Notes USGA Bending Rules Strickers Windfall
Most of the attention was on a mowing pattern that punished a player depending on how far he missed the fairway. The first cut of primary rough was 3 1/2 inches, then 20 feet away was a second cut of primary rough that was 5 1/2 inches.
The more subtle experiment was more than 50 drop zones, seven of which were around the 18th green.
For the first time, the USGA set up drop zones -- marked by white circles in deep, gnarly rough -- around every green as a way to save time whenever a player's shot was blocked by a temporary immovable object (TIO), such as a grandstand, TV tower or leaderboard. It also will be done at the U.S. Women's Open next week at Newport Country Club, and the U.S. Senior Open at Prairie Dunes.
'This is a test, and we're going to assess it,' USGA executive director David Fay said Sunday morning at Winged Foot. 'So far, I have to tell you, we're very happy with it.'
Fay said it can take as many as 10 minutes for a player to get relief from a TIO by the time he figures out where to drop and the marshals can get the gallery out of the way. The idea was to create mandatory drop zones without changing the nature of the shot.
Of course, there were exceptions.
Stewart Cink blocked his approach well to the right on the fourth hole during the third round. He was close to a boundary fence, and while he still had a swing, the leaderboard was in his line of sight to the hole. Because of the drop zones, Cink was able to move his ball about 35 yards closer to the hole.
That seems to break a fundamental tenet in golf -- advancing the ball without every hitting it.
He still had a miserable lie, but he no longer had trees that affected his shot.
'It was a good break,' Cink said. 'I told Peter (Hedlom), 'I'm getting a drop and I'm going to be 30 yards closer.' And he understood. Sometimes the rules are going to hurt you. And sometimes they help.'
Fay has been talking about drop zones for a number of years, and the USGA decided to give it a try.
'The reason we did it was for efficiency,' Fay said. 'You can start from the premise that just about every green is surrounded by a temporary immovable obstruction, whether it's a grandstand or a leaderboard. Time spent doing a TIO drop is time you don't get back.'
Cink at No. 4, and Kenneth Ferrie on the sixth hole Saturday, were examples of players who got a break by going to the drop area. That's one reason the USGA painted seven circles around the 18th green, to limit the possibilities of a player getting an enormous advantage with the U.S. Open on the line.
As for those who do get a break? Fay noted that without drop zones, players who get relief might not be closer to the hole, but the nature of the shot has been altered by being allowed to approach the green at a better angle.
'What is more important? The angle of the shot or the distance? That's open to interpretation,' he said. 'Will a player get an occasional good break? Yes. Will he get an occasional not-so-good break because that (original) lie had been trampled down? That's the trade-off. This slow game has, over the years, gotten slower. In my judgment, part of it was dealing with these things called -- which is part of big-time golf -- temporary immovable obstructions.'
Perhaps the biggest example came on the ninth hole Friday morning, when Tiger Woods was in the trees to the right. He played a sweeping hook over a corporate tent and toward the grandstand, knowing there was a drop area to the right of the green. His ball went into the bleachers and he dropped in the right circle.
From there, of course, Woods chipped over the green and had to scramble for bogey.
Steve Stricker started the season without a PGA TOUR card, trying to get in tournaments through sponsors' exemptions and those that had room for past winners.
Two weeks changed everything.
Stricker chose a U.S. Open sectional qualifier that offered only two spots in a 33-man field, and won to get a ticket to Winged Foot. Then he played his best golf of the year, and while a 73 in the final round left in a tie for sixth, he won enough money to bring his season earnings to $735,119, which assures him of getting his card for 2007.
There were a few other consolation prizes. Finishing among the top 15 and ties means he won't have to go through qualifying next year, and being among the top eight gave Stricker a spot in the field at the Masters, where he hasn't played since 2002.
Others can look forward to the same.
Jeff Sluman and Kenneth Ferrie also tied for sixth, meaning they will get into the Masters and the U.S. Open next year. Among those exempt from U.S. Open qualifying is Ryudi Imada for the second straight year. Imada closed with a 71 last year at Pinehurst No. 2 to finish in a tie for 15th.
David Duval finished one shot out of the top 15 at Winged Foot, and might have to qualify next year for the first time since 1995.
Tom Kite and Jay Haas were never considered rivals in the last three decades, but it appears one is unfolding now that they are on the Champions Tour -- even though this battle is taking place on the PGA TOUR.
Haas went 1-up when he qualified for the U.S. Open, making him the only player to compete in majors at Winged Foot in four decades -- the '74 U.S. Open (as an amateur), the '84 U.S. Open, the '97 PGA Championship and the '06 U.S. Open. Kite failed to advance out of sectional qualifying in Texas.
And when Haas made the cut at Winged Foot, he broke the PGA TOUR -- previously shared with Kite -- by making his 591st career cut.
'I've been good in spots and consistent,' he said. 'I've been healthy -- I think that's a big part of it. My health has kept me in there for a long time. But I guess I just hate missing cuts. I hate going to a tournament and not being able to play on the weekend.'
When he matched Kite's record at the Memorial, Haas said he would be surprised if Kite returned to the PGA TOUR.
'The game is on,' Haas said with a laugh.
Sure enough, Kite received a sponsor's exemption and will play this week at the Booz Allen Classic.
No one has had a bogey-free round at the U.S. Open since Arron Oberholser in the second round last year at Pinehurst. ... NBC Sports paid the rights fee to broadcast the U.S. Open, which presumably gave chairman Dick Ebersol the right to walk down the middle of the fairway behind the final group in the third round. ... Only six Americans finished in the top 20 at the U.S. Open. ... Ogilvy's victory continued one peculiar trend at Winged Foot. Of its six major champions, Davis Love III at 33 was the oldest winner.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Geoff Ogilvy was never under par at any point in the U.S. Open.
'No one ever gave him the luck I got today.' -- Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, on countryman Greg Norman's losses in the major championships.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
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
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
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.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
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.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
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.