Golf Channel analysts Judy Rankin and Curt Byrum preview next week’s Solheim Cup, Aug. 16-18, at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colo., USA.
An Interview With: CURT BYRUM & JUDY RANKIN
THE MODERATOR: Like to welcome Judy and Curt this afternoon for some opening comments.
Judy, this tournament is a favorite of yours for obvious reasons since you captained successful U.S. teams. From your perspective, what is so special about this tournament from your perspective, and also a player's perspective for both teams.
JUDY RANKIN: For me personally, when I got to captain the team, it was something I never expected because I was long time retired from playing. So I felt like I was extremely lucky to get to do it. It was kind of like the college experience for me that I was not able to have as a young player.
I just found it extraordinary the way a team of 12 very serious individual athletes could bond and it could be that young women are very good at that, you know, getting in a group and kind of having each other's back. I think I certainly experienced that, and it was one of the highlights of my life.
In Wales and even more so in Columbus, Ohio I had this great experience of thousands and thousands of fans. That's one things player will tell you is the fan support and the fan interaction with play, no doubt really inspires people to do things that, you know, they weren't even sure they could do under great pressure.
So it's fun to be in the midst of that and I think that's one of the things the players would tell you. The joy of playing for your country, but the long effort to try to be on the team and then be part of the team and then just the way the whole setting and scene seem to invigorate, you know, everything that you do.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Judy.
Curt, this is going to be your first Solheim Cup for us in the broadcast booth. You also played Colorado Golf Club when it was at its toughest at the Senior PGA in 2012. From your perspective, what are you looking forward to in the broadcast booth? And then talk about what you think the course conditions will be like next week.
CURT BYRUM: I think it's going to be a great venue, for match‑play especially. Colorado Golf Club, they could stretch it out for a men's championship to 7,600 yards if they wanted to.
I think they will play possibly, you know, if they had they can do whatever they want setup‑wise, but I think some of the interesting characteristics to have golf course are that the ‑‑ it's just outside Denver, so obviously we're at elevation there at about 5,000 feet, so the ball is going to go a lot further there.
There are a couple of drivable ‑‑ potentially depending on where they put the tees one of the front and one on the back. Then I think for match‑play if matches make it far enough, and most of them will, into the 14th, 15th hole, in that stretch right there, at 15 and 16, you have got back to back par‑5s kind of down the stretch.
And 14 is one of those holes that they can move the tees up to make that a drivable par‑four. So I think that stretch, 14, 15, 16 could be a real volatile, there could be a lot of, you know, come backs made if they are down. It's possibly eagle possibilities in that stretch of three holes. I think that is going to be really exciting.
As far as how the golf course played during the Senior PGA when I was there, the one thing we had to deal with that week was heavy winds; Monday when I got there it was blowing 40 miles an hour. That was also in May.
So I don't expect in August the wind to blow as hard as it does in May, but the golf course sits out kinds of on the slope of a side of a hill. It's very exposed to the wind. If the wind does pick up and start blowing, it will definitely be a problem. It's not a tree‑lined golf course. It's more pretty wide fairways, room to drive it, but obviously they can get that bluegrass rough as high as they want. I don't know how for sure they will have the bluegrass rough.
Outside of that rough on both sides of the fairways then you get into more of the native vegetation, the sagebrush, the native grasses. It's not really a tree‑lined golf course that you may visualize in Colorado.
Overall I think it's going to be a tremendous venue. They can do so much with the setup to play to the match‑play part of this thing. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.
Q. Could you compare the teams, what do you think stands out about each team, what their strengths are?
JUDY RANKIN: You want to go first or you want me to go.
CURT BYRUM: I'll defer to you. You're in the Hall of Fame. I'm going to follow you.
JUDY RANKIN: You know, I think the first strength of the European Team is they have been successful of late. I think they really feed off of that. There is no doubt about it. It's extremely interesting and it is correct. It is very interesting that Laura Davies doesn't play on the European Team for the first time in the history of the matches. So obviously Pettersen and Catriona Matthew have become the leaders of this 2013 team.
So the way they bond, and really when you consider that so many of them are from different places, even though they play on one team for Europe, they are from really different places. Both on the women's side and the men's side of these kind of matches, we admire the way the Europeans do this. They have some length of their team. Hedwall was such a star last time and she is very long.
Charley Hull, the 17‑year‑old is in her own words a very aggressive player, which I think works in match‑play. And I think an awful lot of the other players you are familiar with. Carlota Ciganda, who a lot may not be real familiar with, she is very long off the tee. And Caroline Masson is a rookie on the LPGA Tour who has tremendous talent. Lovely person, really, really good player. Those are some of the things I would point out on that European team.
There is no doubt the U.S. Team has the advantage in length. If length is going to be an issue, and some say it isn't, but just listening to Curt, I wonder if you have reachable par‑4s and par‑5s if you can just bomb it off the tee if it matters. But you have got Lincicome, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Gerina Piller and Michelle Wie all very long off the tee. So I do think the U.S. has the advantage in length.
They have a little bit of advantage maybe with this leadership of Stacy Lewis, who should be on a tremendous high.
And some players who have played better of late, Morgan Pressel being the one that stands out. She has been so good in this format and for the first time in quite a while, she is really playing well.
So those are some of the things I would identify with the two teams.
CURT BYRUM: I think from my perspective, you know, when I look at the two teams side by side, I think one of the things that jumps out to me is the rookies that are on both teams. U.S. squad, of course, has four rookies going into this week.
So you know I think that's interesting to me. Obviously Lexi Thompson will be a rookie, but she won. Jessica Korda has won on the LPGA tour. She is also a rookie. I thought it was big to see Lizette Salas play well at the Women's British Open just last week. I think that's huge. She finished sixth. For her to really have the confidence up high that she is playing well into an event that is going to have a lot more pressure put on her than she's ever felt before, but I think that bodes well for her.
I think when I look at the European side, it could come down ‑‑ I don't know how you feel about it, but with six rookies on the European side, it's not like you are going to be able to hide anybody. Half the team are rookies on the European side. You are going to have to plan.
In those conditions with that much pressure on us soil, I think that to me gives the us side a bit of an edge. And along with the fact that Stacy Lewis is playing so well right now; and as are many of the players on that team. Morgan Pressel, you mentioned Salas.
I think at first glance, though, I look at those two teams I think the veterans on the teams are fairly evenly matched. I think it could come down to how the rookies play.
Q. Knowing that the European team came out in July for a few practice rounds and the squad is out here Monday, Tuesday, and today, what does that do for a team to be able to be out here at the course before they have the official practice rounds? What kind of advantage does that extend to the practice rounds next week?
JUDY RANKIN: You know, I think familiarity is to a great degree important. But I think if you are ‑‑ for instance, if you are going to make any kind of club change, you've had the time to figure that out now and know. At least you know what you want to bring along and what might be important.
I think you start to get an idea, which you probably need to get an idea, a little bit more about what's going on in the greens. But I think in the real end, you are so busy when the Solheim Cup week starts, that the fact that you know this golf course pretty well going in, I think is the most important part of being there. You don't have to just grind to learn every hole.
I think the practice sessions can be far more relaxed because you do know the golf course already.
CURT BYRUM: Just to add to that, the fact that they are playing at elevation 5,000; it's around 5,000 feet there, I believe. I did Reno last week, and those guys were playing at 5,500 feet just outside of Reno and I remember playing there and having to make the adjustment.
There is a lot of adjustment to be made how far you hit each club, and then depending on what time of the day, if it's cool in the morning it doesn't go as far, later in the day the ball starts to take advantage of the heat and go farther. And then there's a lot of calculation not only with ‑‑ you know, for the men it was close to ten percent less yardage‑wise. Then you have uphill/downhill also to add into the equation.
So having a good caddie and all these practice rounds that they are playing become really important.
Q. I was wondering if you could ‑‑ this is actually for Judy, reflect a little bit on what do you think the personality of captains, how that impacts their teams? We've had a lot of different personalities at both the U.S. and European side and slightly different approaches to how they did their job as captains. I wonder if you think the personality rubs off on the teams?
JUDY RANKIN: Well, I'm sure it does. I think, you know, some captains just seem to complete endure themselves to their players.
I don't think it's different than what I've seen. I had a son who played high school football and my family has been, you know, a very serious watcher of college football for many years. I don't think it's really any different than a coach on a football team that is really respected in life.
It just seems to me that is always the way to get the most out of players, kind of those boys who would let the bus run over them, you know, for this particular coach. If you can have a captain on these teams, even though you have to be decisive and people have to simply do what you say, the decision that you make has to stand, there is still a way to do it that endears people.
I just find in sports at the highest level of achievement that having a person lead you when it's a team situation that you want to follow over the cliff, it just seems to work. When that person is also someone who is pretty respected anyway in the game, which Liselotte Neumann and Meg Mallon are, it makes it even better because not only do you care about what they say, you believe they have the experience to say it.
Q. For both of you, if that's okay, you kind of touched on the fact that this will be the youngest Solheim Cup team ever; specifically, Lexi is the youngest. Can you talk about how that may play into the whole thing?
JUDY RANKIN: Sure. Well, I actually saw Lexi changing planes to head for Denver the other day when we were returning from Scotland. I assured her that she was going to have the best time that she's ever had playing golf, and I believe she will.
I do think the amount of pressure that you feel playing for that team is greater than anything you've probably experienced in golf. I know Lexi was a Curtis Cup player and so on, but this really is different.
The setting of 25,000‑people plus being there makes it even more so. So I think the young players, they are very good just like Charley Hull, and they may and they probably will rise to the occasion.
But it is going to be an emotional experience that they have not had before, and I don't think if they completely believe that until it happens to them.
CURT BYRUM: Even a good indication of how much pressure they can feel is if you go back to Ireland two years ago and you look at how Stacy Lewis played over there, she was 1‑3‑0 in Ireland. I know she's come a long way in the last two years, but she got drummed pretty good in the singles match over there, as well. I'm sure she wants some revenge and wants to play a lot better. You never know how the pressure is going to get to some of these people.
Cristie Kerr, obviously she's been through a bunch of them. Angela Stanford has been on her fifth team. Paula Creamer, this is her fifth team, as well. A lot of these players have the kind of experience they need.
Again, you go back over to that European team, besides the six rookies, this is only the second Solheim Cup for Karine Icher, Azahara Munoz, Caroline Hedwall, so a lot of young players involved. It will be really interesting.
I'm really looking forward to see who meeting Meg Mallon ultimately decides to pair together as teams, depending on what the matches are, whether they are foursome or fourball, and whether she puts somebody like a Lexi Thompson with a veteran player who's a great putter. Lexi Thompson hits it a mile. She struggles on the greens.
Those kind of decisions, who you pair these different players with is really going to be interesting to see.
Q. You mentioned that somebody, Morgan Pressel, was so good in this format. Your mentioned that being aggressive works in this format. We talked a little bit about pressure from it. Can you give us a few points about what is it that makes you good in match‑play rather than stroke play? What are the intangibles here?
JUDY RANKIN: You know, that's interesting and that could be a really long conversation. I was not a very happy match player. I had a little bit of success a few times but I didn't really love match‑play. Certainly if I compared it to stroke play because it felt more personal to me.
I like the idea of, you know, 15 nondescript people putting scores on the board, and that's what you had to be. Match‑play just, that head‑to‑head thing was difficult for me.
But that is not the case with most players. Most players see it as, you know a competitive ‑‑ they see it as ‑‑ many see it as the best part of competition that head‑to‑head thing. It seems to drive them. Of course, the simple things are the things you know. You can afford to play that bad hole and still play a really great match. You can't always, you know, afford that to happen in a stroke ‑‑ on a stroke‑play day or a stroke‑play event.
There is an unknown quality of ‑‑ gamesmanship would be the wrong word. It's not gamesmanship, per se, but there is that quality of knowing when to take advantage, when not to take advantage.
We often will say she is the shortest hitter off the tee, but the advantage if she can hit it close first everything flips. So it's playing those nuance things well and some people just do it very well. Morgan Pressel has been one who does it extremely well.
You know, if you go to the other side of the board, I think Suzann Pettersen is just fearsome. When you are player it's just a fearsome thing. She is this world‑class athlete competitor and she would ‑‑ she might laugh at this but she is a little bit scary. I'm thinking if Gerina Piller plays her, that's going to be a way different experience than any other golf she's every played with Suzann Pettersen.
Q. If I told you six years ago that Dottie Pepper and Laura Diaz would be assistant captains together on a Solheim Cup team, what would you have thought?
JUDY RANKIN: I don't know how much of that history you remember, but you probably would have thought it wasn't going to be. Because it was the hard feelings just seem to be someone no one could get over. I can tell you that way, way in the early going when Meg first thought of asking Dottie to be an assistant she talked to me about it.
We talked about it because Dottie and have been friendly for a lot of years. Meg and I also. Meg has a history in the Solheim Cup of kind of being the diplomat and so on and so forth.
I thought it was a great idea. It has turned out to be a great idea. The fact that if you go back a ways, Laura and Dottie were quite good friends. This kind of got in between them. Everything has healed. I wouldn't have expected it six years ago, but it's great now.
CURT BYRUM: From a little bit of an outsider's view of that whole situation, it just points out the fact that it's never too late to bury the hatchet and get past problems like that. And the fact that I think Laura Diaz, and especially Dottie are pretty vocal, not afraid to speak their mind, and I think for Captain Mallon it's huge to have people that aren't just going to say, yeah, that sounds good to me. They are actually going to voice a strong opinion, and Meg may not want to hear some of the things that Dottie has to say, but I think it's important to see that side of it for the captain.
Q. Just a follow‑up, about the personality of the captains. How does she rub off on her team, and how does Meg rub off on her team?
JUDY RANKIN: Well, Liselotte has always been just a little bit quiet and unassuming. You know, one of the really nice people in the game, but not somebody who made waves or anything like that.
I just think she is now a ‑‑ even though she is not old she is an elder statesman of sorts. She is a very thoughtful person and I think she will garner a lot of respect from these players.
Both of these players have wonderful playing records, but I think it's a little harder for Meg to make the hard decision. It's just not in her nature but she's very capable of figuring out what that decision would be; and because she is in this role, we have already seen it with captain's picks. She's been able to say the hard thing and do what she things is best for the team. Meg tends to be your best friend and not somebody who's going to want to tell you something hard. But the captain's role sometimes puts you in that spot.
Q. I was wondering if either of you feel like the Europeans are closer to being able to win on American soil now, be it they haven't been able to do that; and if so, what would be the factors maybe that would get them closer to be able to do that for the first time?
CURT BYRUM: I don't think this time around that they are going to be closer. In my opinion the U.S. team is stronger overall, and I'll go back to what I said originally. I think that because there are six rookies on that European Team, I think that is a pretty big hurdle to get over.
I'm not saying that two or even three of them aren't going to play well, but in this format, you just ‑‑ I guess you would hide maybe one player if they are really playing poorly, but you can't hide all of them. You have got to put them in.
I mean, it's just really hard for somebody to play two matches per day and then expect them to be ready to play those single matches on Sunday.
So I don't think that this is obviously just my opinion, I think it's going to be a good match overall. I think it could be very close, but I don't see because of the ‑‑ and also that wild‑card factor of the big U.S. crowd being very vocal, I expect a good crowd out there. I think that's kind to have wild‑card.
Those two factors, the rookies and the crowd, are going to be too much for the Europeans to overcome.
JUDY RANKIN: I would just add that for the Europeans, you know, I think Munoz is a better player than she's ever been. She hasn't had a great season but she is a better player than she has ever been and a strong player.
Recari has won twice this year. And Catriona Matthew has been playing really, really well. So I think some of their stalwarts, Munoz being one now and Catriona has been for one for a long time, will probably come through for this team and we'll see if they can carry the rookies.
Another player that hadn't played so well of late, but suddenly this season is starting to play well is an Anna Nordqvist. They have got some players who have things going. I think Curt is exactly right, probably the rookies on this team will be their big question.
Q. If you can follow up on that, are you surprised that in general European women's golf isn't stronger than it is considering Annika was the No. 1 player for such a long time, or is that wave that she might have inspired, are those players coming up? I would compare it to so many great Korean players that followed Se Ri Pak.
JUDY RANKIN: I think the players are coming, I do. What I think is different in Europe versus here and maybe Asia, I don't think the corporate support has been nearly as strong for women's golf in that part of the world as it is in the U.S. and as it has been in Asia.
I think that the talent that is over there and that is coming would prosper and would happen even a little bit quicker. That is what's really different. They don't get nearly as strong corporate support.
Q. Cristie Kerr had that difficult finish in that last Solheim Cup where her wrist injury wouldn't allow her to go out in the anchor match and she had to concede it to Karen Stupples. Can you talk about Cristie and what you see in her as a player?
JUDY RANKIN: Well, I'm sure she is very motivated. She's got a little bit of an injury again with her right wrist and elbow.
It's something she has been playing through. She says she can play through. I think she had the low round of the day Sunday at St. Andrews, shooting 69. So I guess all in all if you get through the little bit harder ground and so on over there and playing in the wind as they did, that you are probably physically all right.
Cristie is ‑‑ you know, there's almost not anything different. Cristie is always motivated. She's motivated, you know, if she says hello to you in the morning on the way to the practice tee. She stands apart on the US team as somebody who sees this whole golf experience as her business and everything that she does is pointed to her career and playing better and better. So she's at an age now I think where she's got to come to the front if she wants that to happen in the next two or three years.
Q. I was wondering if you could sort of give your assessment on Lizette Salas and how it seems like she's had some nice results maybe not during the entirety of a major, but she shot some really good rounds in a major and she had a good British Open, how you feel like she can going to fare in the Solheim Cup and even how you project the next few years of her career?
CURT BYRUM: Well, I like the way Lizette Salas plays a lot. I think the fact that she's had a couple of good opportunities to win this year says a lot about her even though the one in Hawaii was probably hard for her to get over for a little while but she did.
I get this feeling from her that she is sort of unafraid and just is really ‑‑ she looks forward to the opportunity of putting herself in those positions where she's really nervous and has to perform at a high level. That being said, I think she obviously really looks forward to what was going to happen at the Solheim Cup, but it's a total different animal. The pressure she is going to feel is greater than anything she's felt over in Hawaii on that Sunday playing the last nine holes when she is trying to win that tournament.
I like her a lot and I think she is destined to be a star on the LPGA tour.
JUDY RANKIN: I completely agree with Curt in the case of Lizette Salas. She has not proven yet when she is going to be a closer, although she did shoot that 62 in Hawaii. I think it almost emotionally exhausted her to get in the playoffs, but she's played enough good rounds to have won already but she hasn't figured out how to close it come Sunday.
I think the Solheim Cup is pretty much you feel like every match is like trying to win a tournament. I think the pressure is that great. You are trying just as hard as you can try as if you have playing the 72nd hole in a tournament. It will be interesting.
I think sometimes getting on a team like that and feeling like there are people who have your back and having your partner bring some people to the front I think it was a very good thing for Michelle Wie, if you go all the way back to Chicago.
Q. I just wanted to follow up on Lexi a little bit. Kind of just get your feeling for how her career is going the way you expected, Judy?
JUDY RANKIN: I wouldn't say yes, but then again I don't know, you know, what is fair to expect from somebody quite young regardless of how talented. You still are dealing with more mature players who in a lot of cases are as good as you are. I think that is one thing young players find out. They are off somewhere becoming great whether it is a young woman or a guy. Then suddenly they get thrown into the biggest arena and they find out there are people as good as I am. Where I came from, no one was as good as I was. That is one of the things you have to learn to deal with when you break into professional golf. She's made a good place for herself on the LPGA tour. She is a part of everything. For a young person, she is not a very strong putter. And I think if you want to see real results, you are going to have hope that that's just a bump in the road and not a characteristic of her game.
Q. Curt, you had addressed the issue of the altitude and the openness of the Colorado Golf Club. Is there anything else about this course that stands out about this course compared to where it's been in recent times?
CURT BYRUM: I can only talk to what my experience was at the Colorado Golf Club, and one of the things that the players are going to be looking at and be totally aware of, obviously it was designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore his partner. There are a few of the greens, not all of them but there are a few of the greens there that have tremendous undulation in them, one of them being the par‑5 16th hole. Just a ‑‑ it must ‑‑ I can't remember for sure, but I want to say it's at least 50 yards from front to back. There's all kinds of bumps and rolls in there, so a lot can happen.
These players have played all over the world, obviously. It's not going to be a huge deal. You have to boil it down to really dialing in to how far you're hitting each club. They don't play at altitude like that very often, so it's an unusual situation where you have to get with your caddie in these practice rounds and say ‑‑ Lexi Thompson, for instance, probably hits a 7‑iron around 160. At elevation, if she takes a full ten percent, you are looking at she can hit it 16 yards farther.
I think you really have to dial in and get your caddie involved and have him on the same page and really understand how far the ball is going. Because you can make some big mistakes by mis‑clubbing. I think that is the biggest thing about playing out there just outside of Denver. The fact that ‑‑ maybe you can tell me better. Does the wind blow very often in August out there?
Q. You never know. We can get some mighty storms. It's hard to say.
CURT BYRUM: You know where that golf course is situated. It's very, very exposed. You don't have ‑‑ it's not winding through the big pine trees like we used to down at Castle Pines, in those trees expect for three or four holes that got out in the open. This golf course, pretty much every hole the wind is coming, especially if it comes out of the south, southeast, southwest, it is totally exposed to heavy winds.
So I think the altitude and the adjusting to the clubs you have to hit and the possibility of the wind picking up are the two biggest factors to how they play and how they score.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, I'll ask you one final question. Give us your thoughts and comments on the captains' picks for both the U.S. and European teams.
JUDY RANKIN: I think ‑‑ I know that Meg has a particular affection for Michelle Wie and her game. I think some people would have been surprised by the pick a little bit. I'm going to defend her in that there are a few people out there who think that it has to do with the marquis value and the draw potential of Michelle Wie and so on. I can assure you it has 100 percent nothing to do with those things.
She believes that Michelle Wie will contribute to this team and that was the only reason that she picked her. She also was a player with experience.
Gerina Piller, the other pick, assuming that she didn't take Nicole Castrale, who did have an injury that might or might not have been a factor, it was between two players who had never played on a Solheim Cup team and Gerina Piller was a wildcard. I don't know that anyone expected her to be the pick either, but she's done something along the way to make Meg Mallon believe that she can play in these circumstances and that she is a good fit for all the other people on this team. That is a factor. A lot of people don't want to believe it is, but it is definitely a factor.
On the other side, I know Charley Hull is a very good player, but I have to say I was surprised. She's only been a pro since last March and she is not a winner yet as a professional. It's not that I don't think she's up to it, but I just thought it was a surprising pick.
The others, I think Ewart‑Shadoff has some real potential as a player. I love her golf swing. Giulia Sergas, a journeywoman player who just keeps knocking at the door and I think playing a little better all the time. I was happy to see her get that pick. Hedwall was a star last time.
So that is my take on the picks and the facts that I know about what Meg Mallon was thinking.
CURT BYRUM: I think from the European team side, I guess other than Hedwall, the other three are all going to be rookies on this team, not rookies on tour obviously but rookies on this team. So maybe I was a little bit surprised that she didn't go for at least one more experienced player there rather than a rookie.
Like Judy said, Sergas is a veteran, played a long time on the LPGA tour. She obviously feels like she can handle that stage.
I think Ewart‑Shadoff, she's had a good year. I think again Charley Hull is the big question mark there. Liselotte obviously sees something in Hull that she really likes to put her on the that team at her age. I think she probably knows best.
As far as the American side, I have to be honest, I was one of those people that was surprised about Michelle Wie. But I think Meg just feels like she's been through it before. This is going to be her third Solheim Cup team she's been on. She is such a lightening rod. Because of all the hype around her, the media, she has been through all this stuff for years now that she can handle that big stage better than possibly somebody else can. She also has a winning record. Overall she has a winning record in her Solheim Cup history.