Mild Man Behind Brutal Open Courses

By Associated PressJune 11, 2005, 4:00 pm
A famous mantra for the U.S. Open is that it seeks to identify the best players, not embarrass them.

At times, Tom Meeks has been known to infuriate them.

Tom Lehman berated him for the silly pin placement on the 18th hole at Olympic Club. Nick Price challenged him for making the fairway nearly impossible to reach on the 492-yard 10th hole at Bethpage Black. A long list of players ridiculed him for the seventh green at Shinnecock Hills last year.

As the person in charge of setting up the golf course for the U.S. Open the past 10 years, Meeks should have expected his share of confrontations. But there was one exchange with the late Payne Stewart that made his job worth all the grief.

Meeks had a two-year battle with Stewart, starting in 1998 at Olympic Club when Stewart three-putted for bogey from 8 feet because of a hole location that resembled miniature golf. Plus, it was Meeks who put him on the clock for slow play in the final round, right after Stewart hit a perfect tee shot into a sand-filled divot.

Stewart lost by one shot at Olympic, and it didn't take him long to run into Meeks at Pinehurst No. 2 the following year. He complained about the 489-yard 16th hole, which had been converted into a par 4.

'He said, 'That green was not designed for a long shot, it was designed for a short shot,'' Meeks recalled. 'I said, 'Tell you what, Payne, we'll move the tee back and make it 530 yards if you promise you and everyone else won't go for the green in two.' He just looked at me and said, 'You're impossible!''
 
The 16th hole is where Stewart began his rally in the final round, and he won the 1999 U.S. Open with a 15-foot par putt on the final hole. Meeks bumped into Stewart when it was over, and heard something that reduced him to tears.

'He grabbed me downstairs and took me into the locker room tunnel and we embraced,' Meeks said. 'He said, 'Tom, you set up one hell of a golf course.' That was the biggest compliment I ever had. That comment will go down as one my career highlights at the USGA.'

Compliments don't come easily for the senior director of rules and competition, who is setting up the course for his final U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and will retire later this summer after 30 years with the USGA.

Some believe sports officials are doing a great job when no one knows who they are. The fact that Meeks has become such a central figure in the U.S. Open speaks more to the job he is assigned to do than the job he has done.

The U.S. Open is known as the toughest test in golf.

Meeks' job is to make sure it's just that.

'In a perfect world, it would be nice if all the players would give me a hug and say, 'Good job.' But they're not going to do that,' Meeks said. 'If you don't hear something, that's good. I usually hear on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday that it's the best setup ever. Come Thursday, when you put a pencil in their hands, that's when it changes.'

Mention the name 'Tom Meeks' and the reaction is almost universal -- a sinister smile, a long pause, a polite answer, perhaps wary of what's in store.

'I think he's ... um ... what's a good word? Very testing,' Davis Love III said. 'He wants you to be tested. The only problem the USGA has is that they think we're better than we are.'

Ernie Els danced around the question, although the Big Easy had cause to be reticent. He was furious last year when, after making double bogey on the first hole on his way to an 80 in the final round, he learned that Meeks had told The Boston Globe, 'I think Ernie Els gave up after the first hole.'

Meeks later apologized.

Justin Leonard gave the definitive analogy of Meeks.

'He's kind of like that professor in that really hard accounting class,' Leonard said. 'You knew that you had to go through this class and this professor in order to graduate, and like 70 percent of the people got out of the business school because of that professor. Yet if you made it through him, you were better off for it.'

Strangely enough, Meeks once joined an accounting firm in Indiana after seven years as a teacher. He wound up working for a golf cart company, which led him to become director of the Indiana Golf Association, and eventually he landed a job in 1975 with the USGA.

He was in charge of various championships during his tenure, but didn't take over the job of setting up the U.S. Open until Oakland Hills in 1996.

But it didn't take long for Meeks to make a name for himself.

If Stewart's embrace at Pinehurst was the highlight of his career, the lowlight came at Olympic Club in San Francisco, when Meeks decided to put the hole location on the 18th green in the back left during the second round, knowing it might be a gamble because of the slope.

It turned into a fiasco.

Any putt that missed the cup wound up rolling toward the bottom of the hill. Lehman four-putted for double bogey and stormed off the course. Stewart was in the lead and facing an 8-foot birdie. He narrowly missed, and watched the ball roll 25 feet away.

Kirk Triplett missed a 12-footer that would have allowed him to make the cut. Already steamed, he was about to tap in when the ball started rolling.

'I'd just had enough,' Triplett said. 'I started to back away and thought, 'Screw this.' So I stuck the putter on top of the ball and smacked it in from 4 feet. They're trying to protect par. They set up a stern test. And once in a while, it gets away from them.'

Meeks would be the first to admit it.

'I felt horrible about that,' he said, calling it his worst mistake in 10 years setting up U.S. Opens. 'I searched those guys and talked to them. I've screwed up a few times.'

As stern a test as he provides, Meeks has managed to maintain a congenial relationship with players because of his amiable personality. Even those who have paid a steep price at the U.S. Open seem to like him as a person.

Lehman bristled when asked to name Meeks' biggest gaffes at a U.S. Open.

'You're choosing to remember somebody for just a couple of mistakes,' Lehman said. He conceded that the 18th at Olympic Club was a big mistake, but added, 'I would simply ask people to think of all the great things he's done.'

Meeks has handled the complaints without flinching. He has defended what he thought was right, even if everyone told him he was wrong. He learned to listen, be fair and get out of the way.

Now that he's leaving, 'I hope nobody says he'll be glad when that son-of-a-gun is gone,' Meeks said with a laugh.

That's doubtful. His replacement is Mike Davis, who will be charged with upholding the same principles on which the U.S. Open has relied for years -- firm, fast conditions, narrow fairways, hard greens.

'I'm sure they'll fill someone in behind him,' Jim Furyk said. 'I don't see any easy U.S. Opens in the future once Tom retires.'
 
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    Watch: Pros try to hit 2-yard wide fairway in Dubai

    By Grill Room TeamNovember 18, 2017, 5:20 pm

    While in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour prestented a little challenge to Ross Fisher, Richie Ramsay, Nicolas Colsaerts and Soren Kjeldsen. On a stretch of road outside of town, the four players had to try and hit a 2-yard wide fairway. Check out the results.

    Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

    By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose will take a one-shot lead into the final day of the season-ending Tour Championship as he attempts to win a third straight title on the European Tour and a second career Race to Dubai crown.

    The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for a 7-under 65 Saturday and overall 15-under 201.

    The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

    Rose is looking to be Europe's season-ending No. 1 for the second time. His leading rival for the Race to Dubai title, Tommy Fleetwood, is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

    Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

    ''So, last day of the season and I've got a chance to win the Race to Dubai,'' Fleetwood said. ''It's cool.''


    DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

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    Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Race to Dubai title, is tied for 13th on 10 under after a 67.

    Fleetwood had a lead of 256,737 points going into the final tournament and needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

    Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey.

    Rose, who made some long putts for birdies apart from chipping in on the 13th hole, looked to be throwing away his advantage on the par-5 18th, when his second shot fell agonizingly short of the green and into the water hazard. But with his short game in superb condition, the reigning Olympic champion made a difficult up-and-down shot to stay ahead.

    ''That putt at the last is a big confidence-builder. That broke about 18 inches right-to-left downhill. That's the kind of putt I've been hoping to make. That was a really committed stroke. Hopefully I can build on that tomorrow,'' said Rose. ''I know what I need to do to stay at the top of the leaderboard. If I slip up tomorrow, he's (Fleetwood) right there. He's done everything he needs to do on his end, so it's a lot of fun.''

    The last player to win three tournaments in a row on the European Tour was Rory McIlroy, when he won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in 2014.

    Fleetwood was 1 over after seven holes but turned it on with a hat trick of birdies from the eighth, and then four in a row from No. 13.

    ''I wanted to keep going. Let's bring the tee times forward for tomorrow,'' quipped Fleetwood after closing with a birdie on the 18th. ''Just one of them strange days where nothing was going at all. A couple sloppy pars on the par 5s, and a bad tee shot on fifth and I was 1-over through seven on a day where scoring has been really good ... Ninth and 10th, felt like we had something going ... it was a really good last 11 holes.''

    If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


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    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon: