a.m. ET with Satoshi Kodaira and Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Here's a look at the full list of times for Rounds 1 and 2 (all times ET):

1:35AM/6:36AM: Sandy Lyle, Martin Kaymer, Andy Sulliva

1:46AM/6:47AM: Erik Van Rooyen, Brady Schnell, Matthew Southgate

1:57AM/6:58AM: Danny Willett, Emiliano Grillo, Luke List

2:08AM/7:09AM: Mark Calcavecchia, Danthai Boonma, Shaun Nooris

2:19AM/7:20AM: Kevin Chappell, Oliver Wilson, Eddie Pepperell

2:30AM/7:31AM: Ross Fisher, Paul Dunne, Austin Cook

2:41AM/7:42AM: Tyrrell Hatton, Patrick Cantlay, Shane Lowry

2:52AM/7:53AM: Thomas Pieters, Kevin Kisner, Marcus Kinhult

3:03AM/8:04AM: Phil Mickelson, Satoshi Kodaira, Rafa Cabrera Bello

3:14AM/8:15AM: Brian Harman, Yuta Ikeda, Andrew Landry

3:25AM/8:26AM: Si Woo Kim, Webb Simpson, Nicolai Hojgaard (a)

3:36AM/8:37AM: Stewart Cink, Brandon Stone, Hideto Tanihara

3:47AM/8:48AM: Gary Woodland, Yusaku Miyazato, Sung Kang

4:03AM/9:04AM: Ernie Els, Adam Hadwin, Chesson Hadley

4:14AM/9:15AM: Pat Perez, Julian Suri, George Coetzee

4:25AM/9:26AM: David Duval, Scott Jamieson, Kevin Na

4:36AM/9:37AM: Darren Clarke, Bernhard Langer, Retief Goosen

4:47AM/9:48AM: Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Peter Uihlein

4:58AM/9:59AM: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Kiradech Aphibarnrat

5:09AM/10:10AM: Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Chris Wood

5:20AM/10:21AM: Louis Oosthuizen, Paul Casey, Patrick Reed

5:31AM/10:32AM: Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jhonattan Vegas

5:42AM/10:43AM: Yuxin Lin (a), Alexander Bjork, Sang Hyun Park

5:53AM/10:54AM: James Robinson, Haraldur Magnus, Zander Lombard

6:04AM/11:05AM: Kodai Ichihara, Rhys Enoch, Marcus Armitage

6:15AM/11:16AM: Sean Crocker, Gavin Green, Ash Turner

6:36AM/1:35AM: Brandt Snedeker, Sam Locke (a), Cameron Davis

6:47AM/1:46AM: Patton Kizzire, Jonas Blixt, Charles Howell III

6:58AM/1:57AM: Charl Schwartzel, Daniel Berger, Tom Lewis

7:09AM/2:08AM: Alex Levy, Ryan Moore, Byeong Hun An

7:20AM/2:19AM: Michael Hendry, Kelly Kraft, Lee Westwood

7:31AM/2:30AM: Henrik Stenson, Tommy Fleetwood, Jimmy Walker

7:42AM/2:41AM: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Russell Henley, Jovan Rebula (a)

7:53AM/2:52AM: Rory McIlroy, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen

8:04AM/3:03AM: Dustin Johnson, Alex Noren, Charley Hoffman

8:15AM/3:14AM: Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Brendan Steele

8:26AM/3:25AM: Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Branden Grace

8:37AM/3:36AM: Jason Day, Shota Akiyoshi, Haotong Li

8:48AM/3:47AM: Todd Hamilton, Beau Hossler, Jorge Campillo

9:04AM/4:03AM: Ryuko Tokimatsu, Chez Reavie, Michael Kim

9:15AM/4:14AM: Kyle Stanley, Nicolas Colsaerts, Jens Dantorp

9:26AM/4:25AM: Tom Lehman, Dylan Frittelli, Grant Forrest

9:37AM/4:36AM: Lucas Herbert, Min Chel Choi, Jason Kokrak

9:48AM/4:47AM: Padraig Harrington, Bubba Watson, Matt Wallace

9:59AM/4:58AM: Ian Poulter, Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka

10:10AM/5:09AM: Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, Shubhankar Sharma

10:21AM/5:20AM: Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama, Russell Knox

10:32AM/5:31AM: Jason Dufner, Ryan Fox, Keegan Bradley

10:43AM/5:42AM: Ryan Armour, Abraham Ander, Masahiro Kawamura

10:54AM/5:53AM: Jazz Janewattananond, Fabrizio Zanotti, Jordan Smith

11:05AM/6:04AM: Brett Rumford, Masanori Kobayashi, Jack Senior

11:16AM/6:15AM: Matt Jones, Thomas Curtis, Bronson Burgoon

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Rahm's Carnousite strategy: 'As many drivers as I can'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 10:57 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In his practice round Monday at Carnoustie, Jon Rahm bashed away with driver on the 18th tee, reducing one of the most intimidating finishing holes in championship golf into a driver-wedge.

Indeed, when it comes to his choice of clubs off the tee this week at The Open, Rahm has one strategy in mind.

“As many drivers as I can,” he said after playing 18 alongside Rory McIlroy. “I just feel comfortable with it.”

Playing downwind, the firm and fast conditions on the 18th have led some players, even a medium-length hitter like Brandt Snedeker, to challenge the burn fronting the green.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Rahm explained Monday why that was the prudent play.

“You can lay up with an iron farther back and have 140 or 150 meters to the front and have a 7-, 8- or 9-iron in,” Rahm said. “But if you hit a good one with a driver, you’re going to have nothing to the green.

“If you hit the rough this year, it’s not as thick as other years. You actually get a lot of good lies, so you can still hit the green with confidence.”

Rahm said that revelation was “quite surprising,” especially after encountering thicker fescue when he played the French Open and Irish Open, where he recorded a pair of top-5 finishes.

“But with this much sun” – it hasn’t rained much, if at all, over the past six weeks – “the fescue grass can’t grow. It just dies,” he said. “It’s a lot thinner than other years, so unless they can magically grow it thicker the next few days, it’s pretty safe to assume we can be aggressive.”

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Remembering Jean, because we'll always remember Jean

By Al TaysJuly 16, 2018, 10:38 am

The thing I remember about the 1999 Open Championship is that for 54 holes, it was boring. I can’t speak for the next 17, because I didn’t watch. I took advantage of a beautiful Sunday morning to play golf. When our group finished, we went into the clubhouse hoping to catch the last few holes or at least find out who won. Instead, we were greeted by an almost deafening buzz. It seemed everyone in the dining room was excitedly talking at once.

The wall-mounted televisions provided the answer. There stood Jean Van de Velde, resplendent in a white visor and blue shirt, and whatever the opposite of “resplendent” is with his trouser legs rolled up above his knees. He was up to his ankles in the burn that winds in front of Carnoustie’s 18th green, hands on hips, holding a wedge. He was staring down into the water the way you’d stare at a storm grate through which you had just accidentally dropped your car keys. You know, the “What the heck am I going to do NOW?” stare.

Van de Velde was the reason I had dismissed this 128th Open Championship as boring. Actually, he was one of two reasons. The first was that Tiger Woods was no factor. The second was that Van de Velde was running away with it, having taken a five-shot lead into the final round. It also didn’t help my interest level that I knew nothing about Van de Velde. I didn’t know Jean Van de Velde from Jean Valjean. The only thing I knew about him was that he was French, and the last great French golfer was … uh, I’ll have to get back to you on that.

As we got caught up on Van de Velde’s predicament – he had gone to the tee of the par-4 18th hole with a three-shot lead, but through a series of calamities now lay 3 … underwater – now my opinion of the guy did a 180. NOW I wanted him to win. It wasn’t going to be easy, though. Surely he would come to his senses and take a drop (4), then pitch onto the green (5) and hope to get that shot close enough that he could make the putt for 6 and claim the claret jug. A 7 – which would have plunged him into a playoff – was not a farfetched possibility.

Not farfetched at all; that’s the score he made, only it didn’t unfold quite as simply as I had envisioned. After taking his drop, Van de Velde hit his next shot into a greenside bunker. He then blasted out to 8 feet and, needing to make the putt to get into a playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie, he did just that.

You think Leonard’s 45-footer at Brookline that won the Ryder Cup later that year was clutch? I’ll take Van de Velde’s putt eight days a week.



But there would be no happy ending for Van de Velde. In the four-hole, aggregate playoff, he opened with a double bogey and watched Lawrie win his only major.

Van de Velde got roasted in the media for “choking” and “making stupid decisions.” I felt this was unfair. So the next day, in my capacity as a sports columnist for The Palm Beach Post, I wrote this:

“I have a new hero. Jean Van de Velde, The Man Who Gave Away the British Open.” I wrote that Van de Velde had “remained true to himself” and that had he geared down and played the hole safely and won with a double bogey, he would have been quickly forgotten.

As it turned out, because of his tragedy (self-inflicted though it was), he gained far more fame for losing than Lawrie did for winning (which is unfair to Lawrie, but that’s a tale for another time). I’ll also wager that Van de Velde gained far more fans for the grace with which he took his defeat than he would have had he won. See Norman, Greg, Augusta, 1996.

Van de Velde may have made some questionable decisions – hitting driver off the tee, bringing water into play on his third shot when he had a horrible lie – but he had reasons for all of them. Nowhere do you see him saying “I am such an idiot” a la Phil Mickelson, or “What a stupid I am” a la Roberto De Vicenzo.

“Sure, I could have hit four wedges,” he recently told Golf Channel. “Wouldn’t they have said, ‘He won The Open, but, hey, he hit four wedges.’ I mean, who hits four wedges?”

There’s a great scene in the 1991 movie “The Commitments,” about putting a soul-music band together in the slums of Dublin. Against all odds, the band reaches the brink of success before sinking in a maelstrom of arguments and fistfights after its last gig.

Manager Jimmy Rabbitte is trudging home through the gloom, when saxophonist Joey “The Lips” Fagan rides up on his ever-present scooter. Joey tries to get Jimmy to see the bright side.

Look, I know you're hurting now, but in time you'll realize what you've achieved,” Joey says.

“I've achieved nothing!” Jimmy snaps.

“You're missing the point,” Joey replies. “The success of the band was irrelevant - you raised their expectations of life, you lifted their horizons. Sure we could have been famous and made albums and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it's poetry.’

That’s what Jean Van de Velde created on that memorable Scottish day in July 1999.

Poetry.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 16, 2018, 10:20 am

Tiger Woods is competing in his first Open Championship since 2015. We're tracking him this week at Carnoustie.