Notes Oakland Hills No Monster
Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton sees the venerable course a little differently these days.
He has played Oakland Hills numerous times in advance of the Sept. 17-19 matches, including 27 holes on Sunday. He says it requires restraint off the tee, and it will favor players who can manage their game.
'I'm not making it sound like a 94-pound weakling,' Sutton said Tuesday. 'What I'm saying is it's going to take management to play this golf course. It's not the monster that it used to be.'
The last major event at Oakland Hills, located in the Detroit suburbs, was the 1996 U.S. Open, where assistant Ryder Cup captain Steve Jones won at 2-under 278. Sutton had not played there since the 1985 U.S. Open, where he tied for 23rd.
'It's not what I remember it being,' Sutton said. 'But the greens are everything I remember them being. It will take a good iron player. You can't be a great putter if you putt from the wrong spot of the greens at Oakland Hills.'
The one place power might be a factor is at No. 6, the shortest par 4 on the course.
Sutton said the PGA of America has built a new tee that has been moved up 25 yards and will allow big hitters to try to reach the green. He said it will play about 310 yards up a slight hill.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Michelle Wie isn't the only member of the family who has to go back to school.
Her father, B.J. Wie, has been on a one-year sabbatical from the University of Hawaii, where he is a transportation professor. That ends when his 14-year-old daughter finishes her summer vacation by playing in the U.S. Women's Amateur next week, followed by the Wendy's Championship on the LPGA Tour.
'Right after that, I'll be in a lecture,' he said.
He only has two classes -- business logistics management and a graduate course in advanced tourism analysis -- but has to keep office hours all week. And that means sending his wife and daughter out on their own.
Wie's final LPGA Tour event of the year is the Samsung World Championship on Oct. 14-17 at Bighorn. Her father said he would fly to the Palm Springs area on Friday night before the tournament, fly back to Hawaii on Monday and then return for the final two rounds on the weekend.
'It will be quite challenging for me,' Wie said. 'I cannot be absent during the semester, so I'll be flying more.'
He takes care of all the travel arrangements, and that includes driving the rental car. Now, those duties fall to his wife, Bo, who drives sparingly at home and never on the road.
'Bo can drive, but Michelle doesn't trust Bo outside Honolulu,' Wie said with a laugh. 'We found a host family near the golf course (at Bighorn), so they can take a golf cart to the tournament.'
Wie dispelled rumors that a relationship with Nike Golf is imminent just because swing coach Gary Gilchrist left the David Leadbetter Academy in Florida to join International Junior Golf Academy at Hilton Head, S.C., where Nike is a business partner.
Gilchrist started working with Wie in May 2002, but Leadbetter became her exclusive teacher in November. Her father said Gilchrist continued to go to Wie's tournaments because Leadbetter was busy with other clients on the PGA Tour, such as Charles Howell III and Ernie Els.
'Last year in November, Gary brought Michelle to ChampionsGate (in Orlando, Fla.) and handed it over to David,' Wie said. 'Since that time, David is 100 percent in charge in terms of her golf swing. Gary was the assistant. It was a like a football team, head coach and assistant coach.
'But since Gary left the Academy, that two-tier system doesn't exist anymore.'
Fred Funk is feeling battered and bruised these days, in part from a rib injury that knocked him out of the Buick Open, in part from criticism of his decision to skip the British Open so he could try to earn Ryder Cup points at the B.C. Open.
'It wasn't unfair criticism,' Funk said. 'I expected to get it for skipping the British when you're exempt for it, and double whammy when I played an event opposite the British. That was like a double slap.'
But he makes no apologies. Funk is 48, and he realizes this is his last chance to play in the Ryder Cup.
What bothers him is the perception that he doesn't belong on the team.
Funk tied for second in Milwaukee -- a week after he tied for 40th in the B.C. Open -- to earn 85 points and move up to eighth place in the Ryder Cup standings.
Milwaukee had a relatively weak field, although Funk also earned points this year with top 10s at The Players Championship, MCI Heritage and the U.S. Open. A year ago, his nine top 10s included a tie for second in Phoenix, a tie for third at the Nissan Open, a tie for seventh at the PGA Championship, and a tie for ninth in the Tour Championship.
'Anyone who makes the team, you can't say they don't deserve to be on it,' he said.
John Daly's endorsements don't always go hand-in-hand.
On the lapel of his shirt is a logo for Trim Spa. On the sleeve of his shirt is his latest endorsement -- Dunkin' Donuts. The divergent sponsorship was not lost on Daly.
'That's like having Miller Lite and AA,' he said with a laugh.
The Toledo Mud Hens will see another golfer on the mound. Dottie Pepper will throw out the first pitch Friday night while at the Jamie Farr Classic on the LPGA Tour. Last year, Phil Mickelson tried out for the Mud Hens with hopes of pitching in a Triple-A game. ... Adam Scott will have to skip the Australian Open to play in the Skins Games, the second straight year he has missed his national Open. 'I need to increase my profile, and the Skins is an ideal vehicle,' Scott told the Australian Associated Press. ... Davis Love III is making plans to play in the Father-Son Challenge with his son, Dru, who will be 11 in December.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Tiger Woods has failed to win seven out of the last eight times he has shot all four rounds in the 60s.
'Other than my family, making that team is pretty much the most important thing in my life.' -- Jerry Kelly, on his bid to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile
Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.
The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.
He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquinn Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).
Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.
Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.
Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.
Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.
The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.
McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.