Cut Line: Pepper no holds barred post-Solheim

By Rex HoggardAugust 23, 2013, 3:00 pm

For those still digesting the major championship season, to say nothing of last week’s Solheim Cup, get over it. The split-calendar has spoken and it’s time to move on to the playoffs and qualifying for next season. The dog days have never been so eventful.

Made Cut

Jordan rules. For all the handwringing over the new PGA Tour qualifying system (see Tweet of the week), Jordan Spieth has proven that all the tinkering and “closed shop” claims can still be overcome with stellar play.

Spieth began the season with no status of any kind, played his way into special temporary status with consecutive top-10 finishes in Puerto Rico and Tampa, and secured his Tour status with his playoff victory over Zach Johnson at the John Deere Classic.

Last week’s playoff loss to Patrick Reed at the Wyndham Championship likely exempted him all the way through to the Tour Championship and into a possible Presidents Cup spot.

Not every up-and-coming player can count on sponsor exemptions (he played Puerto Rico on an invitation), but regardless of the small print Jordan proved that a talented and determined player can still find his way.

More Pepper. A game that doesn’t always value an honest take will probably not be kind to Dottie Pepper following her post-game comments regarding last week’s Solheim Cup matches, but if the U.S. side is serious about making a game of it in two years they may want to keep the assistant captain’s number handy.

Pepper weighed in on the litany of rulings throughout the week at Colorado Golf Club and how long it took officials to act (25 minutes on Friday to make an incorrect ruling, for those scoring at home).

“The U.S. golfers handled the news of the error, which (U.S. captain Meg Mallon) and I delivered to them late that night, like champions, and they moved forward into Saturday as asked. But the damage had been done, mostly to the reputation of the competition's integrity,” she said on

Pepper also addressed the general vibe of the event that seems to have drifted too far from its competitive core at the exact time it is gaining relevance thanks to Europe’s inspired play in the last two matches.

“It wasn't about participation medals, face paint, hair ribbons, spousal gown allowances, decorated hotel rooms, custom rain suits and ‘inside the ropes’ badges ... it was about pouring your heart and soul into something you got no material benefit from,” she said.

Where some see sour grapes, we see the fighting spirit of the American side who should get her turn in the captain’s chair.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

He’s had his Phil. That Phil Mickelson announced last week he would skip this year’s PGA Grand Slam of Golf, to be held Oct. 14-16 in Bermuda, was hardly breaking news.

Lefty said he will skip the event because of a scheduling conflict and was replaced by Padraig Harrington. That the Grand Slam is played two weeks before the WGC-HSBC Champions in China – which Mickelson has played three out of the last four years and will, for the first time, be an official Tour event – may also factor into this.

But in Mickelson’s defense, he is hardly the only major champion to give the Grand Slam the slip. Just twice since the event moved to the fall and Bermuda in 2008 have all four of that season’s major champions played.

Not sure if it’s the purse – the winner’s share of $600,000 would be the second-lowest among regular Tour events – or location, but if 600 large and all the “Dark ’n Stormys” you can drink isn’t worth the flight to Bermuda then we don’t know what is. 

Room with a view. By most accounts, the nip/tuck of Liberty National is an upgrade over the 2009 version which was widely panned by players, and the ubiquitous views of lower Manhattan make this week’s Barclays a must-see event.

Still, Cut Line would like to see The Barclays – and the BMW Championship, for that matter – consider a more creative rotation of golf courses. Imagine a Barclays’ lineup that included Plainfield, Ridgewood, Baltusrol and Westchester ... to name few.

Ditto for the BMW, with a Chicago-land rotation that could feature Chicago Golf Club, Skokie, Olympia Fields and Shoreacres.

A guy can dream, can’t he?

Missed Cut

Tweet of the week: @KyleThompsonPGA “Amazed that our tour still charges over $4,000 for qualifying. Complete rip off.”

The common lament in professional circles when it comes to Q-School and diminished status is “play better,” but Thompson’s take goes well beyond self-preservation.

The introduction of the Tour’s new qualifying system means that for those players who did not finish inside the top 75 on the Tour money list, or between 126th and 200th in PGA Tour earnings, their big league dreams will likely have to wait for at least one year.

Consider the plight of Zack Sucher, who played his way into special temporary status on the Tour via Monday qualifying this season. He is the current “bubble boy” at No. 76 and seems likely to stay that way after an opening 76 at this week’s Cox Classic, the final regular-season event.

Sucher is currently $126 behind No. 75 Michael Connell and a spot in the four-event finals, which will dole out the reminder of next year’s PGA Tour cards. That’s $126 away from playing for a Tour card or paying $4,000 (the Q-School fee for an application that is turned in by Sept. 11) to simply improve their 2014 status on the secondary circuit (Nos. 76-100 on the regular-season money list are already conditionally exempt).

“You have one bad year and it feels like they throw you out on your butt,” said one Tour player.

The qualifying system has changed, whether that overhaul is for the better or not is to be determined, but the cost of Q-School has not. Seems $4,000 doesn’t buy what it used to.

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”