#AskLav: Future U.S. Ryder Cup captain a hot topic

By Ryan LavnerOctober 2, 2014, 3:30 pm

Have a question or comment for Ryan? Tweet him @RyanLavnerGC.


Ahhh, finally, a return to normalcy: Team Europe is taking a victory lap around St. Andrews, Phil Mickelson is reading and re-reading Paul Azinger’s book, and Tom Watson is back home, shooing those darn kids off his lawn again.

This question is seemingly asked every two years: Did Europe win the Ryder Cup, or did the Americans lose it?

The home team put on a remarkable display, from Paul McGinley’s near-flawless decisions to Justin Rose’s 3-0-2 record to Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson’s new partnership to Rory McIlroy’s smash-mouth singles win. But it’s also clear that the U.S. team was dysfunctional, and for that there is plenty of blame to go around.  

Watson made virtually no effort to engage in any team-bonding exercises and believed his tough-dad act would fly with multimillionaires.

Ted Bishop wanted Watson to fill the role of Captain America, though not even the outgoing PGA president could have envisioned Watson keeping everyone – even his players – at a club’s length. 

Bubba Watson, the No. 1 player in qualifying, went 0-3 and was the only U.S. player who failed to earn a point. The beleaguered captain’s picks went 2-5-2. And Phil, after being benched for two of the four partner sessions, saved his best shots for after the matches were over.  

So, in the end, the week’s biggest winner – besides Callaway Golf, which quickly came up with these (and these!) genius P-Reed-inspired accessories – was Azinger, who, like all iconic leaders, spent Ryder Cup Sunday in a Harley Davidson bar. (FDR probably did the same.)    

The 2008 captain would seem the no-brainer choice for the PGA of America, but the question is whether he would jeopardize his legacy by agreeing to a second (or third) term. He looks smarter with each and every U.S. failure.


 

 

Donaldson hit the clinching shot for the Europeans, and he went 2-1 in his debut, and he was probably the most drunk on Monday morning … but he wasn’t the best player. That honor belongs to Justin Rose, who teamed with Henrik Stenson to produce arguably the greatest fourball performance of all time on Saturday, then won the 18th hole in the afternoon to deny the Americans a crucial full point and give Europe a (normally) insurmountable four-shot cushion. G-Mac was great, too, going 3-0, including a momentum-boosting singles victory over Jordan Spieth in the leadoff spot, but Rose was the man of the match. 


 

 

The hype last year was outrageous, and deservedly so. In not even a full year on Tour Spieth recorded nine top-10s (including a historic win) as he went from not having status on any major tour to a T-2 at the Tour Championship. In the months that followed there were some silly comparisons to Tiger Woods, though even a cursory glance at Spieth’s statistics revealed that he needed to show significant improvement in his ball-striking because he wouldn’t always be able to will the ball into the hole. In ’14, Spieth admittedly wore down at the end of a long season, mostly because of an erratic driver and the expectations that he put on himself after that breakout year. A winner at every level – junior, college, early in his pro career – this was one of the few times that the 21-year-old had faced adversity on the course, and his game suffered as he tried to claw his way out of a mini-slump. He may have had a quiet summer, but his Ryder Cup performance was encouraging (until the back-nine meltdown in singles) and I fully expect him to add to his win total in 2014-15. He’s incredibly motivated to fulfill that awesome potential. 


 

 

You’re right – it does seem obvious. But the PGA Tour and PGA of America are rivals in the search for captains, and Couples took the Presidents Cup gig first. A bummer, too, because he’s the rare U.S. captain who actually, you know, wins. Players say Freddie’s laid-back demeanor is a big reason for their success during his tenure as Presidents Cup captain (3-0), but the Ryder Cup is serious business with more appearances, more decisions, more public scrutiny. Typically, the PGA requires a two-year commitment from its captains, and Couples has already agreed to serve as an assistant for the 2015 Presidents Cup. Call it recon for Hazeltine. Couples should, and will, warrant serious consideration for the gig. 


 

 

Tiger’s health remains the biggest unknown, but we’ll likely know more on that front when he returns to competition in December. Once fully healthy (or as close as he can get), Woods can turn his attention to his swing, which was a mess last summer. Though he has always had an extra set of eyes on the range, Tiger said that he might go it alone after the failed Foley project. That process will take time. Sure, eventually, he could return to his “winning ways,” like winning 2-3 times per season, but it would seem his days of dominance are over. He’s 39 at the end of the year, with a brittle body and, now, a history-making world No. 1 to contend with. 


 

 

Justin Thomas. The 21-year-old would fit in seamlessly with the Patrick Reeds and Jordan Spieths of the U.S. squad, having grown up competing against them in amateur golf. He’s also a strong match-play performer – Thomas helped lead Alabama to the NCAA title in 2012 and represented the U.S. at the Walker Cup in ’13. Throw in Billy Horschel, and the Americans need more fearless birdie machines like those four players – guys who aren’t chronic losers in the cup, who don’t have years of scar tissue. Tiger, Phil and Furyk have combined for 56 losses. More than anything else, the influx of new blood will help make the Ryder Cup competitive once again.


 

 

This upcoming season might be his best chance, because the anchoring ban looms on Jan. 1, 2016. By his lofty standards it was a disappointing season for Scott, who won only once in the States, at the Colonial. Still, he finished in the top 15 in all four majors and was No. 1 in the Tour’s all-around statistic. He’s a rock-solid ball-striker – the most important attribute in getting into contention at majors – but it’s all about whether he can make enough putts. If he can shake in a few on major weekends, he’ll be a particularly strong bet to capture major No. 2 at Augusta, Chambers Bay or St. Andrews;


 

 

The first part of your question: With so much public support it’d be a surprise now if Azinger didn’t get the job, assuming he wants to risk his legacy and return for 2016. As for the second part, our Rex Hoggard reported that the PGA is already in the preliminary stages of changing its selection process, which is a positive step. On the European side, the last three captains, a player from the tournament committee and the circuit’s chief executive determine the next skipper. The PGA’s process is somewhat similar, but it needs to be a more collaborative effort with input from former captains and the players. That was Watson’s biggest mistake – the players on the team weren’t invested in the process. 

The second change would be to push back the deadline for the captain’s picks announcement. Yes, brochures have to be made, uniforms tailored and private-jet tickets booked, but this is 2014. Those last-minute details shouldn’t need three weeks of planning. If the PGA wants the hottest players on the team, and thus the best chance to win, then it needs to make the picks after the Tour Championship.


 

 

Good question. Ultimately, the players are the ones hitting the shots, although I’d argue that the captain has the responsibility to put the team in the best position to succeed. Watson clearly didn’t do that.

The benefits of the pod system are obvious, but let’s not also forget that Azinger’s 2008 squad also went up against European captain Nick Faldo, one of the worst captains in recent memory. That mismatch certainly helped. At this point, after three losses in a row and eight defeats in the last 10 cups, why not send out Azinger again? What’s there to lose? If he wins, great. Give him the job in ’18, too. If he fails, well, so has everyone else in the 2000s. If Phil said Azinger’s system helped bring out the best in the U.S. players, then that alone makes it worth another shot. 


 

 

That’s neither a question nor an option, but it’s worth remembering that these things are cyclical. Not too long ago the Europeans were considered a big underdog and the perceived slights helped fuel their success. That’s not the case anymore, with Team Europe boasting four of the top 5 players in the world. The U.S. will even the score and get its share of victories once the old wave is pushed out. That time is coming, soon. Mark it down: The Americans will win in 2016.  

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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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Austin wins Champions tour's playoff opener

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:35 pm

RICHMOND, Va. -- Woody Austin knew Bernhard Langer was lurking throughout the final nine holes, and he did just enough to hold him off.

Austin shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke victory Sunday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Langer, the defending tournament champion and series points leader, made the turn one shot off the lead, but eight straight pars kept him from ever gaining a share of the lead. Austin's birdie from 6 feet on the closing hole allowed him to hang on for the victory.

''It seemed like he couldn't quite get it over the hump,'' Austin said about Langer, who also birdied No. 18. ''I'm not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy's kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years. Now he sees what it's like to have it happen.''

The 54-year-old Austin finished with an 11-under total for three rounds at The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course. He won his fourth senior title and first since 2016, and said windy and cool conditions that made scoring difficult played to his advantage.

''I was happy to see it. I really enjoy a difficult test,'' he said. ''... I enjoy even par meaning something. That's my game.''

Langer closed with a 70. The winner last week in North Carolina, the 61-year-old German star made consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, but had several birdie putts slide by on the back.


Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


''I made a couple important ones and then I missed a couple important ones, especially the one on 16,'' Langer said. ''I hit three really good shots and had about a 6-footer, something like that, and I just didn't hit it hard enough. It broke away.''

Austin dropped a stroke behind Jay Haas and Stephen Ames with a bogey on the par-3 14th. He got that back with a birdie from about 5 feet on the par-4 15th and then got some good fortune on the final hole when his firmly struck chip hit the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.

''I always say usually the person that wins gets a break on Sunday,'' he said. ''That was my break.''

The 64-year-old Haas, the second-round leader after a 65, had a 74 to tie for third with Fran Quinn (69) and Kent Jones (70) at 9 under. Haas was bidding to become the oldest winner in the history of the tour for players 50 and older.

''Disappointed, for sure,'' Haas said. ''Not going to get many more opportunities like this, but it gives me hope, too, that I can still do it.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 move on to the Invesco QQQ Championship next week in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

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After Further Review: American success stories

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 8:35 pm

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the global nature of Koepka's rise to No. 1 ...

Brooks Koepka is an American superstar, and a two-time winner of his national open. But his rise to world No. 1 in, of all places, South Korea, emphasizes the circuitous, global path he took to the top.

After winning the CJ Cup by four shots, Koepka was quick to remind reporters that he made his first-ever start as a pro in Switzerland back in 2012. He cracked the top 500 for the first time with a win in Spain, and he broke into the top 100 after a good week in the Netherlands.

Koepka languished on the developmental Challenge Tour for a year before earning a promotion to the European Tour, and he didn’t make a splash in the States until contending at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

It’s a testament to Koepka’s adaptability and raw talent that he can handle the heights of Crans-Montana as well as the slopes of Shinnecock Hills or rough of Nine Bridges. And as the scene shifts to China next week, it highlights the global nature of today’s game – and the fact that the best in the world can rise to the occasion on any continent. - Will Gray


On the resurgence of American women  ...

American women are on a nice roll again. Danielle Kang’s victory Sunday at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was the third by an American over the last five events. Plus, Annie Park and Marina Alex, emerging American talents looking for their second victories this season, tied for second. So did American Brittany Altomare. Two years ago, Americans won just twice, their fewest victories in a single season in LPGA history. Overall, women from the United States have won seven times this season.

The Americans are making their move with Stacy Lewis on maternity leave and with Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world, still looking for her first victory this year. Yes, the South Koreans have won nine times this season, but with four LPGA events remaining in 2018 the Americans actually have a chance to be the winningest nation in women’s golf this year. With all the grief they’ve received the last few years, that would be a significant feat. - Randall Mell

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In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

Anxiety.

Frustration.

Anger.

Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

“I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

“I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

“Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.


Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


“I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

Kang did.

“Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

“I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

“More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”