Ryder Cup: Playing will outweigh bonding for U.S.

By Will GrayFebruary 26, 2016, 11:41 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Let the record show that 218 days before the first ball will be struck at Hazeltine, American players past, present and future formally met to begin solving the Ryder Cup riddle.

A group of 26 men descended upon Jack Nicklaus’ humble abode to share a meal, players swapped stories and the host regaled them with motivational tales from victories past.

It was the first step on a long path toward redemption for a U.S. squad that will be eager to erase nearly two decades of disappointment. It started the process of “changing the culture,” as players from various rungs of the PGA Tour ladder gathered to begin bonding as a team.

It was also a move that left several of Europe’s former stalwarts sporting a collection of wry grins.

Culture and camaraderie are all well and good, but the American response to the loss at Gleneagles – including the breaking of bread that occurred Thursday at Chez Nicklaus – largely constitutes an effort to quantify that which is unquantifiable.

Put it this way: Don Quixote had better luck chasing windmills than the Americans do with recreating the magical formula the Europeans have conjured over the past two decades.

A few of the Euros who have been instrumental in sending the Americans to their current 1-6 skid even seem keenly aware of the fact that these task force-driven efforts could amount to paralysis by analysis.

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“I think at the end of the day, some of this golf and these results are circumstantial,” said Padraig Harrington, a veteran of five Ryder Cups. “We’re having a good run, the U.S. aren’t, everybody’s trying to find an answer. I don’t think it’s as measured as you’d think it would be.”

It’s a long way from Palm Beach Gardens to Chaska, Minn., and there is plenty of golf to be played before teams are even finalized. Based on the simple rules of math, nearly half of those in attendance for the first team-building exercise will play no role in American success or failure seven months from now.

And while the powers-that-be hope that dinners and fishing trips initiate the creation of a more cohesive unit, it’s unlikely that any team members will think back to Thursday’s meal while grinding over a critical up-and-down at Hazeltine.

“There’s so little influence that the captain can have on the team, I think,” Graeme McDowell said. “Apart from creating a good atmosphere in the team room and on the week, it comes down to holing shots and holing putts. You look at these last four Ryder Cups, how little there is when it comes down to a Sunday afternoon. It’s putts holed and putts not holed.”

Remember, after all, that it took what McDowell again termed a “miracle” for the Europeans to defeat Love’s squad four years ago at Medinah. The margin between the two teams has been measured recently not in miles, but in inches.

Yet here the Americans toil, attempting to reinvent the wheel while the Europeans sit back and watch them try to hit a moving target.

“I don’t know, we’ll see. If it works, it’s great. If it doesn’t then, you know, they will try something else,” Sergio Garcia said with a smile. “We’ll see if it pays off or not in September.”

The European Tour has long been viewed as the gold standard of team-building, a circuit whose unique venues and travel demands force players to forge strong bonds before the Ryder Cup is even on the horizon.

They hang out more often, they share meals more often, they travel together more often. By the time the biennial matches arrive, a captain’s work has largely been done for him by virtue of the path his players traveled together.

While that theory may be rooted in truth, Harrington focused more on his continent’s ability to retain a chip on its collective shoulder even while pulling off victory after victory.

“No matter what you say, we need it more than the U.S.,” Harrington said. “Maybe now the U.S. needs it a lot as well, but for the last number of years, the last 20 years, we needed to win the Ryder Cup to justify our status. We’re the ‘country cousins’ and we want to prove ourselves.”

If nothing else, the recent American efforts indicate a level of investment in the event – but even that, according to Harrington, shows they’re only just beginning to catch up to their competition.

“The greatest achievement by the European team over the years is we have made the U.S. guys care,” he said, “and they really care.”

As the American team psyche begins its latest overhaul, the Europeans remain a united front. What’s more, these highly publicized meetings and dinners allow the defending champs to cling to the role of humble underdogs despite their recent run of success. 

“You only have to look at the leaderboards to see who the favorites are for this year,” McDowell said. “They’ve got an incredible team, when you look at Rickie [Fowler] and Jordan [Spieth] and Brooks Koepka and all of these guys that are playing as well as they’re playing.

“Yeah, we’re going to go in there as underdogs, just the way we like it,” he added. “We like the underdog tagline. It’s worked well in the past for us.”

Should the Americans leave Minnesota with the Ryder Cup, some may point back to this week as a turning point – a collective shift of a mindset that had largely been mired in losing since the turn of the century.

More than likely, though, it will be much ado about nothing. The trophy will be won by making shots in October, not by sharing a meal in February. The game’s most fundamental, quantifiable metric  – the scorecard – will be the final arbiter.

The Europeans know this as well as anyone, but they seem more than content to let the Americans keep chasing windmills all summer long.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.