Want Whining Simply Call the USGA

By Associated PressJune 15, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- The area between the clubhouse and the golf shop at Oakmont Country Club was meant to be a place where players can meet family, drop off caddies, maybe swap a tale or two.
 
The people who run the U.S. Open tried their best to do everything to make players happy there, just like they do their best to make them squirm everywhere else. It's a genteel place, underneath tall trees with an adjoining dining area for wives, girlfriends and personal psychologists.
 
Just a few steps away there's a parking lot loaded with Lexus GS450s to ease the drive home.
 
Life is good for the privileged few who get rich playing golf. Volunteers part crowds for them, bring them food and water and pretty much cater to their every whim.
 
They can't possibly have anything to complain about.
 
On Friday, it was about all they did.
 
'It's dangerous, it really is,' Phil Mickelson said.
 
Mickelson wasn't talking about the drive across the Allegheny River, or the flight home in his private jet.
 
The Oakmont rough was his big worry, though the slick greens also gave him fits on this day. He wasn't happy about liquid fertilizer, either, or new machines that suck the grass up so the ball sits down in the rough.
 
Mickelson won't have to worry anymore because he didn't make the cut. But Lefty wasn't alone.
 
As the first wave of casualties arrived off the 18th green, the patio area was filled with furtive glances, embarrassed expressions and players who looked like they wanted to rip the numbers off the scoreboards held aloft by the standard bearers.
 
Some gathered outside to commiserate, though they didn't stay long. There were other places they would rather be, other things they would rather be doing.
 
'Ready to start drinking?' one said to another after signing his scorecard.
 
Uh, fellas. Maybe you hadn't heard, but this is the U.S. Open.
 
You know, the tournament they hold every June with tricked-up rough, tiny ribbons of fairways and linoleum greens. The one everyone loves most to hate, and the one everyone would love most to win.
 
The one that caused such an outcry years ago that a U.S. Golf Association official was forced to defend it by saying the organization's goal wasn't to embarrass the best golfers in the world but to identify them.
 
Was there any reason you thought it wouldn't be this way?
 
Apparently so, judging from the dazed expression on the faces of players who got a break on Thursday only to find Oakmont playing at its snarling best in the second round. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and greens were so excruciatingly fast that balls seldom had a chance to settle anywhere near the hole.
 
'Just walking through the parking lot is tough,' Bubba Watson said.
 
The field averaged nearly 77 strokes on a par-70 course. The top four players in the world were a combined 28 over par.
 
No matter, players said. It wasn't really their fault.
 
Blame the people in the blazers who run the USGA and believe it is their mission in life to make a course so hard that even the best players using the latest in grooved technology and golf balls that dance on command come off it mumbling expletives under their breath.
 
Amateurs running a professional tournament. Guys who can't break 80 on a good day deciding how to set up a course for a game they're unfamiliar with.
 
This wouldn't happen at the Bob Hope Classic.
 
'Sometimes it's hard to accept you hit great shots and make bogeys,' J.J. Henry said.
 
Par was just a concept on this day, and birdie a remote notion. When two-time champion Lee Janzen rolled a 55-footer through two valleys, across three ledges and through the clown's mouth for one on the ninth hole, it was a rare feel-good moment on a day when embarrassment loomed on every shot.
 
'There are times you feel if there's a hole next to the bunker and you can crawl in it, it would be great,' Janzen said.
 
Unfortunately, there aren't many places to hide at Oakmont. The trees that used to line the fairways have been cut down, and the course lays open to both players and fans.
 
The rough isn't going to get any shorter over the next two days, and the greens aren't going to get any easier. The player who finally scratches his way to win the coveted major will have to deal with both over the next 36 holes.
 
Tiger Woods understands that better than most because he's won two of these things. But even he was shaking his head with a wry grin on his face, practically begging the USGA to at least water the greens overnight.
 
They plan to do that but insist that things are just the way they want them. Even par is leading the Open, and that's just fine with the guys in blazers.
 
Besides, somebody did shoot a 66, right? So what that 35 others couldn't break 80?
 
Leave it to an Englishman playing another country's national championship to be among the rare few to agree.
 
'There's no point bitching and moaning that it is a difficult golf course because it is a tough golf course,' Ian Poulter said. 'It is not supposed to be easy.'
 
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    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: Joaquin 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.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    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.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    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.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    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.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    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.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    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.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    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.