Internationals Need Alternate Shot Game Plan

By Rex HoggardOctober 12, 2009, 5:40 am

Presidents CupSAN FRANCISCO – Just as Tiger Woods and Y.E. Yang were marking their golf balls on the 12th green a pair of pink-clad protesters ducked under the gallery ropes and began chanting “End the war.” They were a hole short and a day late.

Within 15 minutes the war that was the eighth Presidents Cup was over, at least what remained of a bout that had been put on life support a day earlier by Tiger Woods’ heroics, Steve Stricker’s putter and an International squad that still has not found an answer for its foursome woes.

This Presidents Cup will be best remembered as a step in the right direction for the Internationals, if not an event in need of some competitive cache. And it could have been even better, if not for a world team with a blind spot for alternate-shot golf.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods delievered a final knock-out blow Sunday. (Getty Images)
The United States, now a six-time winner of the game’s odd-year member-member, made their bones in foursome play, taking a 7-4 edge in a format the Internationals have managed to win just five times in 18 sessions.

As assistant U.S. captain Michael Jordan would say, there is a Barcalounger on the International’s heads and it all added up to another 19 ½ to 14 ½ final line.

United States captain Fred Couples said in the Saturday dark that he did not “frontload” his singles lineup, but the way the proceedings unfolded on Sunday one would have thought “Boom Boom” marched out a murderers row lineup to put the Internationals away.

Hunter Mahan, a captain’s pick who sat Saturday afternoon and needed a strong finish, opened an early lead on Camilo Villegas and didn’t let up until play was called on the 17th green, the American a 2-and-1 champion.

It was over by then save only an American lapse in judgment and a spate of conceded 20-footers to Adam Scott and Robert Allenby. Within 30 minutes Stewart Cink (4 and 3 over Adam Scott), Anthony Kim (6 and 4 over Robert Allenby) and Sean O’Hair (6 and 4 over Ernie Els) padded the U.S. lead and pulled the home side to game point.

That the clincher came down to another Woods walkover only seemed apropos.

Yang, the effervescent giant killer, drilled Woods at the PGA Championship and nearly did it again on Saturday at the par-3 ninth hole when the Korean hit his shot from a greenside bunker thin and just missed the world No. 1. Woods, however, returned the favor – clipping the Asian Express of Yang and Ryo Ishikawa in Saturday fourball play and his Korean PGA killjoy in a Sunday rout, 6 and 5.

“He got me once,” said Woods, who posted a perfect card (5-0-0) for the first time in six Presidents Cups. “I hope I can get him a second time.”

In many ways, Woods’ business with Yang was personal because the world No. 1 had already ended the battle, if not the war, 24 hours earlier with one putt and one swing that stung the Internationals and all at once energized and ended this event.

Woods’ 22-footer at the 17th hole in his morning foursome frame against Mike Weir and Tim Clark extended the swing match, and his 3-iron from 223 yards on the next hole proved to be more than the Internationals could bear.

“It was just great golf by Tiger Woods making the putt on 17 turning the whole thing around and he obviously hit a phenomenal shot on 18,” International captain Greg Norman said. “If Tiger doesn't make that putt on 17, and Weir makes the putt, it's all over and we go into (singles) behind one point.”

Instead, the Americans coasted into Day 4 action with a field-goal head start. So many had not come so far to see so little since the halcyon days of Mike Tyson.

The “weed patch” – Harding Park patriarch Sandy Tatum’s endearing epithet for the circular municipal layout – appeared a willing stage, but the Internationals proved unable to solve the foursome riddle, to say nothing of the 500-pound Woods-Stricker gorilla.

With respect to Jim Furyk, the American search for a Woods partner is over, at least until Wisconsin’s favorite son trades golf for deer hunting. America’s one-two punch were pushed past the 16th tee just once, had an answer for every possible International tandem and posted just the third 4-0-0 week for an American team in Presidents Cup history.

“Putting Steve and Tiger together was a cinch,” Couples said. “It was a fun thing for Tiger and Steve to beat up on everybody. For them to win every match we basically shut their team down.”

Mickelson was nearly as prolific with a turnstile of partners. A zombie for too long in these fall showdowns, Mickelson arrived fresh from his Tour Championship victory and jabbed and gabbed three different partners to the finish line.

The man Couples only half-jokingly thought would be the toughest to please at Harding Park made things easy for Kim, O’Hair and Justin Leonard, but mostly for Couples with a 4-0-1 record.

Amy Mickelson, whose absence had been marked by pink ribbons on players’ hats, surprised Phil on Saturday night in his hotel after Day 3. The big left-hander continues to surprise with his late-season play and a resurgent putting stroke presented by Dave Stockton.

“It was so hard to not have her here,” said Mickelson, who clipped Retief Goosen, 2 and 1, for just his second singles ‘W’ in eight matches. “This is such an emotional week, these team events we play, and this is the first time she has not been with me and it was difficult on both of us.”

As for the International side, which dropped to 1-6-1 in the event, there were a few bright spots, including the play of Norman’s “bulldog” Tim Clark (2-2-1) and oft-criticized captain’s pick Ryo Ishikawa, the Japanese phenom who earned three points but couldn’t legally celebrate his play with an adult beverage in the team room.

Some world players have questioned the event’s aversion to venues outside the United States, just two of the eight cups have been played outside North America, but the elephant in the room was a continued aversion to foursome play.

“We have to pretty much go back to the drawing board, because they are a pretty well-oiled team and it’s hard to beat that kind of team with momentum,” said Ernie Els, who went 3-2-0 to share top-point earner honors with Ishikawa.

For Norman, however, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Widely panned before the first shot had been hit for his picks, his personal life and his poor cell phone skills, the Aussie’s squad stood behind him in the Sunday gloom and another sobering defeat.

In two years the Presidents Cup dips back below the Equator, to Australia and Royal Melbourne, where the Shark is a member. It’s also the site of the International side’s only victory (1998) with a squad that gelled in the team room, if not in foursomes.

“I just wish everyone in the room had the opportunity to experience the camaraderie we have in our room,” Norman said. “Considering we are under nine different flags, we actually act like we are under one flag.”

On Sunday at Harding Park, that flag was white and waved far too early. 
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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.”