Needles And Pines
Weather delays, searing heat, trying course conditions and the built-in pressure of playing for womens golfs most important prize on its biggest stage has turned into a golfing war of attrition.
The weekend has arrived and relentless afternoon electricity in the local ether has prevented the championship from reaching its halfway mark. Almost everybody is on edge.
Annika Sorenstam, the defending champion, needed 42 strokes to complete the first nine holes of her second round. Karrie Webb, the No. 2 ranked female player in the world, had a 42 on the back nine Thursday. Suzann Pettersen, who won the McDonalds LPGA earlier this month, has carded a 43. So has Hall of Famer Juli Inkster.
Italys Silvia Cavalleri withdrew due to heat exhaustion Friday after nine holes that totaled 44. Michelle Wie sounded like the heat had gotten to her after an 11-over Thursday round, that included a back nine 44, when she said, Theres a fine line between 82 and 69.
Ji-Yai Shin from Korea said this: Im very, very nervous. Very nervous.
If Oakmont was Roger Clemens power pitching in his prime, Pine Needles is Greg Maddux painting the black part of the plate in his mid-30s. Lots of players trudging back to the dugout with their bats on their shoulders.
Fridays early leader in the clubhouse was Koreas In-Bee Park who has a cartoon bumblebee on her golf bag and says her first name in Korean means Queen of Virtue.
She followed an opening 69 with a Friday 73 and hasnt been stung yet by Pine Needles. Her close friend, Angela Park, another Korean teenager, was the first round leader and still in front when In-Bee Park finished her Friday round. Which meant, at least temporarily, the U.S. Womens Open was double-Parked.
Dodging lightning, managing emotions, conserving energy, maintaining focus and marshalling patience have all been part of the test so far. Not to mention the nutritional challenge of deciding when to nosh and when to abstain when you dont know if the officials are going to call you back on the golf course again.
I just eat when Im hungry, said In-Bee Park, who will turn 19 in July. Easy for her to say.
Its the U.S. Open, said Kelli Kuehne, older and wiser. Things never go as you think they will.
Just stay patient, said In-Bee Park. Also easy for the Queen of Virtue to say.
Kicked my bag, got mad, almost broke my toe, Kuehne said at one point. I dont think Ill be kicking my bag any more.
Alexis Thompson, the youngest player in the history of this event'she doesnt turn 13 until next February'plays like an adult but sounds like a pre-teen. When somebody asked her who won the ping-pong match between her and Vicky Hurst during one of the weather delays, she said she thought Hurst might have let her win.
But, Thompson quickly added, dont make that sound like Im a brat.
When the players got to Pine Needles Friday they found a set of greens that were rolling about 12 on the Stimpmeter. That was about three inches faster than Rd. 1s greens, which had been slowed by late Wednesday rains. Turns out the grounds staff had been mowing until 10:30 Thursday night. They resumed at 4:45 Friday morning.
If we dont get a few gripes during a championship, said Mike Davis, the USGAs estimable course set-up guy, were not quite sure we set the championship up right.
To their collective credit, the women havent been complaining this week so much as theyve been busy playing defense on the course and watching the Weather Channel in the locker room.
Davis is the architect of the conditions at the USGAs marquee events. Donald Ross was the original architect of Pine Needles. John Fought, a former U.S. Amateur champion, was the architect of a restoration at Pine Needles that significantly changed what the women faced here at the 2001 Open and what greeted them when they arrived on Monday.
What had played at approximately 6,250 yards to a par of 70 when Webb won here six years ago is now 6,644 on the card to a par of 71. Instead of rye grass roughs the players found Bermuda grass.
Bermuda rough, as we all know, is a more penal rough, Davis said, because the ball falls to the bottom; versus overseeded rye, the ball sits up a bit.
In theory, Davis said, this is supposed to be the hardest test the women will face all year every year. The goal is to take the worlds best players and test them as much as we can without having it be unfair test where well-executed shots arent rewarded.
So the course is sneaky-hard. The weather is more unpredictable than the last episode of The Sopranos. And the eventual outcome'both the who and the when'right now is anybodys best guess.
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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.