Defining a Tough Test in Golf

By Associated PressJune 16, 2004, 4:00 pm
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- A tough test of golf should not be measured by numbers, a winning score, nor the club in a player's hand.
There will be plenty of talk this week about how Corey Pavin hit a 4-wood into the 18th green at Shinnecock Hills to set up a simple par for a winning score of even-par 280 in the 1995 U.S. Open.
Retief Goosen played Shinnecock Hills for the first time Monday, and while he hit his tee shot into the rough on 450-yard 18th hole, he said it should be no more than a 7-iron into the green.
What gets lost in the hysteria over how technology has ruined golf is that Pavin is among the shortest hitters in golf, ranking 159th in driving distance on the PGA Tour that year. He probably hit a lot of 4-wood shots into par 4s.
USGA executive director David Fay tells an interesting story about another long shot on the final hole of a major - Ben Hogan at Merion and his famous 1-iron that allowed him to make par, get into a playoff and win the 1950 U.S. Open for his first major since nearly being killed in a car accident.
There is great history at Merion, the 92-year-old golf club outside Philadelphia that has hosted more USGA championships than any other golf course.
Along with Hogan's dramatic victory, Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam at Merion by winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur. Lee Trevino pulled a rubber snake from his bag to spook Jack Nicklaus, then beat him in a playoff at the '71 U.S. Open.
But these days, Merion is known in some quarters as a great course rendered obsolete by equipment. Some say if Hogan had that shot today into the 18th, he would only need a wedge.
'What people fail to remember is that in 1950, the last day of the U.S. Open was two rounds,' Fay said. 'It's true that Ben Hogan hit 1-iron into the 72nd hole. But earlier in the day, when he was finishing up his third round, he hit a 6-iron into that green.'
Hogan no doubt was fatigued on the 36th hole of the day, and couldn't get his drive down the hill.
What would players hit today if Merion held a U.S. Open?
Brad Faxon is not by any means a long hitter (neither was Hogan). He played Merion a few years ago from a new back tee that now measures 463 yards and had 5-iron into the green.
Could Merion still host a U.S. Open?
'Yes,' Faxon said before the question could be completed. 'Absolutely. If it's not in the top five courses, it's in the top 10. It's obsolete if you think you have to hit driver on every hole. There are hard holes and there are some holes that seem easy, but you have to think like crazy.'
When Merion was picked to host the 2005 U.S. Amateur, some figured it was a consolation prize for a classic course that would never again host a U.S. Open.
Instead, the USGA is using that as a litmus test to determine whether the U.S. Open can return to Merion in 2012, the 100th anniversary of the golf course.
'It has never been a course where driver was used on a lot of holes,' Fay said. 'There's a big stretch in the middle of the course with short, sexy par 4s. Then the finish is colossal. But the issue has never been that Merion is too short. Some look at the yardage and say the game has passed it by.
'In a twisted way, the technological advances in the game have altered the way one plays Merion less than other courses.'
Since the last U.S. Open was held there in 1981, the club added length - most significantly to Nos. 5 and 18 - to stretch it out to just under 7,000 yards.
Former USGA president Buzz Taylor asked Nick Price to play Merion early in the week of the '97 U.S. Open. Price told him it was one of the greatest golf courses in the United States.
'He said, 'What do you think would win?' I told him, 'Under par,'' Price said. 'To get even par to win on that golf course, you have to trick it up too much. I think 5 or 6 under would win. To me, that's not a big deal. You can't take a course out of the rotation because even par doesn't win, especially a great course like Merion.'
But that's what it might come down to.
If players make two days of qualifying for the '05 Amateur look like any year at the Bob Hope Classic, chances of Merion ever seeing another U.S. Open are slim.
'We've made no decision on Merion,' Fay said. 'Certainly, it's reasonable to expect that seeing how the Amateur plays out will be an important factor.'
But Price isn't sure scores should ever be a factor.
'They want it to be the toughest test,' he said. 'Shooting under par doesn't mean it's not a great test. It's like the TPC (The Players Championship). I always said if 8 under par wins, the course is a perfect test. If the score is lower, it was too easy. If the score is higher, it was too tricked up.'
The bigger issue for Merion is whether it has room for a spectacle like the U.S. Open. It is a much bigger show than it was in 1981 - more interest, more corporate and hospitality tents, more media.
Fay said Merion could probably only hold 20,000 people at best - less than half of the number at Bethpage Black - which means less revenue.
That's a fair argument.
But look at Merion for what it is - a classic course, a classic test, no matter what club a player has in his hand or what score he writes on his card.
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    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

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    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.