Iowa shines in the Solheim spotlight, the Americans easily keep the cup, the season’s final event on the PGA Tour provides plenty of drama and the U.S. Amateur goes down to the wire with an all-time finish.
Monday Scramble: Fireworks at the finish
Iowa shines in the Solheim spotlight, the Americans easily keep the cup, the season’s final event on the PGA Tour provides plenty of drama and the U.S. Amateur goes down to the wire with an all-time finish. All that and more in this edition of Monday Scramble:
If birdies and hole-outs by the truckload are your thing, this was a week to remember.
From the antics of “the Brittanys” at the Solheim Cup to the card-saving theatrics of the Wyndham Championship and Doc Redman’s memorable rally to capture the U.S. Amateur, this was an instance where tournaments and status were not lost. They were actively won, gains taken by players who boldly attacked and were rewarded accordingly.
It’s not going to be the case everytime. Just last week at Quail Hollow we saw a course where par was a good score, and often times trophies are decided by untimely three-putts rather than makes from across the green.
Part of the allure of golf is that the delineation between dreamer and achiever can often seem faint. Amateurs can sit at home watching pros struggle with certain situations and nudge their buddy with a hint of “been there, done that.”
But Sunday, across the country, some of the best men and women in professional and amateur golf reminded all of us just how good they can be when the stakes are at their highest. And they did so by pulling off shots the rest of us know little about.
1. There was no concession drama, no epic Sunday comeback. But the Solheim Cup was still the best spectacle in golf this week, and by a pretty wide margin.
Lofty expectations were assigned well before the two teams set foot on Des Moines Country Club, and the course – and area – lived up to the hype. From first-tee antics to dancing captains, fans in costumes to players walking in putts, the scene was electric.
Iowa doesn’t have a pro sports team, and the Hawkeye football team isn’t expected to turn heads this fall. But Des Moines had this one circled for a while, and they delivered in a big way. It’s another storied chapter in the history of an event whose scope on the global golf landscape continues to grow.
2. Juli Inkster had a Hall of Fame playing career, but she somehow seems even more comfortable patrolling the fairways as a captain.
Two years after rescuing her team from a third straight loss in Germany, Inkster pressed all the right buttons. She ably deflected any pressure her team may have faced as favorites defending the trophy on home turf. She was fierce when she needed to be fierce, and loose when the moment called for it.
Management of the pod system went off without a hitch, as did her handling of rookies Angel Yin and Austin Ernst and the scrutinized inclusion of Paula Creamer.
After a dominating performance and a second straight win, Inkster should be afforded the captaincy for as long as she wants it.
3. The final margin was five points, but this year’s Solheim should be remembered for two matches.
The Saturday fourball between Brittany Lang-Brittany Lincicome and Carlota Ciganda-Mel Reid was the stuff they write movies about. Six straight birdies from Lincicome, a hole-out eagle from Lang, and a dogged Euro pair who still pushed the match to the last hole.
The two teams combined to shoot 22 under, which seemed impressive until Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist met in Sunday’s singles. Nordqvist was the MVP for Annika Sorenstam’s shorthanded squad, and she played like it early on until Thompson caught fire. In a seven-hole span, she made four birdies and two eagles to flip the match on its head.
4. Henrik Stenson went to the Wyndham Championship on a whim, and he left with his first win in the U.S. in nearly four years.
Stenson added the Greensboro stop to make sure he’d play at least 15 events in order to keep his PGA Tour status and avoid a pitfall that has cost Martin Kaymer some time and will put Danny Willett into a penalty box next season. What the Swede found was an old-school layout where he could leave driver at home and still thrive.
The first win after a major can sometimes prove to be an interesting hurdle. Stenson has played plenty of good golf since lifting the claret jug at Royal Troon, but he he was still without a victory until Sunday. With four tied for the lead down the stretch, Stenson turned on the heat with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, including a 27-footer on the penultimate hole to (nearly) put things on ice.
Miles from Sedgefield, Phil Mickelson probably cracked a knowing grin.
5. The only man that appeared able to go toe-to-toe with Stenson was Ollie Schniederjans, yet another member of the storied Class of 2011 who undoubtedly will win soon on the PGA Tour.
Schniederjans sticks out as the only guy in most tournament fields without a hat, but his game got plenty of attention in the final round – especially when he hit a torpedo of a driving iron off the 18th tee that seemingly never left the ground but still trundled 341 yards downhill.
The former Georgia Tech standout now has five top-10 finishes this season and enters the playoffs with a great chance to reach the Tour Championship. Don’t be surprised if he picks up a trophy on his way to East Lake.
6. The annual bubble watch at Wyndham certainly didn’t lack any drama this year.
While four players cracked the top 125 in the season’s final event, it was the manner in which they made their climbs that was noteworthy. Martin Flores essentially needed an ace on the 70th hole, and he got it. Rory Sabbatini came to the same green a few minutes later and holed a putt from Winston-Salem.
Even J.J. Henry had a hand in the theatrics, stuffing his final approach to 6 feet for a birdie that edged him past Zac Blair for coveted spot No. 125 by a single point.
More often than not, we’ll see players crumble under the pressure of a 72-hole crucible where they know that every poor shot or a missed cut could cost them a job next year. Credit to this year’s party crashers for thriving amid difficult circumstances.
7. Rory McIlroy will be in the field this week at Glen Oaks, which is a somewhat surprising turn of events given his comments at Quail Hollow.
McIlroy has clearly been frustrated by his inability to shake a rib injury that has already sidelined him twice this year. After closing out the season’s final major he didn’t rule out the possibility that he might shelve it for the whole year. Instead, he’ll return to begin defense of his FedExCup title, with friend Harry Diamond still on the bag, after consulting with doctors in Northern Ireland.
This won’t be a year to write home about for McIlroy, and a few good rounds in New York or Boston likely won’t change that as his stated focus last week was on Augusta in April – not Atlanta in September. At this point, any efforts that aren’t pointed toward hitting the ground running in 2018 might not be the best use of his time.
8. Even with McIlroy’s inclusion, the 125-man field for The Northern Trust (formerly The Barclays, and not to be confused with the Northern Trust Open, which is now the Genesis Open … got all that?) has been trimmed to 120.
Adam Scott was an an expected absence with the birth of his second child, while Sergio Garcia skipping a postseason event is nothing new. Brandt Snedeker ended his season last week, while No. 115 Dominic Bozzelli’s is effectively over with his withdrawal. No. 85 Scott Piercy, who hasn’t played since June, will also be absent at Glen Oaks.
9. There may not have been a seven-figure check on the line, but the theatrics Redman showed in mounting a last-gasp comeback to win the U.S. Amateur at Riviera were nonetheless riveting.
Down two with two holes to play, the rising sophomore calmly rolled in a 60-foot eagle putt on No. 17, stuffed his approach to the famed 18th, rolled in that putt to force overtime and then nearly drove the green on the tricky par-4 10th. How many Tour pros would kill for that series of shots each February?
Poor Doug Ghim seemed shell-shocked, and rightfully so. There was little he could have done to prevent the Redman onslaught, as a man who needed to survive a 13-for-8 playoff on the 10th hole Wednesday just to make the match-play portion of the tournament etched his name on the Havermeyer Trophy four days later.
10. A thrilling comeback means Redman will basically be able to plan a PGA Tour schedule around his classes at Clemson next year. Should he remain an amateur, he can expect to receive spots in each of the first three majors of 2018, plus invites to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament and Quicken Loans National. He’ll also have a leg up on snagging a “Champions’ Choice” sponsor invite to Colonial.
Not bad for a guy who still won’t be able to legally drink next spring in the Crow’s Nest.
11. Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on Ghim, who played a masterful match through 34 holes and then was undone by a single tee shot in overtime. This is the second time the Texas senior has carred a 1-up lead into the 36th hole of a USGA final, and both times he’s come up short.
Ghim is a talented prospect, and he landed a spot (alongside Redman) on the Walker Cup despite the loss. At least he can take additional comfort in knowing that as runner-up he’ll still receive invites to the Masters and U.S. Open next year.