Two years later, is U.S. ready for task at hand?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 27, 2016, 1:00 pm

CHASKA, Minn. – A few blunt answers started a Ryder Cup revolution.

Undermined by poor leadership and a lack of player input, the Americans were throttled at the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland, their third consecutive defeat in the biennial matches. In the awkward news conference afterward, a reporter asked any of the 12 team members to identify what worked in 2008 (when the U.S. last won) and what has gone wrong since.

That’s when Phil Mickelson leaned into the microphone.

Having made 10 consecutive Ryder Cup teams, Lefty was an authoritative source. He described in detail how every member of the Paul Azinger-led squad was “invested in the process” – the picks, the pairings, the pods. Everything.

“Unfortunately,” Mickelson said, “we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.”

It sounded like a damning indictment of that year’s captain, Tom Watson, who was positioned only a few seats away. So to follow up, Mickelson was asked: Players weren’t involved at Gleneagles?

“Uh, no,” he said. “Nobody here was in [on] any decision.”

For the next few weeks, the focus was not on another European victory but how the Americans – losers of eight of the past 10 competitions – were seemingly imploding. Hours of airtime were devoted to whether Mickelson violated some unwritten code by calling out his captain on live TV, but it’s clear now, two years later, that expressing those views, in that forum, in front of his teammates and PGA officials, was the only way to initiate meaningful change.

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Asked recently whether the U.S. team would be in its current position without his public stance, Mickelson smirked. “It doesn’t really matter, because are we here. How we got here doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’re trying to look forward now. We have this fresh start, this fresh involvement. We have an actual game plan. We know who is going to be playing with who, when they’re going to be playing, what matches – we have time now to work together and create that partnership.

“We’re not being told 30 minutes before we tee off who we’re going to play. These vice captains and captains have given us a real game plan and sense of continuity well before the Ryder Cup has even started.”

That’s because 15 days after Mickelson’s candid assessment of the U.S. team, the PGA of America announced the creation of an 11-man task force, comprised of past captains, top players (including two of the game’s biggest stars, Mickelson and Tiger Woods) and PGA leaders. In the release, then-president Ted Bishop trumpeted the task force as part of larger goal in “developing the right strategy and building ongoing processes and infrastructure for future generations of U.S. teams.”

Across the pond, and even here in the States, the formation of a task force was widely mocked and viewed as the ultimate sign of desperation. After all, Europe has gone 8-2 despite having, at least according to the world rankings, the inferior team on paper. Why have the Europeans been so successful of late? “It’s not rocket science,” Rory McIlroy shrugged.

No, maybe not, but the task-force announcement was significant in that, for the first time, the PGA had agreed to surrender control of its most prized asset. “I think we’re all very appreciative that they have made that big step,” Mickelson said, “because we feel like, as a group, we are giving ourselves an opportunity to succeed, rather than obstacles to overcome.”  

The initial task force was disbanded once Davis Love III was named captain, for a second time, in February 2015, and replaced with a smaller six-man committee that still includes Mickelson and Woods.

Whatever the name, this week’s matches at Hazeltine will be a referendum on Team USA’s revamped system.

“You don’t want to get too tied up in the results,” Mickelson said, “but certainly what we’re looking at is, are we able to play our best golf?”

That’s been the main difference, he contends, for the Europeans’ success – that they have such faith in their system and each other that it allowed one-hit wonders like Peter Baker (3-1 in 1993), Philip Walton (singles win in ’95) and Philip Price (singles win in 2002) to play some of the best golf of their lives during the taut three-day exhibition.

“That’s not a fluke when you have a real team, a partnership, and you lift each other up to new heights,” Mickelson said. “We haven’t had that type of continuity, support system, game plan and structure from year to year.”

While Watson was an autocrat, Love has opted for a more inclusive approach, like Azinger in 2008. Love has gathered a dizzying amount of insights from a variety of sources – players, statisticians and even weatherman/vice captain Tom Lehman, who has studied the past three decades of late-September forecasts in his native Minnesota.

It all sounds so silly, of course, a classic case of American overthinking. While the U.S. side has publicized every team-building exercise – a dinner at Jack Nicklaus’ house, a night at the Patriots’ stadium, a scouting trip last week to Hazeltine – the European team has quietly gone about its preparations, clinging to the template that is passed down from captain to captain, like a playbook.

The 12-man European team was finalized four weeks ago. The Americans, meanwhile, determined to put the hottest players on the squad, turned the FedEx Cup Playoffs into a three-week audition for Captain Love. Problem was, with the added stress and expectation of competing for a spot, only one of the contenders elevated his game. (Even Mickelson conceded they waited too long.) For the final spot, the committee settled on Ryan Moore, a wise choice, but the announcement was made late Sunday night, after the season finale and during halftime of a primetime NFL game. It was another sign that the PGA might still be more interested in marketing than molding a team of 12.

Tasked with spawning a new era in USA golf, the committee instead recycled many of the same ol’ names. Brooks Koepka and Moore are the only newcomers on this year’s roster.

“If America doesn’t win,” said world No. 1 and neutral observer Jason Day, with a wry smile, “who knows what will happen to that task force.”

Over the past year and a half, Love and Co. have stuck to the script, that the formation of the task force was not just about trying to win this year, but for decades to come, creating continuity and a system to promote inclusivity, groom captains and select players.

Though the task force might have been a subtle way to shift blame away from the captain – hey, win or lose, it has been a team effort – it’s evident that the player under the most pressure this week is the same one who agitated for change: Mickelson.

The Americans can plan dinners and discuss pairings and study weather reports until they’re red, white and blue in the face. But even Mickelson concedes that the Ryder Cup still comes down to who performs best in the most pressurized environment in the sport.

Only now, he says, “we have our best chance to play our best golf.”

And that’s all he really wanted two years ago. 

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Ko part of 5-way tie for Mediheal lead

By Associated PressApril 27, 2018, 3:20 am

DALY CITY, Calif. - Lydia Ko was back on top at Lake Merced.

Ko shot a 4-under 68 on a chilly Thursday morning at the LPGA Mediheal Championship for a share of the first-round lead. Jessica Korda, Caroline Hedwall, In-Kyung Kim and Su Oh joined Ko atop the leaderboard in the LPGA's return to Lake Merced after a year away.

''This is a golf course where you need to drive the ball well and putt well,'' said Ko, the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic winner at the course in 2014 and 2015.

Ko eagled the par-5 fifth and had four birdies and a bogey. The New Zealander has 14 LPGA wins, the last in July 2016.

''It's nice to come back to a place where you feel super-welcomed,'' Ko said. ''It just brings back a lot of great memories. ... My family and friends are here this week, so I'm hoping that I'm going to continue the solid play.''

She turned 21 on Tuesday.

''I don't think I feel a huge difference, but I know turning 21 is a huge thing in the U.S.,'' Ko said, ''So, I'm legal and I can do some fun things now.''

Korda, playing alongside Kim a group ahead of Ko, also eagled the fifth and had four birdies and a bogey. Korda won in Thailand in February in her return from reconstructive jaw surgery.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

''The score says one thing and my hands say another,'' Korda said. ''It was really cold out there today, so it was good that I stuck to kind of my process. ... Actually, this is still some of the nicer conditions that we've played in compared to the past. I'll take the cold as long as there's no rain.''

Hedwall and Kim each had five birdies and a bogey.

''I just love the city. It's really nice,'' said Hedwall, from Sweden. ''It's sort of a European-style city with all the shopping going on downtown and stuff. I love it here. I even like this weather, suits me really well, too.''

Oh had a bogey-free round. The Australian was the only one of the five players tied for the lead to play in the afternoon.

''It was cold and pretty windy out there and, because it's got a lot of elevation, it kind of swirls in the middle like in the low areas, so it was tough,'' Oh said. ''I hit the ball really solid today. Then the ones I missed, I made really good up-and-downs.''

Lexi Thompson, Sei Young Kim, Charley Hull and Celine Herbin shot 69.

''This course is very challenging, especially when the wind picks up,'' the third-ranked Thompson said. ''It's chilly, so it's a little longer of a course. Some of the par 5s are reachable, so you try to take advantage of that, but pars were good and just take the birdie chances as you can get them.''

Moriya Jutanugarn, the winner Sunday in Los Angeles for her first LPGA title, had a 71 playing with former Stanford student Michelle Wie and ANA Inspiration winner Pernilla Lindberg. Wie had a 74, and Lindberg shot 79. Ariya Jutanugarn matched her sister with a 71, playing in the group with Ko.

Top-ranked Inbee Park matched playing partner Brooke Henderson with a 72. The third member of the afternoon group, second-ranked Shanshan Feng, shot 73.

Juli Inkster shot 72. The 57-year-old Hall of Famer grew up in Santz Cruz, starred at San Jose State and lives in Los Altos. She won the last of her 31 LPGA titles in 2006.

Stacy Lewis had a 74 after announcing that she is pregnant with a due date of Nov. 3. She plans to play through the Marathon Classic in July and return for a full season next year.

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Glover, Reavie share Zurich lead with Chinese pair

By Associated PressApril 27, 2018, 3:04 am

AVONDALE, La. - Chez Reavie had quite a few good moments at TPC Louisiana on Thursday. So did teammate Lucas Glover.

In best-ball format, the most important thing was those moments came on different holes.

Reavie and Glover teamed to shoot a 12-under 60 for a share of the Zurich Classic lead with China's Zhang Xinjun and Dou Zecheng.

''Chez started well and I picked it up in the middle of the back nine,'' Glover said. ''He closed it off and then we both played really well on the front. Just kind of ham and egged it, I guess, as they would say.''

Reavie and Glover each had six birdies in the best-ball format, pushing through soggy weather early in the round before conditions cleared at TPC Louisiana. Six teams are two shots back in a tie for third after shooting 62.

''We were just rolling,'' Reavie said. ''I think we're comfortable. We like to laugh and have a good time when we're playing golf, and it definitely helps.''

Zhang and Dou birdied four of their final five holes. Dou made a 31-foot putt on No. 9 to cap the impressive rally and jump into the lead with Reavie and Glover.

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

Tony Finau-Daniel Summerhays, Chris Paisley-Tommy Fleetwood, J.J. Henry-Tom Hoge, Michael Kim-Andrew Putnam, Kevin Kisner-Scott Brown and Troy Merritt-Brendon de Jonge shot 62. Jason Day and Ryan Ruffels shot 64.

It's the first time since last year's Tour Championship that the reigning champs of all four majors have been in the same field. None of them were among the leaders after the first round.

Masters champion Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay had a 65, and British Open winner Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer were at 66.

''I didn't feel like there was really any rust,'' Reed said. ''I felt like I hit the ball all right today. I felt I hit some good quality putts. A couple of them went in, a couple of them didn't.''

This is the second year that two-player teams have competed at the Zurich Classic. The unusual tournament features best-ball play in the first and third rounds and alternate shot in the second and final rounds.

U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Marc Turnesa shot a 67. PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley shot a 70.

There are 80 teams in the tournament and the top 35, along with ties, will make the cut after Friday's second round.

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Lewis says she's expecting first child in November

By Randall MellApril 27, 2018, 2:18 am

Stacy Lewis is pregnant.

The 12-time LPGA winner confirmed after Thursday’s first round of the Mediheal Championship that she and her husband, University of Houston women’s golf coach Gerrod Chadwell, are expecting their first child on Nov. 3.

Lewis learned she was pregnant after returning home to Houston in late February following her withdrawal from the HSBC Women’s World Championship with a strained oblique muscle.

“We're obviously really excited,” Lewis said. “It wasn't nice I was hurt, but it was nice that I was home when I found out with [Gerrod]. We're just really excited to start a family.”

Lewis is the third big-name LPGA player preparing this year to become a mother for the first time. Suzann Pettersen announced last month that she’s pregnant, due in the fall. Gerina Piller is due any day.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

Piller’s husband, PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, withdrew from the Zurich Classic on Thursday to be with her. Piller and Lewis have been U.S. Solheim Cup partners the last two times the event has been played.

“It's going to be fun raising kids together,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, they're best friends and they hang out. But just excited about the next few months and what it's going to bring.”

Lewis, a former Rolex world No. 1 and two-time major championship winner, plans to play through the middle of July, with the Marathon Classic her last event of the year. She will be looking to return for the start of the 2019 season. The LPGA’s maternity leave policy allows her to come back next year with her status intact.

“This year, the golf might not be great, but I've got better things coming in my life than a golf score.” Lewis said. “I plan on coming back and traveling on the road with the baby, and we'll figure it out as we go.”

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Coach scores in NFL Draft and on golf course

By Grill Room TeamApril 27, 2018, 1:47 am

To say that Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had a good day Thursday would be an understatement. Not only did his team snag one of the top defensive players in the NFL Draft - Georgia outside linebacker Roquan Smith, who the Bears took with the eighth pick of the first round - but earlier in the day Fangio, 59, made a hole-in-one, sinking a 9-iron shot from 125 yards at The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wis.

Perhaps the ace isn't so surprising, though. In late May 2017, Fangio made another hole-in-one, according to a tweet from the Bears. The only information supplied on that one was the distance - 116 yards.