Pebble now an intimate meeting of land and sea

By Associated PressJune 17, 2010, 2:21 am

2010 U.S. Open

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The bright blue skies at Pebble Beach are almost always deceiving in June, mainly because they’re almost always accompanied by a brisk, humidity-sapping north wind.

Beautiful days like these can be rough on golfers, and can prompt statements like these from the leaders at the USGA: “This golf course will not get away from us.”

That USGA secretary Tom O’Toole felt the need to make that point Wednesday may have been the best sign of where things were on the eve of the U.S. Open. One of America’s most beautiful, memorable and, yes, occasionally devilish golf courses was teetering on the edge between challenging and something more difficult.

2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach
The rough protecting errant tee shots from the Pacific Ocean has been eliminated. (Getty Images)

The forecast for the first round Thursday was more of the same: Mostly sunny, high around 60, northwest wind at around 11 mph.

“I think it’s the best U.S. Open setup that I’ve seen,” said Phil Mickelson, searching for the second leg of the 2010 Grand Slam and his first national championship. “I think the one area of concern I have is the greens. They’re so small and they’re so firm that, given that there’s not any forecast for rain, I’m certainly concerned that we could have 14 potential seventh holes at Shinnecock if we’re not careful.”

Shinnecock, as golf fans remember, was a low point for the USGA. The tiny, tilted seventh green got so baked out in the final round of the 2004 Open that course workers had to water it between groups. At Pebble, they watered liberally Tuesday night and planned on more on the eve of the tournament.

This is not the way the USGA usually likes to do things in the days leading up to its biggest event, but a debacle at Pebble Beach is not in anyone’s best interest.

“Fog will be the players’ friend,” said Roger Maltbie, a Pebble regular who now works for NBC Sports. “If we get sunny conditions with a bit of breeze, this will be a great championship. And I’d be very surprised if anyone breaks par.”

No crime there. The USGA prides itself on identifying its champion by putting him through the most thorough examination of the game he’ll see anywhere. But there is fair and there is unfair, and almost surely, there will be reaction on both sides once the first round is over.

“If the cloud cover passes and we get sunshine like we did today, then you’re going to have to work out exactly the number you’re going to want left and work out how far you’ve got to pitch it to finish with 40 yards of roll,” Ian Poulter said, describing something that sounds more like a British Open than a U.S. Open.

In an era in which courses have been lengthened, strengthened and Tiger-proofed to defend against technology and stronger, better players, the course that gave up a record 12-under-par to Woods in 2000 has undergone more subtle changes for the 2010 Open.

It has only been lengthened by 194 yards, the rough has only been grown to 3-4 inches in some places, and on most holes, the entries to the greens have been generously mowed to allow players to bump and run the ball onto the putting surface.

The tradeoff: On the edges of the seaside holes, fairways have been cropped so closely, they fall with no buffer, straight into the hazards, which in this case means the Pacific Ocean. New bunkers have been built, or brought back into play, and the greens – well, they are about as small as you’ll find in tournament golf.

“Even though it’s the shortest U.S. Open we play, it’s still – it’s getting awfully quick out there,” Woods said. “Just in the last couple days. And if they don’t put any water on these things, come Sunday, it’s going to be very interesting.”

This is the Pebble Beach’s fifth U.S. Open (On Wednesday, they announced a sixth will be played here in 2019) and, unlike other venues, this course always produces big-name champions. Woods, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Kite are the previous winners here – a surprising consistency for a tournament that produces surprises more often than the other majors.

“Pure ball strikers I think more than anything else,” Poulter said when asked what those winners had in common. “Very methodical players. Guys that understand the game probably better than anybody else, to be honest. They know what it takes to win.”

At the U.S. Open, the first 63 holes are more about not losing, especially if the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.

Watson said he was somewhat amazed standing on the par-5 sixth hole during practice, watching players hit irons and 3-woods into the area that fronts the huge hill that leads upward to the green. Control is the key when the red hazard line is actually drawn into the edge of the fairway.

“You just don’t hit it there,” Watson said. “I mean, they show it to you. It’s not blind. They say, `Don’t hit it there.’ That’s why the kids were hitting 3-woods and irons off the tee downwind. They can say, `Well, I can get this on in two and I don’t have to force the issue.”’

The course will play at only 7,040 yards, the shortest track for a U.S. Open in seven years. But in this case, short does not mean easy – sort of in the same way that sunny may not mean ideal.

“I think coming into the U.S. Open you are mentally preparing yourself for what you’re going to face,” said Rory McIlroy, who at 21 is ranked 10th in the world. “I know on Thursday I’m probably going to hit it in the rough a few times, I’m going to miss a few greens, but it’s how you deal with that, how you handle it, and hopefully you do your best and make the best of that situation and move on to the next.”

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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

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.