Americans struggle on LPGA Tour; PGA Tour brings back team event
It was only two years ago that Stacy Lewis won the LPGA Tour player of the year and captured the money title. That same year, Lexi Thompson won the Kraft Nabisco at age 19, and Michelle Wie finally broke through with her first major at the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
This year, only two Americans have won tournaments — Thompson in Thailand, and Brittany Lang in the U.S. Women's Open. With two tournaments left on the schedule, no Americans will be in the running for the $1 million bonus as part of the Race to the CME Globe.
Lang is the only American in the top 10 on the money list, although 65 percent of her earnings ($810,000) came from the Women's Open.
"The Americans are out-motivated, out-focused and out-driven, and it's showing up," said Dottie Pepper, a 17-time winner on the LPGA and now a television analyst. "Nobody wants to hear that. But all you have to do is look at the results."
What surprises Pepper the most is that the United States won the International Crown this summer, a team event against powerful golfing nations from Asia that are not eligible for the Solheim Cup. England was the only European team in the International Crown.
As for the Solheim Cup? The Americans rallied to beat Europe last September.
"The momentum didn't transfer to individual golf, the same way it didn't coming out of the Solheim Cup," Pepper said.
Also concerned is Juli Inkster, who returns as Solheim Cup captain for next year's matches in Iowa, although Europe isn't faring much better.
Europeans have won only twice this year, Caroline Masson of Germany and Carlota Ciganda of Spain, while only two Europeans — Anna Nordqvist and Ciganda — are among the top 20 on the money list.
"It's always great, especially in the U.S., when we have Americans winning," Inkster said. "In the overall concept of the LPGA Tour worldwide, I'm not sure it does matter. But for our TV ratings and fan base over these last six tournaments, it killed it."
The LPGA Tour is coming off a six-week swing through Asia in which Americans finished in the top five in only two tournaments — Alison Lee lost in a playoff in South Korea, and Jessica Korda was runner-up in China.
The PGA Tour is bringing a team event back to the official schedule next year for the first time since 1981 at Disney.
The policy board has approved making the Zurich Classic a two-man team competition starting next year, according to two officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because an announcement is not expected until next week.
Still to be determined is how to assign world ranking points in a team competition, and how to dole out FedEx Cup points. The prize money is likely to be shared.
The last official team event was won by Vance Heafner and Mike Holland in the Walt Disney World National Team Championship. Other team events include the World Cup and Franklin Templeton Shootout, though they are not official PGA Tour tournaments.
DJ TO MIDDLE EAST
U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson is the latest American to head to the Middle East for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Johnson was confirmed for the European Tour event on Jan. 19-22, which is opposite the CareerBuilder Challenge in the California desert, and means he likely will skip Torrey Pines the following week. Rickie Fowler also returns as defending champion.
Over the last seven years, Abu Dhabi has attracted Tiger Woods (twice), Phil Mickelson (twice) Fowler, Jason Dufner and Anthony Kim.
Next year's field is one of its strongest with Johnson, Fowler, Rory McIlroy, British Open champion Henrik Stenson and Masters champion Danny Willett.
Rod Pampling became the ninth player to open a PGA Tour event at 60 or better, but only the fourth player who went on to win.
Mike Souchak opened with a 60 in the 1955 Texas Open and sailed to a seven-shot victory.
Phil Mickelson shot 60 in the first round at Phoenix and won by four over Brandt Snedeker. The other player to open with 60 and win was Steve Stricker in the 2010 John Deere Classic — and Stricker wasn't even leading after the first round. Paul Goydos shot 59 that day and was runner-up by two shots to Stricker.
Pampling shot 60 in Las Vegas, but he had only a two-shot lead over Brooks Koepka, which turned out to be the margin of victory.
No one ever wasted a good start like Pat Perez in the 2006 Bob Hope Classic when he shot 60 in the first round. Perez never broke 70 the rest of the week, posting scores of 73-70-75-78, and he finished 73rd, 21 shots behind Chad Campbell.
Ping is celebrating the 50-year anniversary of its Anser putter by making a limited-edition version made from the original molds with components made in the U.S. that vendors supplied in 1966. Chairman and CEO John Solheim is grinding each sole by hand, just as he once did in the family garage. It also has a modern touch of tungsten in the heel and toe.
If it sounds like a lot of work, it comes with a steep price. Suggested retail price is $900.
The original concept for the Anser putter was drawn on a 78 rpm record sleeve by Ping founder Karsten Solheim in early 1966. The name was inspired by his desire to find an "answer" to the popular putter at the time. His wife, Louise, suggested he call it "Answer" but he thought that wouldn't fit on the toe. The "w'' was dropped.
ROAD TO ROYAL BIRKDALE
The R&A is adding qualifying sites at the Singapore Open in January and the Ho Tram Players Championship in Vietnam in April. That brings to 44 the number of players who can earn spots in the British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Singapore and Vietnam will offer spots to the leading two players not already eligible provided they finish in the top 10.
Qualifying spots start next week at the Australian Open, where the leading three players from the top 10 will be exempt to golf's oldest championship. Three spots will be offered at Joburg Open in February and the Mizuno Open in Japan in May.
The European Tour and PGA Tour will each get nine spots — three each at the French, Irish and Scottish Opens, along with four spots at the Quicken Loans National and Greenbrier Classic, and one spot at the John Deere Classic.
As usual, 12 spots will be awarded at local final qualifying.
Brooke Henderson is playing her 31st tournament on the LPGA Tour schedule this week in Mexico. She has missed only two tournaments for which he was eligible, including last week in Japan. The other was in Thailand in February. ... Keegan Bradley has back-to-back finishes in the top 10 (tie for sixth in Malaysia, tie for seventh in Las Vegas) for the first time since March 2013. ... Jon Rahm has shot par or better in his last 22 rounds dating to the final round of the British Open. That's the longest active streak on the PGA Tour.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Lydia Ko has finished out of the top 10 in her last five tournaments dating to the Evian Championship. Before that, she had only five tournaments all year out of the top 10.
"Even if you miss 20 cuts and won a major in a year, would you class it as a good year? There would be varying opinions on that answer, but you would still say it's a good season." — Masters champion Danny Willett.
This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.