Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Just
back from one of my favorite events, the Solheim Cup. It’s like the Ryder Cup,
minus the excessive hype and commercialism. I went deep on Michelle Wie in my
SI game story — which you can read here — but let me add a couple of quick
thoughts. Wie-kim-solheim-shipnuck_30 I will be shocked if Wiesy doesn’t win a couple of tournaments before
the year is out. The missing ingredients in her game have always been passion
and putting, and she discovered both at the Solheim. The more fired-up Wie got
the better she played, and if she brings some of that emotion to everyday LPGA
events she will be very tough to beat. The biggest hole in her game has always
been inconsistent putting, but the week before the Solheim, Wie took a pair of
long lessons from Dave Stockton, who won two PGA Championships in his heyday
and enjoyed the reputation of one of the greatest putters on the planet. On
Sunday I caught Stockton on the phone at home in Cali as he was monitoring the
Solheim, and he was positively giddy.
“I’d been
hoping she would call me for years,” said Stockton, whose son Ronnie has
become a sought-after instructor on the LPGA tour. “At Phoenix this year they
showed Michelle practicing and I was yelling at the TV because I felt like
everything she was doing was wrong.”
In my SI story I discuss
a few of the technical tweaks
Stockton made to Wie’s stroke but the biggest
change was getting her to stop obsessing about mechanics and start thinking
about feel and touch and pace and simply willing the ball into the hole.
“People who can’t putt tend to be very mechanical,” Stockton told me. “They can
work and work at it but they’re never going to get better, and that was
Michelle. Across two days she basically changed her whole approach to putting.
I couldn’t believe how fast she picked it up. I couldn’t believe how committed
she was.
“I’m
watching her play at the Solheim and not only is she making everything but the
putts are rolling beautifully, just diving into the hole. I’m sitting here
thinking, Ohmygawd, she can be the best player out there. Soon.”
A couple quick Solheim queries and then we’ll move on to the miscellanea. I know all the press has been
going to Wie, but what do you make of Creamer's performance? She seems to have
mental blocks like Phil does in majors, but she performed well at the Solheim.
Do you think she's due to breakout or have a more Phil-like career trajectory
where it takes her a long time before she wins majors?”  — John from Austin
I
love Creamer, and not just for the obvious reasons. She’s a killer, one of those
athletes who wants the ball in their hands when it matters. She was the star of
day one at the Solheim and set the tone for the singles with a rousing lead-off
victory over the Euro’s putative best player, Suzann Pettersen. In match play
Creamer’s fairways-and-greens game wears down opponents, and she makes all the
putts that matter. But she is probably the shortest hitter among all the elite
LPGA players. That distance disadvantage really hurts on the longer major
championship courses. She certainly can’t overwhelm a golf course like Phil, to
use the reader’s comparison. Creamer will win a major, and probably a few, but
no doubt she’s feeling the pressure to break through, even at the tender age of
23. She seemed tight at all of this year’s majors and often got in her own way,
a Phil specialty. Playing for something larger seemed to free up Creamer at the
Solheim. Hopefully there will be a carryover into ‘10. A few Creamer-Wie
shootouts in the majors would make the LPGA compulsory viewing.

“What do you make of Christina Kim's histrionics? Too
much, or was Christina just being Christina - and did the Euros voice any
displeasure?”
She
certainly injected a lot of life into the Solheim, and the crowd spooned up her
schtick. The Europeans didn’t exactly love having to watch her celebrations. In
Kim’s singles match her opponent, Tania Elosegui, copied a few of Kim’s signature moves, a sign of irritation but also an impressive display of attitude. But what the cameras never showed was that Kim
went out of her way to police the galleries when the Euros were hitting,
often calling for quiet. She was also a very generous opponent, offering kind
words and not the usual steely silence. Laura Davies is one of the bluntest
athletes on the planet and she was asked about Kim on Sunday evening in the
loser’s press conference. “She's a lovely girl,” Davies said. “She's excitable. That's the way it is. She's good fun. She gets the crowds going. Good luck to her.” Bottom line is that
Kim gets cut a little slack because all the players are used to her emoting. There
are enough robots in golf, so I think it’s refreshing to see someone who cares
so much. “How
long can the FedEx Cup survive, given that it seems that fans don't care about
it at all? People care about this week's event because Tiger is playing, not because
of the FedEx Cup. Do you really think Tiger cares about winning it? The PGA
Tour's relevance, like it or not, depends on Tiger's level of involvement. Is
the FedEx Cup gone in a year or so with something new or nothing at all?”
Yeah, in year three I think it has become clear that
only the players’ accountants and wives really care about the FedEx Cup. But
here’s the bottom line: It has given us four excellent tournaments during what
used to be the slowest time of the year. It’s true Tiger doesn’t care about the
winning the FedEx Cup points race but he does care, deeply, about winning this
week, simply because he wants to win every time he tees it up. My advice is to
simply ignore the points race and all that nonsense and enjoy a deep field on a
dramatic new golf course. The Cup will go on because it serves its primary
purpose: making the players even richer. We will all endure it because it
serves our purposes: watching quality golf. “Am I the only one who thinks the prospect of Freddie
picking Tom Watson for the Presidents Cup team is nuts?”
No, I’m with you on that one. What Watson did at the Open
was one of the great sporting achievements of our time, but it doesn’t mean
he’s a good pick. Match play is so often about holing key putts, and clearly
Watson’s putting is shaky at best. Tom Watson as Presidents Cup captain in
‘011? That’s a petition I’ll gladly sign. “How
often do tour players change golf balls? Each hole, three holes, every nine?
This assumes there are no scuffs or marks on them which would warrant an
immediate replacement.” — Fred Yanni
This
is a very personal thing, often grounded in voodoo. Ernie Els changes balls
after every birdie, believing each pellet has only one bird in it. (Clearly Els
hasn’t needed many news balls the last few years.) Many players on a hot streak
go the other way and keep the same ball in play for as long as possible. Me, I
use the same ball until I’ve bladed a sand wedge, earning the dreaded smiley
face. “Maybe
I was in a Nantz-induced nap, but did I dream about a Bridgestone commerical
where Freddie's with a smokin' chick in a red dress discussing balls in men's
locker room? He's practically zipping it up while they chat - and then -
aaaaahhh, there's Lee Trevino!! Freaky.” — Ben Smith
Yeah,
this is my favorite of all golf commercials because it is so exquisitely
random. Is the woman Fred’s secretary? Is she, gulp, a golf writer? And then,
as noted, just as the various soft-core scenarios are on the verge of playing
out we’re interrupted by the tired Merry Mex thing. But I think we can use this
constructively. Remember the greatest sports cameo in cinematic history, Xavier
McDaniel in Singles, helping
Campbell Scott last longer in bed
?
I think Trevino can serve a similar purpose for this generation of golf fans.
And just think: All those irritating Cialis ads would suddenly be obsolete. (Photo: Darren Carroll/SI)

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