Snow on Ground Balls in Air

By Adam BarrFebruary 17, 2007, 5:00 pm
OAKMONT, Pa. -- In just four months, somewhere under the six inches of snow and ice that surround my ankles, the greatest players in the world will be figuring out something much more slippery.
That would be the ninth green at Oakmont Country Club, the storied course that will play host to its eighth U.S. Open in June. I dont know whose position is more precarious ' mine, as I try to stay upright in the face of the north wind in single-digit temperatures, or the pros, who will try to keep their putts per green at a single digit under four.
Oakmont Country Club
Oakmont CC on a less snowy day. (Wire Images)
For me, any time is a good time to be at Oakmont, regardless of temperature. Its just outside my home town of Pittsburgh. The club, atop a great hill reached by Hulton Road, overlooks the Pennsylvania Turnpike on one side and the village of Oakmont and the Allegheny River on the other. Historically, it stands at a similar summit, shoulder to shoulder with peers such as Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Medinah, Carnoustie, Muirfield and others that have endured as timeless championship tests.
Ben Hogan won famously here in the 1953 U.S. Open; so did Jack Nicklaus in 1962 (in a playoff against local favorite son Arnold Palmer). Gene Sarazen won the 1922 PGA Championship here. John Mahaffey won the 1978 PGA, edging out a red-hot Tom Watson in the latters best chance at the one under-50 major that eluded him. Much of the western world first saw Ernie Els sweet, powerful smoothness in the 1994 U.S. Open here, which was as much an endurance test in terms of heat as in golf. (To this day, people still talk about that Open as being scary hot, much like the 1964 event at Congressional that nearly felled the great Ken Venturi.)
The list ' and the history lesson ' goes on and on. No question, this is a great golf course.
But it is also a great golf club. This becomes crystal clear the minute you meet some of its staff and members. Begin with the head golf professional, Bob Ford, one of the few left in his business who can hold top club jobs and still qualify for competition at the highest level. Ford has played well enough in PGA of America Club Pro Championships and other events to qualify numerous times for the PGA Championship, to name just one major where he has been a perennial starter. (You may recall a story we did on Bob at the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol.) And I said top club jobs, plural. Bob works Oakmont in the warm months, and Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., in the winter. If theres a better job in golf, Id like to hear about it. If theres a more deserving guy, Id like to meet him.
One of the reasons Bob does so well in his business is his relationship with the members. I met two of these, Ben and Adrienne Lear, on this trip. The Lears, both financial advisors, live a hard 5-iron from the first tee at Oakmont. They graciously agreed to participate in a Whats In The Bag? show were doing on getting ready for the new golf season. (Hence the February trip north. We needed a snowy locale. Boy, did we ever get one. The show, by the way, premieres Monday, April 9. Check your local listings for the time.)
The Lears are so pleasantly golf crazy that it takes much more than snow and cold to deter them. They greeted us at the door, accompanied by their extremely polite Golden Retrievers, Abby and Emmy. The Girls, as the dogs are known, led us down to the Lears golf workout room in the basement. It is equipped with a treadmill, dumbbells, a medicine ball, and workout tapes (to my knowledge, no one has yet invented Sweatin To The Short Game.).
What Bob and I have worked on, Ben explained, taking up the medicine ball, is moving into the usual positions and getting a good stretch. He showed me a slow swing move, with a four-pound ball, up to the top, through impact, and up to a finish. And your forearms turn over naturally, see? It just helps you stay ready through the off-season.
Adrienne, who is active in womens golf committees at the club, is transitioning to hybrids. She explained that her 3-wood has not been pulling its weight. A new hybrid, though, recently earned a spot in the bag after a trial run in Arizona.
I feel much better about this club than the 3-wood, she said. Our greens are so fast. I need something that lands a little softer, that gets up higher. Ill be looking for more of these.
Ben looks much younger than his age, which iswell, he likely just started getting unsolicited mail from the American Association for Retired Persons; lets put it that way. Adrienne is obviously in good shape. Theyre career walkers on the course.
At our club, you really have to have a medical excuse to be able to ride, Ben said. Thats the way it should be.
The Lears have an album of scorecards from courses they have played around the world, the same way other people have albums of vacation photos. Ben even apologized for not having updated it.
Our WITB crew had known these people for, what, ten minutes before they were treating us like family. Thats golf for you. And something else about our sport thats encouraging: we probably have a better hot stove league than baseball. In our minds, there is clearly no off-season, no matter what the weather says. A special house at Oakmont CC features garage-type doors that open onto the range, allowing members to hit balls under hanging space heaters. I had never hit six-irons in 7-degree weather before. That was a kick. Ben and Adrienne showed us what they had been working on with Bob Ford and Dave Pagett, his assistant and our host at the winter range.
The Lears do it because theyre having fun and they love the game. And we can all take something from that. Without overdoing it, those in cold-weather climates could start now with the stretching, the strengthening, the re-gripping, the dreaming ' and come spring, watch the strokes fall away and the fun sail as high as a 6-iron in the crisp winter sunshine.
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Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.

Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.

“I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.

“We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.