Alan Shipnuck's Post-Solheim Mailbag
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.
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)