Jin Young Ko’s epic win caps off a big week for the LPGA

 

No doubt about it: Korea’s Jin Young Ko is the best player on the LPGA tour in 2021.

NAPLES, FL. – The PGA and LPGA tours concluded their 2021 seasons on Sunday, and the women went out with a bigger bang than the men.

The PGA Tour reached its high point a couple months ago with the staging of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Ryder Cup. Those were tough acts for the remaining tournaments to follow. On the other hand, the LPGA took the more traditional route. The biggest event was the last one.

Korea’s Jin Young Ko won that big event for the second straight year, but her win was much different than the one in 2020, when the tourney was played without fans because of pandemic concerns.

Ko started the final round in a four-way tie for the lead with American Nelly Korda, Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and France’s Celine Boutier.  Ko fired a 63 to edge Hataoka by one stroke.  Korda, the other member of the final threesome, wound up in a tie for fifth place.  Boutier, who played in the next-to-the-last threesome, tied for third.

A left wrist injury bothered Ko since May and she considered withdrawing in the days leading into the tournament, but she was awesome in the last event of the season.  She reached the green in regulation in her last 63 holes.

“I didn’t practice much,’’ said Ko, “but I played really well.  The whole week was amazing.’’

“She made everything,’’ said Korda.  “I just stood back and watched her all day.’’

In addition to winning the Race to the CME Globe Ko also overtook Korda for the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year Award.The Race to the CME Globe has brought together the LPGA’s top players for that calendar year since 2011.  This year’s had 60 players chasing a $5 million purse and Ko received a record $1.5 million.

As a footnote, Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol became the first Chicago area golfer to even qualify for the LPGA’s biggest event.  She shot her best round of the week — a 69 — on Sunday and tied for 51st place.

In a sense, however, the biggest news of the week came before the first ball was struck at Tiburon Golf Club.  Mollie Marcoux Samaan, who replaced Mike Whan as the LPGA commissioner four months ago, had taken a low-key approach to her new role until the CME’s pre-tournament banquet.

Samaan had been athletic director at Princeton when Whan was finishing up his successful 11-year stint with the LPGA.  Whan became the executive director of the U.S. Golf Association when Samaan started tackling LPGA issues, and she finally shed some light on where she’ll be taking the women’s circuit. It looks like it’ll be to a better place.

In 2021 the LPGA purses totaled $67.5 million, with the $5 million at the CME event topping the list. Last week’s tournament announcement revealed a season boost in purses to $85.7 million for 2022.  Nine of the 34 tournaments boosted their purses, most notably the CME.  Its purse will climb to $7 million with the first prize boosted to $2 million.

“This is our time,’’ said Samaan.  “Momentum is with us.  There’s even more growth to come in so many different areas.’’

For now, though, those who want to watch the pro golf tours will have to endure at least a six-week waiting period.  The PGA and LPGA will hold their Tournament of Champions in January. The PGA, as well as PGA Tour Champions, will hold theirs in Hawaii.  The PGA version is at Kapalua Jan. 3-9 and the Champions will tee it up at Hualalai Jan. 17-22.

The women’s version will be slightly later and at a new site.  It’ll move to Lake Nona, in Florida, with dates of Jan. 20-23.  The first three events on the LPGA’s 2022 schedule will be in the Sunshine State.

 

 

Sore wrist can’t keep Korean star from stringing seven birdies

 

Korea’s Jin Young Ko is hurting, but can still go on a birdie binge,

NAPLES, FL. — Beware of the injured golfer.  Korea’s Jin Young Ko is the defending champion in the biggest money event in women’s golf, and she’s definitely injured.

An injury to her left wrist has troubled her since May and she never takes a full swing in practice.   On a scale of 1 to 10 she says her wrist feels like a five. Earlier this week her caddie suggested she consider withdrawing from the CME Globe Tour Championship, which has a $5 million purse with a record $1.5 million going to Sunday’s champion.

Citing the big prize money and the fact that it’s the LPGA’s last tournament of 2021, Ko refused. Injured or not, shenn had a stunning birdie streak in Saturday’s third round and is part of a four-way tie for the lead going into Sunday’s finale.

Ko made seven straight birdies en route to shooting a 66 on Saturday.  Her 14-under-par 202 total for 54 holes matches that of Nasa Hataoka, of Japan; American Nelly Korda and France’s Celine Boutier.  Hataoka bettered Ko’s birdie streak on Saturday, making eight in a row en route to shooting the day’s low round – an 8-under-par 64. Still, Ko is in the thick of the battle.

“I’m sick right now, but I don’t want to withdraw,’’ said Ko. “I just keep hitting the ball straight, choose the right club and read a break right (on the greens).’’

Her birdie streak came on holes 2-8 on the Gold Course at Tiburon Golf Club.  Unfortunately she made bogeys a bogey at No. 9 and had only pars on the back nine.

“I was feeling I could make any putt on the front nine,’’ she said.  “I had a lot of good golf, but had a lot of missed shots on the back nine.’’

Ko and Korda have both won four tournaments this year.  If either wins on Sunday she’ll be the first to win five in a season since Ariya Jutanugarn in 2016. Korda, winner of last week’s Pelican Championship in Bellaire, FL., earned her share of the lead thanks to an eagle at No. 17 that helped her post a 67.  Boutier was the 36-hole leader but was able to maintain a share of the top spot despite shooting a 72

Szokol makes it into the LPGA’s most lucrative tournament

The golf season has a series of climax events these days. The PGA Tour had its season climax in either September, when the FedEx Cup Playoffs concluded, or October, when the Ryder Cup ended. Take your pick.

PGA Tour Champions concluded its season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs last Sunday when Phil Mickelson won the last tournament and Bernhard Langer captured the series title  for the sixth time.

That leaves only  the last of the “climax’’ events – this week’s CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, FL.  With a $5 million purse and $1.5 first-place prize, it’s the biggest money event in the history of women’s golf and Elizabeth Szokol, the Chicago area’s only LPGA player, will be right in the thick of it.

Szokol, 27, qualified for the event for the first time.  Created in 2011, it’s limited to the top 60 players and ties in a season-long point race.  Szokol, in only her second LPGA season, missed the cut in last week’s regular season finale – the Pelican Championship — but it didn’t keep her out of the big-money wrapup to the season. She was a comfortable 44th in the standings going into Pelican and safely into the Naples shootout that begins on Thursday at Tiburon Golf Club’s Gold Course.

Chicago golfers have found it tough to break into the LPGA over the last three decades. Other than Szokol the only one to do it was Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray, who starred at Northern Illinois before spending a long career on the LPGA and its satellite tour.

Jeray, though still competing on the LPGA’s Legends Tour for senior members, has taken on a heavy teaching load at Mistwood, in Romeoville.  Szokol’s road to the LPGA was similar.  She was a high school star at New Trier, then spent two seasons at Northwestern before concluding her collegiate career at Virginia.

She turned pro in 2017, won an event in her second year on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour and gained LPGA membership in 2018 with four top-10 finishes in her last five starts. Her rookie LPGA season in 2019 was somewhat of a struggle but she improved in 2020, making seven cuts in 14 starts and earning $110,873.

The improvement was much more dramatic this year when she had three top-10s in 21 starts, the last coming in October – a third-place finish in the $3 million Founders Cup in New Jersey.  It earned her a $198,627 paycheck, a big factor in the $515,640 she has earned for the season.  That figure could grow in a hurry, given the money on the line this week for the LPGA’s best players.

While Szokol’s missed cut last week was a disappointment, her time spent at Pelican – a Donald Ross design that opened in 1925 – may have played a positive part in her strong 2021 showing.  Szokol had her best finish (11th) of 2020 in the Pelican.  It was a new event then and was played without spectators because of pandemic concerns. This year she is spending more time at the Pelican club because her swing coach, Justin Sheehan, is the director of golf there.

 

HERE AND THERE: Michael Feagles, a stalwart on the University of Illinois teams the last four years, is guaranteed 12 starts on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022 thanks to his tie for fifth place finish in the final stage of the circuit’s qualifying competition.  The Illinois Open champions of the last two years, Bryce Emory and Tee-K Kelly, aren’t guaranteed any starts but do have conditional status on the circuit for next season because they made it through all three stages of qualifying….The Illinois PGA had three of its members qualify for last week’s PGA Assistants Championship in Florida but only Kevin Flack, of Mauh-Nah-Tee-See in Rockford, qualified for all 72 holes.  He tied for 42nd…..All the Chicago area gang – Kevin Streelman, Luke Donald, Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy and Dylan Wu – will play in the last full field PGA Tour event of the year, this week’s RSM Classic in Sea Island, Ga…..Bernhard Langer will have knee surgery in Germany this week and won’t hit aa golf ball for at least six weeks.  The 64-year old star still plans to be a full-time player on the Champions Tour in 2022, however.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A weird finish sets the stage for the LPGA’s biggest money event

 

Nelly Korda has won bigger tournaments, but none as dramatic as this Pelican Championship.

BELLAIRE, FL. – With the biggest money tournament in the history of women’s golf coming up this week it’s easy to think of the two-year old Pelican Championship – the last event of the LPGA’s regular season – as anything more than a warmup event.

It was certainly no ho-hum affair on Sunday, however. It came down to a duel between American stars Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson, Korda winning on the first hole of a four-player sudden death playoff after Thompson gave away two good chances to win and another to extend the playoff in the final three holes of the day.

Both American-born Florida residents, Korda (Bradenton) and Thompson (Delray Beach) will remain in the Sunshine State for the CME Group Tour Championship.  It tees off on Thursday with $5 million in prize money and a $1.5 million winner’s check on the line.

The Pelican purse was only $1.75 million, but it presented Thompson with the chance for a win she badly needed.

Long one of golf’s top women players, Thompson is the youngest to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open (she was 12 when she did it).  She turned pro at 15 and won her first major title at 19. Now 27, she has gone over two years without notching her 12th tour title.

Thompson and Korda started the final round in a tie for the lead and still shared the top spot through 70 holes when both were 20-under par and dominating the field. Then Korda took a triple bogey at the 17th, missing a two-foot putt to conclude her nightmare.

Though Thompson three-putted for bogey she still took a two-stroke lead to the final hole of regulation. That didn’t solve her problems, however.  Thompson hit her approach over the green at 409-yard par-4 eighteenth – the hardest hole throughout the tournament.  Korda hit hers to 20 feet and made the birdie putt.

Thompson, feeling the pressure, putted from off the green to four feet but her par putt to win didn’t touch the cup. That set the stage for the four-way playoff between Thompson, Korda and two faster finishers – New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and South Korea’s Sei-young Kim. All finished at 17-under-par 263.  Ko and Kim, hitting their approaches over the green, were out when  Korda made another birdie putt from the same spot she had connected from moments earlier.

“I lost face (after the triple bogey),’’ said Korda, “and I was trying to focus on next week, in a sense. I had the same putt twice is a row.’’

Both went in.

Thompson also putted from the same spot she had to win the tournament in the regulation 72 holes, but this one — for birdie to keep the playoff going – also wouldn’t drop.

“It was a great week. I played a lot of good golf and made a lot of good putts,’’ she said, “but it just wasn’t meant for me in the end.’’

Even with its record prize money the CME Group Tour Championship will be hard-pressed to match the drama that unfolded on Sunday.

Korda goes into the LPGA’s season finale with lots of momentum. The reigning Olympic champion and No. 1-ranked player in the Rolex Rankings won her fourth tournament of the season on Sunday, the first American to do that since Stacy Lewis did it in 2012.

The Pelican, meanwhile, wasn’t just unusual for its weird finish.  The tourney offered two-year leases for new Lamborghinis to players who made a hole-in-one on the 12th hole. Austin Ernst did it in the tourney’s pro-am and Pavarisa Yoktuan in the second round on Friday.  The third, by Su Oh, was especially noteworthy.  She started her round at No. 12 and was the first player to tee off on the featured on during the final round. That’s when she holed a 7-iron from 157 yards.

 

 

 

 

 

Christina Kim goes from LPGA onlooker to contender in a hurry

Lexi Thompson (left) and Jennifer Kupcho share the 36-hole lead in the Pelican Championship.

BELLAIRE, FL. – The Pelican Championship, the last regular season tournament on the Ladies PGA Tour, reached only its halfway point on Friday but the week has already been a big success for Christina Kim.

The 37-year old LPGA veteran is lucky to be in the field.  She came up one shot short of making it in Monday’s qualifying round, then was practicing at the Pelican course later the same day when she got a call informing her that she was awarded one of two sponsor exemptions.

“I jumped up in the air and was doing somersaults on the ground because I was just so overjoyed,’’ said Kim, always a free spirit who is known for her flamboyant attire.

The good times didn’t end there. She was high on the leaderboard after Thursday’s first round after posting a 65 and held the lead briefly on Friday when she followed it with a 66.

Kim isn’t leading going into Saturday’s third round. Jennifer Kupcho and Lexi Thompson (both 65-64) lead her by two strokes and Wei-Ling Hsu and first-round leader Leona Maguire are on stroke back but Kim – in a four-way tie for fifth — at least has a good chance of at least retaining her playing privileges for next season thanks to the unexpected sponsor’s invite.

“I’m 98th in points and the top 100 keep their cards,’’ she said.  “Not stressful at all….well.’’

The pressure is still on in the second-year event that has a $1.5 million purse. Pelican, originally home to the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, was designed by Donald Ross in 1925 and re-designed by Beau Welling. Last year’s first playing of the LPGA event was done without fans because of pandemic concerns.  The fans are out this time in the final event before the CME Group Championship next week in Naples, FL.

The CME, with a $5 million purse, pays $1.5 million to the champion and is the biggest money event in women’s golf. The event is limited to the top 60 on a season-long point race and that group will include – for the first time – the Chicago area’s lone LPGA Tour player. Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol missed the cut here but is already safely into the top 60 qualifiers for next week’s stop at Tiburon Golf Club.

 

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..