Opening nears for Palm Aire’s `re-imagined’ Champions Course

BEFORE AND NOW: When we moved to Sarasota the fairway on the  No. 11 hole of The Champions Course at Palm Aire Country Club  was under construction — but look at it now. (Mike Benkusky Photos)

SARASOTA, FL. — It’s getting exciting now.  We’ll soon have a new golf course – or at least a “re-imagined’’ one – to look at while we’re enjoying either our early morning coffee or late afternoon beverage of choice from the lanai of our new home.

The Champions Course, at Palm Aire Country Club, was in the early stages of a renovation when we moved in. We’ve closely  followed its transformation.  Illinois-based course architect Mike Benkusky, who has been coming to town on a weekly basis, is planning his next return for the Grand Opening.

While the official date for that hasn’t been set, it won’t be far off.  The club’s greens committee will address the matter at its November board meeting.

“They’re not rushing it – and that’s good,’’ said Benkusky, who did most all of his work in the Midwest after opening his office in Lake in the Hills 15 years ago.  The choice $2 million project was his first work in Florida. The course  opening was originally targeted for Nov. 1, then was pushed back to mid-November.

“Everything’s looking good.  The greens look very good. We’re right on schedule,’’ said Benkusky.

It’s been fascinating to see this project unfold, as we reside off the green at the 11th hole.  Watching the work begin in near darkness each morning has become part of our daily routine. No. 11 was a 538-yard hole from the back tees prior to Benkusky’s arrival and the scorecard from the tips was 7,005 yards.  Now the proposed yardage for No. 11 is 581 yards and the championship yardage is 7,207.

This Florida course had an Illinois flavor even before Benkusky’s hiring and our moving in. The original designer was Dick Wilson when the course opened in 1957 and Palm Aire’s other 18-holer, The Lakes, was designed by Joe Lee.

Wilson may be best known for his work at the more famous Florida courses Bay Hill and Doral’s Blue Monster and Lee was a prolific designer whose creations extended far beyond the  Sunshine State.  From a Chicago perspective, however, their most noteworthy project is one they did together in the 1960s – the Dubsdread Course at Cog Hill, a long-time PGA Tour site in Chicago’s south suburbs.

Palm Aire was called DeSoto Lakes when Wilson did his work, and the PGA Tour conducted the DeSoto Open there in 1960, Sam Snead winning the title. A year later another Hall of Famer, Louise Suggs, won Golden Circle of Golf Festival, an LPGA event, on the course. That was one of Suggs’ five wins that season.

The Champion was also a site for the televised All-Star Golf (later Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf) , two National Left-Handed Golfers Championships and  the LPGA Legends Tour’s Handa Cup team event.

A name change, from DeSoto Lakes to Palm Aire, was made in 1981 and Lee not only designed The Lakes course, which opened the following year, but he also made his first hole-in-one during that course’s opening day.

On a cloudy day the view of the No. 11 green of The Champions course from our lanai is particularly eye-catching.

Ray Hearn takes on some big golf projects at Boyne resorts

 

The first hole of Boyne Highlands’ Donald Ross Memorial course is in the process of getting a new look.

HARBOR SPRINGS, Michigan – Michigan-based architect Ray Hearn has worked on courses across the country for 25 years, but the projects he has recently  taken on close to home may have a more far-reaching impact.

Stephen  Kircher, Boyne’s president and chief executive officer, and  Bernie Friedrich, senior vice president of golf,  brought in Hearn, who has headquarters in Holland, Mich., to tackle a variety of projects. One of the most interesting is on the Donald Ross Memorial course at Boyne Highlands Resort.

This course was already something special. Bill Newcomb was the original architect of the Ross course and each of its 18 holes created a composite of classic holes that Ross designed in the early part of the century.

The Ross Memorial course opened in 1989 and Golf Digest tabbed it the Best New Resort Course in the U.S. in 1990. Its replica holes have been used in 14 U.S. Opens, 11 PGA Championships, eight U.S Amateurs and three Ryder Cups.

Courses represented include Seminole, in Florida;   Oakland Hills and Detroit Golf Club, in Michigan;  Pinehurst and Charlotte Country Club, in North Carolina; Oak Hill, in New York; Plainfield, in New Jersey; Scioto and Inverness, in Ohio;  Oak Hill in New York; Bob O’Link, in Illinois; Royal Dornoch, in Scotland; Salem Country Club, in Massachusetts; Aronimink, in Pennsylvania; and Wannamoisett, in Rhode Island.

That’s quite a collection of holes, and Hearn is revising two of them.

Golf course architect Ray Hearn has taken on his first projects at Boyne resorts.

Nos. 1 and 16 of the Ross Memorial are getting touched up by Hearns.  No. 1 is from the sixth hole at Seminole  and No. 16 is from the tenth hole at Pinehurst No. 2. Most of the work is being down on Ross Memorial’s No. 1, but the work there spills over into No. 16 as well.

“We’re capturing the flavor a little more than the first time through, when Bill Newcomb did it,’’ said Hearn.  “There’s so much more information available for architects to work with now.’’

In the case of Seminole, that course was restored by the architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw two years ago.  Now Hearn is restoring a hole from a hole that was already restored once.

“We’re looking only at the original drawings of this hole,’’ Hearn said. “The bunkers were originally a lot larger, and Seminole is obviously in a different climate in Florida than we have in Michigan..  We took out quite a few trees to open up the hole like the original one.  Now there’s massive waste areas on both sides of the hole.’’

Tinkering with a Donald Ross design can be dangerous. Hearn is aware of that.

“There’s a small percentage of Ross aficionados who question the idea of the Ross Memorial, but I think it’s good,’’ said Hearn.  “A lot of players would never get the chance to play those other holes, so getting to play them is fun. But, for those who take them too seriously, I respect that, too.’’

The Ross Memorial course already has a beautiful finishing hole, patterned after No. 18 at Oakland Hills.

Despite his firm’s 25-year history and its proximity to the resorts, this is the first time that Boyne Golf and Hearn have joined forces and his work there will extend far beyond the Ross Memorial.

His biggest project there may be a redo of the Moor course, which opened in 1974.

“We’re in Phase 1 of that,’’ said Hearn.  “We’ve begun tree removal and adjustments of the grass lines of the fairways and greens.  It could be highly controversial, too.’’

The bunkers will be addressed next.  In the end, the work on the Moor will be extensive.  Hearn wants to create more angles and options for shots and adjust the course for changes in hitting distance .  There’ll be new cupping areas on the greens and new run-up areas to the putting surfaces.

Ken Griffin, Boyne’s director of  golf sales and marketing, calls the changes “subtle but significant.”

Sounds like a new course might be in the making, but Hearn says that’s not the case.

“I just like great golf.  I’m not trying to put the Ray Hearn stamp on this,’’ he said.  “I’m trying to create a throwback to a golden age look and feel – a tribute to that era.’’

Hearn will be creating a new par-3 course as part of the more long-range plans. He’ll be putting a new course in place and eliminate the modest one that’s there now.  In short, Boyne is joining the country-wide trend of building new short courses. Ground-breaking on this one is not expected until early 2023.

“I’m creating my favorite nine greens from overseas, from Scotland, Ireland and England,’’ said Hearn.  “This course will be visually stunning and interesting to play.  It won’t have formal tees and it’ll have fairway levels everywhere.  I want golfers to have the opportunity to put tees anywhere they want so they can practice options from different lies and angles.’’

Finally, The Monument course will also get some attention.

“It’s a very nice, enjoyable course,’’ said Hearn, “but the trees on it have gotten bigger and bigger and have started to infringe on the fairways.’’

That’ll be corrected, allowing Hearn to open more angles and options from the tees.

Boyne, with  10 course spread over three Michigan resorts, has long been a leader in golf while maintaining its similar role among ski resorts.

“They’re always looking forward, always thinking of improving.  They’re visionaries,’’ said Hearn.

That vision extends beyond these golf course projects.  The Main Lodge at Boyne Highlands has already undergone some upgrades and more are coming.  The first phase involved the transformation of the Main Lodge, with 87 guestrooms remodeled and renamed with Scottish and English heritage.

The next phase, to begin in the spring of 2022, involves construction of a  new multi-level European spa and the redesign of the Tower lobbies. Eventually a steak and sushi restaurant and a new convention center will be added as well.

The Main Lodge at Boyne Highlands has already received a room upgrade, but more things are coming.

Fullmer is WWGA’s Woman of Distinction

Sandra Fullmer, one of Chicago’s best amateur golfers, receives a major honor.

Sandra Fullmer lives in California, now but the Women’s Western Golf Association gave its top honor – its Woman of Distinction award – to her at the WWGA’s annual meeting on Thursday at Lake Shore Country Club in Glencoe.

Fullmer was selected for the coveted award in 2020 but the annual meeting was canceled because of pandemic concerns.  The WWGA, formed in 1899, made the presentation a year late to  honor a great player who competed against the top LPGA players in some tournaments but remained a life-long amateur. LPGA legend Patty Berg was the first recipient of the Woman of Distinction Award in 1994.

Many of Fullmer’s competitors were on hand for the awards presentation.  She enjoyed a great amateur career, winning the Mexico Amateur four times and also capturing the German and Spanish titles in 1959.  Then she moved to Chicago where she won the Chicago Women’s District title four times in the 1960s.  She also took five Illinois State Senior crowns between 1988 and 1993 and won the WWGA Senior Championship in 1988 and 1989.

Following her best competitive days Fullmer spent over 20 years on the WWGA board of directors, was its president in 2003-04 and chaired both its Women’s Western Amateur and Western Junior.

Fullmer’s father, Percy Clifford, was her instructor as well as being a top player and course designer in Mexico.  Her late husband Paul was the executive director of the American Society of Golf Course Architects for over 35 years. They were long-time Itasca Country Club members.

 

Pinns heads latest Illinois Golf Hall of Fame induction class

Gary Pinns is probably best known in Illinois golf circles for winning the Illinois Open five times.  No one else has done that.

Pinns has done much more than that, howeve3r. He gave the PGA Tour a four-year shot before making an instantly successful transition into teaching. He’s been doing that as director of instruction  at Oak Brook Golf Club for 31 years and has won numerous awards for his teaching prowess.

For those reasons he will be among six inductees into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame during ceremonies at The Glen Club, in Glenview, on Friday.

The Hall of Fame inducts new members every two years, and Pinns will   joined by one other teaching pro, Dr. Jim Suttie. Suttie’s pupils include PGA Tour players Paul Azinger, Chip Beck, Jeff Sluman, Kevin Streelman and Mark Wilson.

Other inductees, all deceased, include Phil Kosin, creator of Chicagoland Golf magazine and radio show as well as the Illinois Women’s Open; Bessie Anthony, the state’s first great women’s player in a career that was highlighted by a title in the 1903 U.S. Women’s Amateur; Mason Phelps, an Olympic champion and two-time Western Amateur winner more than a century ago; and Herbert James Tweedie, a pioneer architect who designed 21 Chicago area courses in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Pinns’ career is one that stretches through all phases of the sport. A Wheaton resident now, he won the Illinois high school title for Glenbard East in 1974, then was a two-year captain at Wake Forest on teams that featured eventual PGA Tour members Gary Hallberg, Scott Hoch and Robert Wrenn.

First of the Illinois Open wins came at age 19 in 1978 at Elgin Country Club.

“My last tee shot went right and hit a tree,’’ recalled Pinns.  “The ball came back in the fairway, and I won. Once you win one time you think you can win again.’’

He dd – again and again and again and again. Pinns  picked up three more titles in the 1980s and the final, most dramatic one on his long-time home course at Village Links of Glen Ellyn in 1990. That one led him to enter qualifying for the Ben Hogan Tour – one of the predecessors of what is now the Korn Ferry Tour. From the developmental tour Pinns went on to the PGA circuit.

“I probably played in 75 tour events and made the cut in 30 of them,’’ he said.  The highlight was his lone top-10 finish at the now defunct Greater Milwaukee Open. Eventually, at age 33, the realities of the real world set in. Married with two children by then, Pinns needed another means of support and teaching was it.  His brother Doug has long been a teaching pro at Village Links.

“I got busy right away in the first month  because my name was known,’’ said Pinns.  “I needed it to happen then, and it’s turned out that teaching has been a better life than tour life. It’s been very satisfying, and  I ‘ve been very fortunate.’’

He now has three adult children and has been working 60-hour weeks during this busy summer for recreational golfers. Tournaments are a thing of the past.

“I lost interest in competition because I couldn’t work at it,’’ said Pinns, who believes his record five Illinois Open titles will withstand the tests of time.  Mike Small the University of Illinois men’s coach, has won the Illinois PGA Championship 13 times and is Pinns’ only challenger since he stopped playing. Small won four Illinois Opens but is now playing mainly in the senior ranks.

“My record won’t be broken,’’ predicted Pinns.“It’s harder now because there’s a lot of good players. When I was working at it I had just a few good club pros to beat.’’

 

WWGA honors Fullmer

Sandra Fullmer, an Illinois Golf Hall of Fame inductee in 1997, will add the coveted Woman of Distinction Award from the Women’s Western Golf Association on Thursday at Lake Shore Country Club in Glencoe.

Fullmer had an outstanding playing career, winning four Mexican Amateur titles as well as the Spanish and German amateur crows in 1959 before moving to Chicago.  She kept winning here,  claiming four Chicago Women’s District titles, three Northern Illinois Women’s titles and five Illinois State Senior crowns as well as the National Club Championship for Women in 1991.

She’s also been a long-time WWGA board member and a past president of the organization that has been a leading organizer of women’s events since 1899.

 

HERE AND THERE: The Chicago District Golf Assn. championship season concludes on Thursday with the end of the four-day Amateur Senior Four-Ball at Ravinia Green in Riverwoods….The leading assistant professionals from Illinois and Wisconsin will collide in a four- ball match play competition  on Friday at Strawberry Creek, in Kenosha…..White Eagle Country Club, in Naperville,  has announced plans for  a $12.5 million upgrade of its facility.  The club, site of the Illinois Open in 2020, will be the site of the Mid-American Conference tournament next April.

 

Late qualifier Malm repeats in IPGA Players

Curtis Malm, may have been the defending champion in the Illinois PGA Players Championship this week, but he was lucky to even be in the field.

The 36 players invited into the last of the IPGA’s four major tournaments is determined off a season-long point list, and Malm was one spot out until Shaun McElroy, of North Shore in Glenview, dropped out.

“It was the same as last year,’’ said Malm.  “I didn’t play much.  This was only my fourth event.  I snuck in off my finish (11th) at the (IPGA) Championship.’’

Malm’s win was no fluke, though.  The director of golf at White Eagle, in Naperville, has  been one of the section’s top players for years. He won the Illinois Open as an amateur in 2000, then went on to win   back-to-back titles in the IPGA Match Play as well as the IPGA Players. Now he needs only to win the IPGA Championship to own a title in all four of the section’s majors.

“That’s No. 1 on my priority list,’’ said Malm, whose club will host next year’s Illinois Open for the second time in three years..  “It would be the culmination of everything if I could finish the Illinois PGA Grand Slam.’’

Malm  shot 68 in Tuesday’s final round of the 36-hole IPGA Players at Knollwood Club in Lake  Forest. His 3-under-par 141 was good enough for a one-stroke win over Brian Carroll of The Hawk, in St. Charles. Reigning IPGA champion Andy Mickelson, of Mistwood in Romeoville, and Garrett Chaussard, director of instruction at Skokie Country Club, tied for third, two behind Malm.

The tournament came down to the final hole.  Malm made birdie after hitting a wedge shot to three feet.  Then he waited for the rest of the field to finish.  Carroll, his main challenger, needed to make par from a green-side bunker to force a playoff but he couldn’t connect on his par-saving putt.

Chaussard came into the last event offering Player of the Year points trailing only Chris French, of Aldeen in Rockford.  French faded to a 79 in the final round and wound up in a tie for 13th place.  That enabled Chaussard to earn his second Player of the Year honor in the last three years.

 

 

 

 

U.S. dominates in this Ryder Cup

The U.S. enjoyed this Stanley Cup-style end to the 43rd Ryder Cup.

HAVEN, Wis.—The longstanding U.S. frustrations in the Ryder Cup are over.  After losing to Europe in four of the previous five meetings and seven of the last nine captain Steve Stricker found a combination of young  players who dominated the 43rd staging of golf’s premier team event at Whistling Straits.

In fact, this American team dominated like no other.  The 19-9 victory was underscored by the fact that the American side set the modern day point record. The winning 1981 U.S. team had 18 ½ in its victory at Walton Heath in England.

“It sure feels like this is the start of a new era,’’ said Stricker, who used a roster that included six first-time Ryder Cup players.  “The Ryder Cup means a lot to everybody, and this is the greatest team of all time.  These guys are unbelievable. They  came in with a lot of fire, had a mission and did it.’’

Stricker has been an emotional leader.  He has been a vice captain of the U.S. side since he stopped playing on the team and also captained the President’s Cup team. Winning the Ryder Cup, especially in his native Wisconsin,  was a well-deserved reward for one of America’s most popular golfers

“You’re trying to make me cry, aren’t you?’’ said Stricker, who played collegiately for the University of Illinois.  “This is very special.  I never won a major, but this is my major right here. ‘’

After building up an 11-5 lead in two days of foursome and four-ball matches the U.S. made quick work of reclaiming the Ryder Cup.  The clincher came when Ryder Cup rookie Collin Morikawa holed a four-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th hole to assure the Americans had the necessary 14 1/2 points to win.

The U.S. side had a well-deserved celebration after years of waiting.

In a battle of the game’s brightest young stars Morikawa had a spirted duel with  Norway’s Viktor Hovland in the fifth of the 12 singles matches. Their match ended in a tie with seven matches left on the course but the tension remained with the point record on the line.

The U.S. team, had much more lofty goals than just winning the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2016.  Haunted by the Europeans’ domination of the event, U.S. players wanted a one-sided win. They needed. That was a possibility after Europe’s Rory McIlroy won the first match of the day.  At that point 11 matches were on the course and the U.S. led in nine.

In 1979 the Ryder Cup format switched to allow a team from all of Europe instead of just Great Britain and Ireland.  Two years later the U.S. team piled up 18 ½ points  at Walton Heath.   Such American successes were few and far between after that, the most painful defeat coming at Medinah in 2012 when they fizzled in singles after going in with a 10-6 lead.

This time singles success came in abundance.  Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger were winners and Morikawa and Jordan Spieth tied in their matches to get the record point total.

The celebration is on, as the U.S. completes a record Ryder Cup win.

The Europeans took the loss hard.  McIlroy and Ian Poulter, for years the mainstays on the European team, were in tears even though both scored their only points of this year’s Ryder Cup on Sunday.

While the U.S. win was an obvious team effort, there were special performances.  Johnson, at 37 the oldest American player, won all five of his matches.  In 2019  Scheffler won the Evans Scholars Invitational, a Korn Ferry Tour event held at The Glen Club in Glenview.  That helped him advance to the PGA Tour and on Sunday he was the man of the hour at the Ryder Cup, beating world No. 1 Jon Rahm.

“I got off to a nice start – five birdies in the first six holes –and kept the pressure on him the whole day.  I was super happy seeing a lot of red on the scoreboard,’’ said Scheffler.

Rahm took the loss in stride, but downplayed the magnitude of it.

“It not what any of us wanted,’’ said Rahm.  “We all tried our hardest and just got beat. You lose by a half-point or by 10, it doesn’t matter.’’

Cantllay, another of the U.S. rookies, won the FedEx Cup two weeks ago and kept the momentum going at Whistling Straits.  His win over Shane Lowry started Sunday’s 7-0-2 run in the singles matches.

“I wanted to send a message,’’ said Cantlay.  “We sent out four rookies in the first five matches.  That’s unheard of.  We’re young, but most of us have  played together since we were teen-agers.’’

Obviously the future of American golf is bright. They’re already looking ahead to the next Ryder Cup, in Italy in 2023.

Not all the spectators at the 43rd Ryder Cup were on the grounds at Whistling Straits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Could this be the day the U.S. reclaims the Ryder Cup?

HAVEN, Wis. – If it wasn’t for a nightmarish day nine years ago the United States golfers and their supporters would already be in a celebratory mood at Whistling Straits. The U.S. went 3-1 in Saturday’s morning foursome matches for the third straight session to open a 9-3 lead.

The Europeans had their best session of the week in the afternoon four-ball, winning two of the matches, but the U.S. will have an 11-5 lead  going into Sunday’s concluding 12 singles matches

Europe will need to go 9-3 in singles to retain the Ryder Cup, which might seem insurmountable were it not for the haunting memory of the “Meltdown at Medinah’’ In 2012. The U.S. had a 10-6 lead after the two days of foursome and four-ball competition that year but fizzled in singles and left with a stunning defeat that’s hard to forget.

Michael Jordan, the basketball legend and golfing addict, showed up for his 12th Ryder Cup this week. and he hasn’t forgotten.  Jordan  hasn’t been as active with this Ryder Cup team, but he isn’t ready to celebrate just year.

“I m a little nervous,’’ he said. “I was there when it was 10-6 at Medinah and things changed in a moment.’’

They certainly did. The U.S. has lost four of the last five and seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, but none of the defeats was more painful than that one

On the brighter side this Ryder Cup might go down as the “Whipping at Whistling’’ based on the U.S. domination the last two days, but that’s not a done deal yet..

With six rookies on this American side captain Steve Stricker, a player on the losing side at Medinah, had a radically different roster than the teams that have been dominated by the Europeans in recent years. Despite the comfortable lead, Stricker is warning his players about relaxing too much.

“We want to just keep building on the lead,’’ he said. “We’ve got them down a little bit, and our goal is to continue that, and continue that momentum.’’

Immediately after Stricker’s warning the American players were openly celebrating.  Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger chugged beers and doubled as cheerleaders to the delight of the loud partisan gallery surrounding the first tee before the start of the final afternoon session of the competition.

“I don’t think any of us really expect anything,’’ said Thomas.  We just expect to go out and play well. We are all good friends and know each other’s games.’’

“Other than a couple of us we have known each other since high school, or even grade school,’’ said Jordan Spieth.  “We are having a blast off the course, and that’s feeding into the lightness in our rounds.’’

Stricker has his players in position for success on Sunday.  Only Dustin Johnson, at 37 the oldest player on the team, played in all four sessions of the foursome and four-ball matches and he won them all. The others had at least one session to rest.

The Europeans, in sharp contrast, are struggling and it showed in captain Padraig Harrington’s match pairings.  He sat Ian Poulter, the ringleader in Europe’s comeback at Medinah, for two consecutive sessions and his partner, Rory McIlroy, didn’t play on Saturday morning. They figured to be mainstays on the European team but neither score a point.

Only the Jon Rahm-Sergio Garcia pairing was a problem for the U.S. team. They won twice on Saturday, and that had historical significance for Garcia.  He notched his 24th and 25th victories in Ryder Cup play. Garcia started the day tied for the most wins with Nick Faldo at 23 apiece. Rahm is the only European player to compete in every session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At least there’s hope for the U.S. after great start in Ryder Cup

There couldn’t have been a more perfect day to open the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

HAVEN, Wis. – Beautiful weather greeted the 40,000 spectators when the 43rd Ryder Cup teed off Fridays. So did massive traffic jams on the rural roads that surround Whistling Straits. At the end of the day, though, there was at least hope for the American side that has been dominated by the Europe  in  in the  recent years of this biennial competition.

The U.S. ended day one of the three-day event with a 6-2 lead, the country’s biggest first-day lead in 46 years, but there’s a long way to go.  There’ll be another day on Saturday like Day 1 – four foursome matches in the morning and four four-ball matches in the afternoon.  Then all 12 players on each team will decide the outcome in singles play on Sunday.

Friday was an extraordinary one on a day in which late afternoon winds topped 30 miles per  hour.  In the last Ryder Cup three years ago in Paris the U.S. took a 3-1 lead after the first morning session but the Europeans swept the afternoon matches and went on to a one-sided victory.  This year’s Day 1 was much different.

The high profile Spanish pairing of Jon Rahm. the world’s No. 1-ranked player, and Sergio Garcia, the highest point-scorer in the history of the Ryder Cup, opened the day with a 3 and 1 win over Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

Europe had won four of the last five Ryder Cups and seven of the last nine , and that start didn’t bode well for the Americans. After that, though, it was a banner day for Team USA.  The U.S. won the last three foursome matches of the morning session and went 2-0-2 in the afternoon four-ball play.

What was particularly notable was the drubbing the U.S. administered to the fearsome Ian Poulter and his partner, Rory McElroy. England’s Poulter became a Ryder Cup legend after his showing at Medinah in 2012.  That year he won all four of his matches in dramatic fashion.

Poulter, with McIlroy as his partner,  birdied the last five holes of a critical four-ball match and then won in singles on the final day when the Europeans pulled off “the Miracle at Medinah’’ or – as the American fans call it — “The Meltdown at Medinah.’’  Europe came from 10-6 down after the two days of team play to pull off the victory with a Poulter-inspired run in singles.“

Despite his 14-6-2 career record in Ryder Cup play and his 5-0-1 mark in singles, the U.S. had no trouble with Poulter on Friday. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, both playing in their first Ryder Cup matches, won the first five holes – four of them with birdies – and took a 5 and 3 win over Poulter and McIlroy.  Euro captain Padraig Harrington sat Poulter in the afternoon four-ball matches.

“It was a shame, because we actually played quite well,’’ said Poulter.  “It’s not nice to get off to a 5-down start after five.  It’s not easy to come back from that, and they finished the match off.’’

McIlroy was called on to play again in the afternoon and he (along with partner Shane Lowry) were hammered again, this time 4 and 3 by Ryder Cup rookies Tony Finau and Harris English.  Finau and English weren’t part of the morning matches.

A couple oddities:  American Cantlay and Norway’s Viktor Hovland of Europe played most of the day without caps. It could be both feared the wind would blow off their caps in a crucial situation.  Also, for the first time in Ryder Cup history, no pairings from the morning session were brought back intact for the afternoon.

U.S. captain Steve Stricker and Harrington both used their entire roster on Day 1.

 

 

Stricker in the spotlight at Ryder Cup Opening Ceremonies

HAVEN, Wis. – Thursday’s Opening Ceremonies for the 43rd Ryder Cup was not without the unexpected.  U.S. captain Steve Stricker provided it.

First Stricker broke into tears while introducing his wife and daughters to a standing room only crowd who ignored a late afternoon rain to gather at the Dye Pavilion at Whistling Straits.

“I had a couple beers to help me get through that,’’ said Stricker, “but I just couldn’t do it.’’

Then Stricker told a gathering of mostly Green Bay Packers’ fans that he preferred the Bears.  He got some jeers for that one, causing Stricker to plead “Don’t turn on us now. I cheer for the Packers except when they play the Bears.’’

Stricker, one of the most popular American players, grew up in Wisconsin but played college golf for the University of Illinois. And he was not done with surprises when it came time to naming the eight players who would kick off the competition in Friday’s morning best ball matches.  Bryson DeChambeau, one of the U.S. teams strongest players and No. 7 in the world rankings, will sit out while Europe will lead off with its strongest pair – the Spanish team of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia.

Rahm is the first No. 1-ranked player in the world to play for Europe since Rory McIlroy did it in 2014. Garcia has long been a stalwart for the Euros in the biennial matches.

“Being from Spain, you learn about the Ryder Cup early,’’ said Rahm, the latest in the line of Ryder stars from the country that previously contributed the late Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.  “It’s a lot to live up to.’’

Rahm and Garcia will take on Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. While DeChambeau sits out, Brooks Koepka will go out in Match 3 with Ryder Cup rookie Daniel Berger. They’ll square off with 48-year old Lee Westwood, Europe’s veteran player, and Matt Fitzpatrick.

Koepka dismissed the silly feud he’s been having all season with DeChambeau in a morning interview but he wasn’t surprised about Stricker’s show of emotion.

“He’s so passionate.  He’s a softie, he cares so much,’’ Koepka said of his captain.“It’d be nice to see him cry on Sunday.’’

That might happen if the U.S. team wins. While the American side is rated the favorite in some betting organizations, Team Europe has won four of the last five Ryder Cups.

Match 2 will have the oldest U.S. player, 37-year old Dustin Johnson, and rookie Collin Morikawa taking on Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland, the first Norwegian golfer to play in the Ryder Cup. The morning session will wrap up with the powerful European duo of McIlroy and Ian Poulter facing Patrick Cantlay, winner of the FedEx Cup Playoffs two weeks ago, and Xander Schauffele.

There’ll be four more best ball matches in the afternoon, and Stricker and European captain Padraig Harrington will announce their participants after the first four matches are completed. In addition to DeChambeau, the rested players available to Stricker include Harris English, Tony Finau and Scottie Scheffler – all on the Ryder Cup team for the first time.

The four Europeans sitting out Friday’s morning matches are Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger – the first golfer from Austria to make a Ryder Cup squad..

Euros made a good move in donning Packers’ gear at Ryder Cup

HAVEN, Wis. – The fun is over – well almost – and things are getting serious at the 43rd Ryder Cup.

Clearly the European team, which has won four of the last five Ryder Cups, is well prepared.  Captain Padraig Harrington, in a clear move to soften the passions of the partisan  American crowd, had his players walk out to practice on Wednesday wearing the colors of the Green Bay Packers. Not only that, but the players sported  Cheeseheads gear instead of golf caps and then – once the stunt was warmly received – tossed their Cheeseheads into the crowd.

“It was respectful of the Green Bay Packers, and they were very much on board with it,’’ said Harrington. “We got a nice reception with it.  Obviously business starts on Friday but, at the moment, the players are enjoying it.’’

“Business’’ really starts on Thursday. Friday’s pairings and matchups for the morning rounds will be announced on Thursday afternoon prior to the Opening Ceremonies at Whistling Straits.

With a roster filled with veteran players who have enjoyed great success in recent Ryder Cups, Harrington isn’t expected to do anything extraordinary.  U.S. captain Steve Stricker could, however.

One possibility is a pairing, at some point in the three-day competition, of Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka.  They’ve been feuding for months, which presents an unnecessary diversion for the U.S.

This week, though, they met on the practice range and talked briefly.  When their chat ended the gallery cheered, clearly suggesting that they wanted peace between the two – at least for this week.

Koepka wasn’t available for comment, but DeChambeau was.

“A lot of this social media stuff has definitely been driven by external factors, not necessarily between us two,’’ he said.  “We had some great conversations Tour Championship Week when we had dinner, and then this week as well.  I had dinner with him last night, and it was fine.’’

Then DeChambeau suggested what was once unthinkable a few weeks ago.

“There might be something up here moving forward, but I won’t speak too much more on that,’’ said DeChambeau, leading some to suggest they might compete as a team this week.

Stricker called the DeChambeau-Koepka feud “a non-issue.’’

“As for them playing together, probably not,’’ said Stricker.  “But that could change.’’

This American side needs a spark with two of its most popular stars, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, not competing.  Had the matches gone on as scheduled in 2020 both might well of have been on the U.S. team but things changed a lot since then.  Woods, has been sidelined since a Feb. 27 auto accident and Mickelson is here only as one of Stricker’s vice captains.

Woods has no official role on the team, but there’s some speculation he could be called in for emergency help. He could make a surprise visit to give the team a pep talk, but Stricker is being coy about that.

“Having him come here is probably not going to happen,’’ said Stricker.  “He’s been in my ear a lot, and he’s part of what we do.  It’s just not a good time for him to be here physically because of where he’s at in his rehabilitation.  His focus is on getting back to play, and we don’t want to get in the way of that.’

The reigning PGA champion, Mickelson’s mediocre play in the fall prevented Stricker from choosing him as a player even though Mickelson holds two American records for Ryder longevity.

No American has played in more Ryder Cups than Mickelson, who has been in 12,  and none have played in more matches. MIckelson has been in 47 but, despite all those opportunities, his 18-22-7 record leaves him down the list as far as points and wins are concerned.

That leaves Stricker with only four players over 30 years old, Dustin Johnson being the oldest at 38.  Being his team’s senior citizen doesn’t bother Johnson, but the recent Ryder Cup results do.

“They’ve played better than us,’’ said Johnson.  “It isn’t rocket science. Definitely our team is a little different.  We’re young, but we still have a lot of experience. Teams of the past had tons of experience, and that didn’t work out so well.’’