U.S. Solheim team could be youngest squad ever

By Randall MellMay 29, 2013, 10:54 pm

Buckle up, Solheim Cup hopefuls.

This summer could be a bumpy ride with potentially the youngest American team ever coming together.

After this week’s Shoprite Classic, just six LPGA events will remain before the American Solheim Cup team is set and three of those events are major championships with double points up for grabs. Next week’s Wegmans LPGA Championship launches a potentially volatile summer of movement in the qualifying standings.

“That’s why I’m not getting overly excited about the points list yet,” U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon told GolfChannel.com. “There are just so many points to get.”

The American and European teams will be announced Aug. 4 at the conclusion of the Ricoh Women’s British Open with the Solheim Cup scheduled Aug. 16-18 at Colorado Golf Club in suburban Denver.

Full U.S., European Solheim Cup team standings

Euro captain Liselotte Neumann is at the UniCredit Ladies German Open this week to watch prospective team members. It’s one of just five events remaining before the European team is set.

The American team will be made up of eight players off the U.S. Solheim Cup points list and two off of the Rolex World Rankings. Mallon gets two captain’s picks.

The European team will include four players off the Ladies European Tour points list and four off the Rolex World Rankings. Neumann gets four captain’s picks.

If the American team were decided today, there would be at least four Solheim Cup rookies on the team with the squad’s average age 26.0 years old. Lexi Thompson (18), Jessica Korda (20), Lizette Salas (23) and Jennifer Johnson (21) would all make their first appearances in the international team event. The youngest American team ever averaged 27.5 years old back in ’09 when the Americans won at Rich Harvest Farms.

The Americans have never lost on their home soil and the possibility looms that Mallon could be trying to defend that record with four or more Solheim Cup rookies. Since the Solheim Cup rosters were expanded to 12 players in 1996, there have never been more than five Solheim Cup rookies on an American team. There were five on the 2002 USA team that rallied from a two-point deficit on the final day to beat the Euros at Interlachen.

Stacy Lewis (28), Cristie Kerr (35), Paula Creamer (26), Angela Stanford (35) and Brittany Lincicome (27) look as if they’re all locks to make the team as the top five players on the American points list. They’re all Solheim Cup veterans. Kerr and Stanford are the only players over age 30 among those who currently sit within qualifying standards.

Thompson, Korda and Salas currently hold the final three spots off the points list. Brittany Lang (27) and Johnson, winner of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic two weeks ago, currently hold the two roster spots off the Rolex World Rankings.

“We pretty much felt like the top five were a lock from last year because they accumulated so many points, but Lizette Salas, Jessica Korda and Lexi Thompson have stepped up the most this year and are really trying to cement their positions on the team,” Mallon said. “It’s fun to watch these three very talented and determined players.

“But, it’s still wide open. You saw what Jennifer Johnson did leapfrogging a bunch of people with a win. It’s why I’m sitting back and waiting because anybody can do that in the next six weeks.”

Gerina Piller, Katie Futcher and Danielle Kang also sit right on the edge of qualifying as Americans looking to make their first Solheim Cup team.

The possibility of some major turnover on the American roster exists with six players on the U.S. team that lost in Europe two years ago sitting outside the qualifying standard in various states of sluggish form.

Juli Inkster, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, Christina Kim, Vicky Hurst and Ryann O'Toole played on that American team that lost in Ireland but Pressel has posted the lone top-10 finish among them this season.

With so many young first-timers possibly making the team, Mallon could be looking for veteran leadership as her captain’s picks to help solidify the roster.

“Considering I have five solid veterans who have played in Solheim Cups, I feel very good about that,” Mallon said. “That being said, with the possibly of four or five rookies making the team, I would definitely look for experience and players who are playing well going into the event. That combination would be the ideal situation for me.”

If Pressel, 25, doesn’t qualify for the team, she looms as a strong captain’s pick candidate. She was 4-0 in the last Solheim Cup and sports a 7-2-2 overall Solheim Cup record. She has a strong overall match play record having won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and finishing third in the Sybase Match Play Championship a year ago. She’s rebounding from a left-hand injury that derailed her in the second half of last season.

Inkster, 52, who has played in an American record nine Solheim Cups, told GolfChannel.com in April that she wasn’t really interested in playing again and believed it was time for some younger Americans to step up. Mallon, though, isn’t discounting Inkster making her 10th team.

“It’s Juli speak,” Mallon said. “In a way, it’s a motivator for her as well. I fully expect Juli to play well this summer with a carrot there in the Solheim Cup. She’s not a ceremonial golfer. She’s not out there just to play. She’s out there to play well. If she finds her game, she will put herself in contention to win tournaments.”

Wie has a 4-3-1 record in two Solheim Cups but she has missed five of 10 cuts this year with no finish better than a tie for 28th.

Natalie Gulbis, slowed by back problems in the past and a bout of malaria earlier this year, is 5-4-1 in three Solheim Cups.

“There are several factors that go into the captain’s picks,” Mallon said. “One is the golf course we’re playing. We are playing at altitude. We’re playing a second shot golf course where you need to have control of your golf ball. So, that’s one part of the pie. Another is experience. Having match-play experience would be great if it was Solheim Cup experience. Another factor is just flat out playing well at the time. That’s a significant factor, and so is the chemistry of the team. You have to have good chemistry in pairings.”

The European squad may feature three or more Solheim Cup rookies.

In the current European standings, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall and Germany’s Caroline Masson hold the top four spots. Off the Euro Rolex World Rankings list, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, Spain’s Azahara Munoz, France’s Karine Icher and Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist hold the top four spots.

Ciganda and Masson would be Solheim Cup rookies.

Spain’s Beatriz Recari, Germany’s Sandra Gal and England's Laura Davies loom as potential captain’s picks.

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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.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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.