Euro Ryder Cup success = Fairways and grins

The 2018 Ryder Cup was ripped out of the hands of America’s individual golf stars and embraced by a true team of golfers from Europe Sunday.

The American golf 12-man contingent included eleven of the top 17 golfers in the world coming in this week along with the highest individual rankings in the event’s history.  Though Europe featured such talented players such as Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, and the ever-youthful Sergio Garcia, much of the squad had not been playing their best golf coming into this event.

The final tally of this fascinating biennial golf event (held in Paris this year) was Europe 17.5, USA 10.5.

It wasn’t as close as the score indicates.  A better title might have been, “A Ryder Cup Butt Kicking in Paris”.

The Euros won Friday’s Day One team events 5-3.

The Euros won Saturday’s Day Two team events 5-3. (Notice a pattern yet?)

The Euros won Sunday’s Day Three individual matches by a 7.5 to 4.5 count.

Game, set, match!

The Americans were outcoached, too, as Euro leader Thomas Bjorn’s captains’ picks clobbered Jim Furyk’s picks.  Bjorn’s four picks (Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, and Henrik Stenson) figured in 9.5 Euro points, while Jim Furyk’s picks (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Tony Finau) contributed just 2 points for the USA (thanks to Finau’s 2-1 record).

That 7.5 points edge was exactly the final margin of victory for the European team.

Tiger Woods (who notched his 80th career victory last weekend in Atlanta) went 0-4, while Phil (43 career wins) Mickelson went 0-2.  Despite their greatness in individual tournaments, these two World Golf Hall-of-Famers are, sadly, America’s biggest Ryder Cup “Hall-of-Shamers”.

Mickelson now has racked-up 25.5 Ryder Cups losses (with 20.5 points on the “W” side) for a 46.7% winning percentage.  Tiger Woods’ losing record now stands at 22.5 losses with only 14.5 wins. (39% wins).

Did you want to guess who has the third most losses (22) for the USA in Ryder Cup history?

Yep.  It is Cap’n Jim Furyk (22 losses vs. 12 wins for about a 37% winning percentage).

While most golf fans enjoy watching Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, why would the US team purposefully choose The Dynamic Duo with such a dismal history in Ryder Cup team competition?

The best answer I can come up with is NBC.  With the Ryder Cup in Paris and live matches being aired from 1AM until 11AM Central time every day, the television ratings in America (as bad as they may have been) could have been at least 50% lower without the star power of one or both of golf’s current-day greats.

If you think NBC would not have cared if Captain Jim Furyk had chosen Kevin Kisner and Billy Horschel (both very accurate off the tee) instead of Woods and Mickelson, I have some proverbial swamp land in Louisiana we need to discuss soon.

Let’s give the proper credit the European golfers and their coach for this impressive win.  As allowed for the host team, Coach Thomas Bjorn said on television that he asked the host club in Paris to grow its rough to extreme lengths leading up to the event in order to cause trouble for wayward tee shots from the American long-bombers this week.

The rough was every bit as deep as that found at a typical US Open.  While Europe’s scintillating tandem of Italy’s Francesco Molinari (5-0 this week) and Great Britain’s Tommy Fleetwood (4-1) was striping tee shots into the fairway, the Americans paired against them were oft-found in ankle deep rough trying to hack their ball toward the green.

Importantly, the European players speak often about their true affection for playing in the Ryder Cup for their home country and for one another.  Most of them earned their way onto the PGA tour via years on the weekly grind of the European tour – where the tournament purses are significantly smaller and most players stay in the same hotel.

The Americans can talk “team”, but most of them travel independently, stay in separate housing, and rarely fraternize.  The Europeans cherish the opportunity to beat this Tiger Woods’ era of financially pampered and quite independent American golfers.

To win in the team competitions in Ryder Cup golf, you must strive to hit fairways and greens on every hole to give your partner a chance.

For some inexplicable reason, the American Ryder Cup team and its Captain were unable to embrace that one simple formula again this year.

While jubilantly holding the 2018 Ryder Cup trophy, the European victors’ motto appeared to have been “fairways and grins”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mamma Mia! “Par-machino” Molinari grabs Italy’s first major!

Wow, what a weekend of golf!  The 2018 Open Championship (British Open) concluded on a windswept Sunday after two days of incredible swings of momentum and loads of golfing drama.

When the dusk settled over Scotland’s Carnoustie famed golf links Sunday night, only one golfer out of the field of 72 played the final 18 holes without a single bogey.  Heck, he didn’t have a bogey for the entire weekend!

You’ve seen those t-shirts which have a picture of the British royal crown saying, “Keep Calm and Carry On”, right?  Italy’s Francesco Molinari did just that by keeping his blinders on and his emotions in check all weekend.  Playing in the same pairing with the boisterous “Tiger Woods Show” during Sunday’s final round, Molinari tamed the winds, the noisy fans of Tiger Woods, and played the front nine in even par with nine consecutive pars.

I think Molinari’s new nickname should be “Par-machino”.  OK, that may be a little cheesy (ha ha), but Molinari was, by far, the steadiest golfer in the field this weekend at the Open Championship.

Meanwhile, his playing partner, Tiger Woods, whipped the crowds into a frenzy as the 42-year old legend rolled in two birdies on the front nine to roar back from four shots off the pace to stake a one-shot lead the turn at 7-under par.  Third round leaders Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner, and Xander Schauffelle started the day at 9-under par but quickly faltered as Carnoustie’s famed 20 miles-per-hour winds took their toll.

Woods eventually found the gnarly rough several times on the back nine and faded late.  Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy mounted late charges to post 6-under par scores in the clubhouse as Saturday’s leaders limped toward the finish.  It was Molinari, though, who kept grinding out pars on the back nine and eventually added two birdies coming home to rise to 8-under par and grab a two shot victory.

In hoisting the Claret Jug for his victory in this year’s Open Championship, Francesco Molinari also claimed the first major championship by an Italian golfer in the country’s history.

Born in Turin, Italy, Francesco’s older brother, Edoardo Molinari, had some early success in America by winning the 2005 US Amateur title.  The following year, Edoardo’s younger brother Francesco caddied for him at the 2006 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.

In 2006, Francesco Molinari then followed his brother into professional golf by joining the European Tour.  Though a consistent top-level player, he had won only five times during his first eleven years on the European Tour.

Coming into 2018, the 35-year old Molinari decided to make some changes.  He made some adjustments in his putting technique (which had failed him under pressure in the past) and also hired a performance coach to help him with the mental side of the game.

Based on this summer’s results, those changes have yielded huge dividends.

Molinari grabbed a European Tour victory in May by holding off Rory McIlroy by two shots to win.  He then came to the USA and won the Quicken Loans event in Washington, DC in mid-June by shooting a final round 62 to win by a whopping 8 strokes.

Francesco Molinari has quietly been on the golf roll of his life this summer.

With golf’s biggest names in the mix on Sunday and the brisk winds making Carnoustie play like “Carnastie” once again, Francesco Molinari’s steady play under immense pressure was simply amazing to watch.

“Incredible to go bogey-free on the weekend,” Molinari said after the round.

It’s probably more incredible to see his name forever etched onto the Claret Jug as he now becomes a part of golf history!

 

 

And the Champion Golfer of the Year is…

If you’re a golf fan like me, this weekend’s final two rounds of The Open Championship (aka The British Open) promise to have something in store for just about everyone.

Like a challenging venue?  Scotland’s famed Carnoustie golf links have given the world’s best golfers fits for decades.  The winner at this normally windswept golf course near the North Sea usually struggles to complete the tournament with an under-par score.  Patience is a virtue here.

How about legendary winners at Carnoustie?  Padraig Harrington took home the Claret Jug here in 2007.  Before that, winners include Paul Lawrie (1999 – more on him in a moment), Tom Watson in 1975 (his first of five Claret Jug victories), Gary Player (1968), and Ben “The Wee Mon” Hogan in 1953 in his first and only trip overseas for this major championship.

Want a fantastic finish?   Remember Jean Van deVelde?  No, he didn’t win, but his 1999 struggles on the 72nd hole with a three stroke lead made for one of the most unforgettable final holes in major championship history.  Needing only a double-bogey 6 to win, the Frenchman hit his golf ball into the weeds, the stands, and the greenside watery grave called the Barry Burn as he rolled in a gutsy 10 foot putt just to make a triple bogey 7 and ultimately lose in a playoff to Paul Lawrie.

As the players tee-off for this weekend’s final 36 holes, you should have no trouble finding a golfer to root for.

Can Jordan Spieth keep the ball in play off the tee and find the magic again with his putter to repeat as the winner?  If you like past champions, Zach Johnson is right there near the top of the leaderboard.  So is Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland.

Tiger and Phil?  They both start the weekend six shots back of the leaders (Kevin Kisner and Zach Johnson).  No doubt the golf fans at Carnoustie will be pulling for one of these legends this weekend.

If you like rooting for a deserving golfer to win their first major, look no further than Matt Kuchar (last year’s runner-up) and Rickie Fowler.  Both players are only a few shots behind the leaders starting Saturday’s third round.

How about a local favorite?  Tommy Fleetwood of Great Britain has a growing legion of golf fans with his pleasant personality and flowing locks.  He is only one shot back after 36 holes.

The big bombers pretty much bombed out at Carnoustie.  The current #1 ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, #2 Justin Thomas, and #13 Bubba Watson learned the hard way that Carnoustie is crafted to harshly punish errant tee shots.

Those numerous bunkers around this golf course are deep and quite menacing.  In many cases, the only way out is hitting the ball backwards the same way it came in.  No wonder some of the pros call this course “Carnastie”!

For me, I enjoy watching golf being played in Scotland’s cooler weather (highs in the 60’s expected) while most of us fry in the heat of midsummer.

Grab a hot beverage and get up early to enjoy “Breakfast at the British Open” as the action gets underway six hours ahead of us in Scotland.

This year’s “Champion Golfer of the Year” will have defeated a truly star-studded field to earn the coveted Claret Jug.

 

 

 

 

Masters’ champ Patrick Reed swats away all challengers

Like King Kong perched atop the Empire State Building, it seemed like an endless parade of professional golf’s biggest stars were lined-up to try to bring down the leader, Patrick Reed, during Sunday’s thrilling finish at the 2018 Masters.

Reed, like King Kong, stood strong atop his leaderboard, beat his chest a few times, and then swatted away all would-be challengers as he grabbed a coveted green jacket by winning the Masters tournament for his first professional major championship.

Hours before the overnight leader and U.S. Ryder Cup hero teed off in Augusta, a conga line of Patrick Reed’s doubters came forward from within the golf media.

As I watched The Golf Channel’s Sunday pregame show prior to CBS’s live coverage, host Rich Lerner asked a trio of former professional golfers whether they thought Patrick Reed had “the right stuff” to win his first major title Sunday afternoon.  Both journeyman Brandel Chamblee and former British Open winner, Justin Leonard, said that Reed would not be able to sustain his lead.  Chamblee even trotted out a graphic of professional golfers who had blown a 3-shot lead entering the fourth and final round of the Masters.

Only David Duval, a former World #1 golfer and winner of the 2001 British Open, said that Reed’s mental toughness in Ryder Cup play would be on display again on Sunday at the Masters and carry him to victory.

The Golf Channel and CBS continued to hype viewers with their hopes that Sunday would be the rightful time for Rory McIlroy (paired with Reed in the final twosome) to win the Masters for the first time and become only the sixth player to win all four of golf’s major championships (joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods).

The front nine on-air “Rory Rooting Section” of CBS commentators Ian Baker Finch and 3-time Masters winner, Nick Faldo, became even more annoying as McIlroy quickly moved within one shot of Patrick Reed’s lead in the first two holes.  It was like they seemingly couldn’t wait for Reed to fade and get out of Rory’s way.

But then, just like during his legendary 2014 Ryder Cup singles victory over McIlroy at Hazeltine, Minnesota, Patrick Reed, who became dubbed “Captain America” during that Ryder Cup for his gritty style and fierce competitive nature and 3-1-1 record, found his putting stroke and rhythm again.

By the end of the front nine, McIlroy found himself five shots behind Reed.  He looked dejected and all but defeated heading into the final nine holes.

One down for Reed.  Who’s next?

Sunday’s final round at Augusta National found former Masters’ champion, Jordan Spieth, on fire.  Spieth started the day nine shots behind Reed.

He posted a sterling five-under par 31 on the front nine.  Spieth converted birdie after birdie and briefly tied Reed on the back nine at 14-under par.  Then, Jordan hooked his tee shot into the trees on the 18th hole, settled for a bogey, and dropped a shot to finish at 13-under par.

American Rickie Fowler and his playing partner from Spain, Jon Rahm, then made their own charges on Sunday afternoon before falling just shy of catching Reed.

Rahm found the pond on his second shot into the 15th green (the same pond that defending champion and fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia repeatedly hit en route to an unbelievable 13 during Thursday’s first round).  Rahm’s dunked ball led to a bogey and effectively ended his chances.

Rickie Fowler, a crowd favorite who was also seeking his first major championship, never faltered down the stretch and posted a birdie on the 18th hole to move to 14-under and narrow Reed’s lead to a single shot with one hole to go.

“Captain America” responded to the pressure again by smoothly driving down the middle on the 18th hole, hitting his second shot into the middle of the green, and calmly rolling in an uphill 3-foot putt for par to seal the one shot victory and grab his first green jacket.

Patrick Reed has always carried an air of cockiness about him.  Many tour players and golf fans don’t care for his sometimes aloof attitude on the golf course.

However, if you look at Patrick Reed’s golf game, he has to maintain a steely composure to grind out victories on tour.

He doesn’t possess a high torque fast golf swing capable of hitting 340 yard drives off the tee like McIlroy (at least until he throws his back out).

He doesn’t putt with the gifted golden touch of Jordan Spieth.

He doesn’t consistently hit laser iron shots into the greens like Rickie Fowler does, either.

But Patrick Reed has one thing that most other professional players don’t have.  Guts.  Abundant quantities of internal fortitude.

Don’t mess with golf’s new King Kong when he is holding onto the final round lead and the odds and media naysayers are stacked against him.  The more detractors, the merrier.

Patrick Reed deftly swatted away all comers on Sunday afternoon and earned his 2018 Masters title.

Arnie’s Tourney – final round rallies fit for the King!

Golf legend and one of my heroes, Arnold Palmer, passed away in late 2016.  Palmer was known for his incredible ability to rally during the final round to win many of his 62 career PGA tournaments (fifth best all-time).  The memory of Arnie walloping a drive off the tee, his classically-unorthodox corkscrew finish, and then watching him purposefully stride down the fairway (all while hitching up his pants as he walked) in search of another final round birdie is what many golf fans remember when thinking about the sport’s charismatic “King”.

Sunday’s final round of The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida was filled with final round rallies from some of golf’s current stars.  A few rallied and faltered (like Arnie sometimes did) until one of the competitors channeled his inner Arnold Palmer to close his round with a slam dunk birdie on the final hole to win for the first time in 18 months.

No, his name wasn’t Tiger Woods.

Rory McIlroy blitzed Bay Hill with a scorching eight under par 64 to grab the win on Sunday.

Rory had a few Palmer-like challengers, though, as this horse race had several leaders jockeying for position coming down the home stretch.

Tiger Woods?  Yes, Tiger (an eight-time winner of this event) gave his best imitation of a vintage Arnold Palmer charge as he reeled off a series of back nine birdies get within one shot of the lead with just three holes to play.  Alas, his alter ego (aka Tiger-in-the-Woods) emerged again on the 16th hole as Woods inexplicably abandoned his conservative 2-iron/3-wood tee shots in favor reaching for his unreliable driver.  Cries of “Fore Left!” came from the tee box as Tiger’s ball hooked out-of-bounds.  The bogey cost Woods a chance to win the tournament, but he has now finished in the top 10 for two consecutive weeks on the PGA tour.

The most surprising Arnie imitator on Sunday came from the young man with the quirky golf clubs and quirky swing who is a quickly becoming one of the tour’s newest stars.  Bryson DeChambeau, whose irons are all of the same length and who putts with a very uncomfortable looking (but effective) straight-armed style, found himself in the heavy rough after his tee shot on the par-5 16th hole.

During Sunday’s coverage by NBC, Bryson gave a moving tribute to Arnold Palmer by describing and showing the personal letter which he received from The King himself after collecting his first PGA tour win in 2016.  A tearful DeChambeau said that the letter came just two weeks before Palmer’s passing and will forever serve as a reminder of just how generous and kind-spirited that Arnie-the-man was.

Knowing that Rory McIlroy was up ahead making birdies, DeChambeau somehow blasted an iron out of the rough, miraculously landed his ball on the green in two, and then eased the golf ball into the cup for an eagle to move just one shot out of the lead.  It was almost as if Arnold Palmer guided that ball into the hole.

Up ahead, though, it was Rory McIlroy who answered his challengers once again.  He flew his second shot onto the 18th green and then rolled in a long putt for his eighth birdie of the day to seal the victory.

After the round, Rory offered-up a toast to Arnold Palmer.

“To be able to win his event, I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him, but I’m so happy to be winning that trophy.”

Ironically, McIlroy’s last PGA tour win came on the same day Palmer passed away in September, 2016.

In the past few weeks, McIlroy and Phil Mickelson have both returned to the winner’s circle.  Meanwhile, Tiger Woods is officially lurking again, while young stars like Bryson DeChambeau are giving golf fans hope that this year’s Masters in three weeks might be something really special.

Somehow, I can picture 4-time Masters winner Arnold Palmer giving that comment a big thumbs up!