Cmon, dont dive into denial again. We all know the real definition of golfer is person who plays golf and wants to hit the ball farther. And as it turns out, the problem isnt what youre hitting, but what youre hitting on.
Watching Oakmont toy with the worlds best in the U.S. Open reminded me that as tough as hard-and-fast golf courses can be, they also offer a number of advantages. Chief among these is bounce, roll, release, zing, pay dirt ' call it what you will. On firm turf, the ball bounds forward energetically. Its exciting to watch, and even more exciting to experience as a player.
My most recent first-hand brush with bounding came a few weeks ago at Bandon Dunes, the peerless golf resort in southwest Oregon. Coastal winds and the kind of turf ordinarily associated with British Isles courses quickly taught my compatriots and me an important lesson.
At Bandon, American-style fly-it-in golf has you looking back at the hole from behind the green on your third (or fourth, or fifth) shot. To get the ball close to the hole, you need to apply the kind of judgment links golf courses famously demand. Where do I land this thing to have it skip-jump-roll to the flag?
Great thing was, it sometimes ended up being 40 yards short. Feel weird? At first, yes. Then it felt great. What have I got, 240 to the pin? No problem; Ill just smooth a 17-degree hybrid, land it in Harrisburg, and watch it roll all the way to Center City Philadelphia. People who have played in the United Kingdom report the same kind of experience. Once you learn to play as the locale requires, the fun quotient rises dramatically.
So why cant it be this way all the time and everywhere? In many places, it can. It depends on where we play and what the turf is like. Cooler-weather grasses allow for more of this kind of thing than those that tolerate southern heat. And it depends as well on something called thatch.
Thatch is the accumulation of organic matter that builds up between the crown of the grass plants and the soil, said Tom Alex, CGCS, golf course superintendent at the Grand Cypress resort here in Orlando. Bermudagrass, which tolerates Florida heat well, thatches up pretty quick, and that affects firmness. Even courses that play firm in other seasons face different challenges in the warmer weather.
At Bandon and in the British Isles, youre playing on fescue and turfs that dont have a lot of thatch, said Paul Jett, CGCS, superintendent at Pinehurst No. 2. In the summer, its tough to keep Bermudagrass from being spongy. We have to water more for [grass] plant health.
Bermuda is a spongy grass, Alex said. You can de-thatch it and get the kind of firmness youre talking about. But its hard to manage, very expensive to maintain. The superintendent has to be very aggressive.
And he has to be allowed to be aggressive. It takes a willing membership, Tom said, to put up with that disruption to the course.
Its kind of a Catch-22, Alex said. In order to get that coveted bounce, the members might have to make some sacrifices in convenience. And even if they do, firm Bermudagrass turf poses other challenges. Downgrain, bump-and-runs work very well on thatch-free Bermuda.
But into the grain, Alex said, that ball could hit and pop straight up into the air. Its a problem cooler-season grasses dont have.
Add to that a longer active grass growing season in the southern United States ' about 10 months compared to about five up north ' and you can see why thatch can be a hassle.
But playing on softer Bermudagrass is better than no golf at all; I think we can all agree on that. But if we in the hot climes want to have our cake and bump-and-run it as well, we might have to change our mindsets a little. Or our color palette.
The No. 1 challenge is golfer expectations. [Hard and fast] is not what everybody pays for, said Jett. Unless they want to play on brown.
Whoa. Dont reach for the blood pressure cuff just yet. Hear the man out.
I dont advocate the kind of thing we saw at [the Open Championship at] Royal Liverpool last year, Jett said, referring to the widely tan (but playable) turf brought on by western Englands record heat wave. But an occasional spot of brown; thats O.K. Not every piece of turf needs to be emerald green. And it doesnt hurt the plants, especially Bermuda, which is so heat-tolerant. Next time water hits it, itll green right up.
Its an old battle ' water resources, player demands, the antiquated idea that only wall-to-wall green is a playable, fun golf course ' but its more relevant today than ever. Water and the energy to move it around are not always in ample supply. The game needs an injection of movement and added fun to attract more people. Its time to revisit the idea of green versus brown.
And nothing could be more convincing than an 8-iron that gets you where it usually need a 6-iron to reach. Play it hard, play it fast, play it a little tan.
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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field
Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.
Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.
Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.
After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth.
Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.
Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.
“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”
After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).
Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129.
The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.
Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder
LA QUINTA, Calif. –
Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.
Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.
''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''
Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.
''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''
Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.
Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.
''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''
Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.
''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''
The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.
''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''
Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.
''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.
The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.
''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.
He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.
Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.
''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''
Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.
''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.
Mickelson 'displeased' with iron play; 10 back
All of Phil Mickelson’s offseason work on his driver has paid off through two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
His iron play? Not as sharp, and it’s the reason why he heads into the weekend 10 shots off the lead.
“I’ve been pretty pleased, overall, with the way I’ve been driving the ball, and very displeased with the way my iron game has been,” said Mickelson, who shot 68 Friday on PGA West’s Nicklaus course. He has hit only 21 of 36 greens so far this week. “Usually my iron play is a lot better than what it’s been. So I’ll go work on it and hopefully improve each round in this tournament and build a solid foundation for the upcoming West Coast events.
“I feel like if I continue to drive the ball the way I am, and if I got my iron play back to my normal standard, I should have the results that I’ve been expecting.”
Mickelson, of course, is always bullish this time of year, but he has been able to find 10 of 14 fairways each of the past two rounds, including at narrower La Quinta Country Club, which doesn’t always fit his eye.
“This is actually the best I’ve driven it in a lot of years,” he said.
Currently in a tie for 67th, Mickelson will need a solid round on the more difficult Stadium course Saturday to ensure that he makes the 54-hole cut. He hasn’t missed a cut in his first West Coast event of the new year since 2009.