Road Noise from Oakmont
This week, Casey reports recent business and equipment news from the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.
Adams Golf / David Sticky Williams, PGA TOUR Representative
Brutal conditions prevail this week. It will take a tremendous amount of mental toughness to become the U.S. Open champion this year. There is a lot of strategy at play just to make your way around the golf course. Traditional club setups are completely out of the bag. I mean completely. Driver is pointless on most holes. 3-wood for a lot of guys is going to be too much. Guys are going to low lofted hybrids trying to hit fairways and they are using higher lofted hybrids on a lot of approaches just trying to hit the greens. For some of the players using our stuff out here weve gone to lower lofted fairway woods. They want the ball to hit and roll out. One very high ranked player using our fairway wood went very low lofted just for the #8 par-3 hole. He didnt have another club in the bag he could reach that green with. And then, of course, 3-irons and 4-irons are coming out of bags in droves being replaced by similarly lofted hybrids. The long irons just arent able to hold these firm greens and because the hybrids fly higher and land softer they have a better chance to hold the greens.
adidas / Irek Myskow, Global Sports Marketing Manager
We have some special shoes out this week. A very colorful range of the Tour 360 model shoe. Its a limited edition shoe that we have out just for the guys for this U.S. Open. There will be a very limited supply of these shoes available in the stores as well. And also, I think you will see some tangible positive affects from our adidas ClimaCool golf apparel. If your readers and viewers have not had a chance to try our ClimaCool product yet I would encourage them to do so. The guys out here, when it is very hot and they are working very hard, really feel the benefit of this revolutionary material. You know, I used to be a big cotton guy. I loved soft, comfortable cotton. But Ive got to tell you, Casey, since adidas pioneered synthetic technical fabrics in Germany years ago, and eventually perfected our ClimaCool material, I have changed my opinion and now I couldnt even imagine wearing cotton on the golf course. There is just such a difference in how ClimaCool helps manage your bodys temperature that I am quite confident to say you will play better golf if you wear these ClimaCool products. So I am happy to say that our guys out here this week playing in the U.S. Open are benefiting from adidas technology.
Bridgestone / David Walker, R&D Engineer, Golf Clubs
Stuart Appleby is playing very good golf right now. The key to his game is driving it straight and he has been doing that very well. Brandt Snedeker is another one of our guys who has been playing quite well recently so hopefully this can be kind of breakthrough week for him. Some of our guys have been making adjustments to their fairway woods and hybrids; working with lofts, lie angles and even shaft length to help figure out a way to play out of this rough around here. With several of the shorter par four holes out here, guys want to dial in clubs that they can hit off the tee but not run the risk of hitting through the fairway. So weve seen some adjustments being made to equipment in these categories. As far as Stuart Appleby goes, he is using a 2-iron driving iron called the Air Muscle which he hits off the tee quite a bit. He can do pretty much anything with this utility club and its mighty impressive to see it used so effectively in his hands.
Callaway / Barry Lyda, PGA TOUR Representative
Its wedge work week at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. With the rough as tough as it is out here, Roger Cleveland made a special trip and brought out some prototype 64-degree wedges that he has been working on that are going to be released in the fall for sale to consumers in 2008. He brought about ten of these heads out here and we watched all of our different staff players hit these wedges. I think between Phil Mickelson, Charles Howell and Michael Campbell, I think those three players will have these new wedges in the bag this week. Its kind of an extreme example of what you can do with a piece of equipment to try and adapt to the playing conditions of a golf course. If a player puts this 64-degree wedge in play they probably will have to take another club out of the bag. Not all the guys are going to want to do that. So, you have to make tough choices when it comes to configuring a set of clubs to perform optimally in the conditions these guys are seeing out here this week. We built over 20 wedges yesterday in the trailer. Guys want fresh grooves to play out of this rough with. They want wedges with less bounce so they have a better chance of hitting cleanly off this ultra tight grass around the greens. So, for us, its been pretty heavy work in the area of wedges.
Cleveland / Rob Waters, PGA TOUR Representative
About 90 percent of our work this week has been low bounce wedges. Everybody wants a fresh groovethat goes without saying. The firmness of the greens and how tight the grass is around the greens is dictating fresh grooves for maximum spin and control from 100-yards and in. So, taking bounce off their gamers or building them new wedges with fresh grooves and less bouncethis has been our primary work out here this week. Most of our guys are pretty set with their club configurations and club choices now. We have changed quite a few sets of irons in the last three or four weeks, however, coming in to a major youre really not going to get guys wanting to change a whole lot. Its kind of like you have to dance with the girl you brought. So right now, these guys are pretty set in their ways which for a major championship, and especially on a golf course that is going to play this difficult, is a good thing. I think they have their hands full with wedge choice and customizing wedgesand thats what weve been trying to help them with this week.
Cobra / Chris Tuten, PGA TOUR Representative
We are doing our best to help our guys get ready for the wild ride here this week. Its going to be a difficult week and all the guys are well aware of that fact. We have not had any major to equipment for this week. Guys were set coming in here and it was a matter of making them as comfortable as possible with the choices they have already made. These guys dont first want to learn how a new piece of equipment responds coming in to a major championship, especially the U.S. Open and especially on a venue as tough as Oakmont. So as far as clubs go, no changes and no surprises. We do have cool new bags specially designed for our staff players for this U.S. Open. They are red, white and blue bags that are emblematic of the colors associated with the U.S. flag. So other than that, all our guys are set and ready to go. As far as Geoff Ogilvy goes, he has ice in his veins when it comes to this event. He learned so much last year about himself and about winning that it cant do him anything but good as he comes here to Oakmont to defend. Hes about as calm and relaxed as he can be and he is swinging at it as good as Ive seen him swing in about a year. So the timing couldnt be better for Geoff and I know he is expecting play well.
MacGregor / Mike Biviano, PGA TOUR Representative
We have two wonderful staff players in the tournament this week: Aaron Baddeley and Jose Maria Olazabal. Both guys are using the new MacTec driver which is exciting. We are looking for a big week out of both these wonderful players. Both Aaron and Jose have unbelievably solid short games. Jose is a world acclaimed wizard with the wedge in his hands. And Aaron is one of the best putters out here. And really, Casey, they are pretty set with equipment coming in to this week. They are comfortable with their new drivers and everything else in their bags has pretty much stayed the same for a while now. And players of this caliber really arent going to change much coming in to a major. They dont want any surprises. They dont want to mess around with much right now. So actually, its a pretty easy week for me from that standpoint.
Matrix Golf Shafts / Byron Eder, PGA TOUR Representative
Weve had so much success recently out here, it has been very gratifying. Back to back wins with Rory Sabbatini and K.J. Choi using our shafts in their respective victories. And four of the top twenty players in the world are using our shafts in competition now. This is something we are very proud of. As far as specific driver set up, Ernie Els is using a driver shaft of ours that gives him a little bit lower spin with a mid-trajectory. He wanted to regain some distance he had lost off the tee. He was looking to pick up seven or eight yards in distance and together with our friends at Callaway we were able to get Ernie fifteen more yards off the tee. And that is all carry before the ball ever rolls out. Specifically, that is the F7M2 prototype shaft. We also have constructed a brand new shaft for fairway woods called the 7M2 and 8M2 prototypes and that is what Rory is using in his clubs. He hits his 3-wood 285 yards off the tee and that is pretty darn strong. Rory told me he expects to be driving the ball with his 3-wood most of the week and we hope our Matrix shaft in that particular club stands him in good stead here at the U.S. Open.
Nickent / John Hoeflich, Sr. VP and Chief Club Designer
I was out on the course this morning and I saw three players disappear in to the rough and the marshals are still looking for them. So, I think its going to be a difficult week. Seriously, though, I have been amazed at the number of players that have been working with our director or tour operations, Josh Trivett, to find an ironwood that they can put in play this week. The par-3 holes are long and tough, guys are looking to hit a lot of ironwoods off the tee on par-4 holes, and I think the reputation of our ironwoods to hit a variety of shots is paying off for us this week. Josh has been busy fitting players to different lofts with different shaft options to help maximize the control these players will have in these very difficult conditions. Also on the par-5 holes, if the ball comes in too hot its not going to stop. Our ironwoods flight the ball higher without having the ball balloon so that is a benefit that the players seem to be embracing. And you know, its simple physics really. An ironwood with the shorter shaft - shorter than a 3-wood and certainly shorter than a driver - is going to be more accurate. And nowhere that these guys play will being straight and accurate off the tee be more important. So I look for a lot of our ironwood clubs to go in to play this week.
Nike / Rick Nichols, Tour Operations Director
U.S. Open weekkeep the ball in the fairway at all costs. A few of our guys have had us build driving iron golf clubs that they can chase down the fairways and minimize the risk of driving the ball in the rough. Weve also had most of our guys request their back-up wedges with the nice fresh grooves for maximum spin and control on these super firm greens. Ive seen mostly high-lofted fairway woods and hybrids come out of the bag to accommodate the driving iron type clubs going in. So far, Anthony Kim and Carl Pettersson have gone with fresh wedges and Stuart Cink and Lucas Glover have put the driving irons in their bags. The driving irons are between 15 and 17 degrees in loft and thats pretty much a matter of personal preference. As far as the wedges go, the custom grinds are all pretty set when they come to us from our TOUR department in Ft. Worth, however, with conditions as severe as these are here at Oakmont we will probably have to do some very subtle custom work in the vans once the wedges arrive. A little custom grinding on the leading edge or perhaps eliminate a little bit of the bounce to make them easier to hit off this very tight grass around the greens. So, well be tweaking as we go right up until we head out of here on Wednesday.
Odyssey / Jon Laws, PGA TOUR Representative
I think I have spent more time on the putting green with more players than I have at any other tournament I have ever worked. And Ive worked a lot of tournaments in my career. The things that are coming through loud and clear are imagination, visualization and the ability to stay patient and accept a 2-putt as a very fine effort. There are not going to be a whole lot of 1-putt bombs out here this week but there are going to be a lot of 3-putts for bogey or worse. So I think the guys who can stay calm and can take the time to visualize the line and speed of their putts are going to have an advantage. As far as equipment goes, because the greens are as fast as they are we are taking a little loft off the putters ' from a half a degree to a full degree. This may tend to help slow down the roll of the ball just a little bit. These greens are so good that the players will have no trouble getting the ball up and rolling on top of the grass. So by adjusting the loft a tiny bit that may give them just a little bit more control on some of these super fast putts. As far as Odyssey goes, there is no doubt in my mind that the inserts we offer on our putters are going to make a big difference out here this week. That softer feel on these greens that are rolling so fast and true I think will give guys more confidence on the tough downhill putts they are going to face.
PING / Matt Rollins, PGA TOUR Representative
Chris DiMarco has been playing an 18-degree Rapture hybrid and this week we made him a 21-degree because he felt like it was easier to get through the rough. We also worked on Chris back-up driverjust wanted to make sure that he had an extra if he needed it. Same thing with Ryan Mooremade him a back-up driver. We worked with Hunter Mahan on his lofts and lie anglesflattened his clubs out just about a half a degree. He was feeling like they wanted to sneak a little left on him and making them a little bit flatter will eliminate that left tendency. You know, Casey, its the U.S. Open so most guys are going to come in here set and ready to play. Theres not a whole lot of experimenting going on. Guys would rather know the devil that is rather than look to create a new set configuration or start messing around with what is in their bag. At least thats the way it has been with our staff players. New hatsour guys are big on making sure that they have nice new clean PING hats.
Sonartec / Bob Gotfredson, VP Sales
Casey, there is actually some recent and exciting news for Sonartec. We just brought in some new investors to help move the company to the next level. This added capital will go towards research and development, inventory controls and perhaps most exciting for us, some marketing. Weve been so fortunate that our product has been so good for so many years. And were also fortunate that many of the best players in the world choose to use our products without us paying them to do so. But in many ways we were becoming the best kept secret in golf and thats not really good when youre trying to run a successful company. So now, not only will we have superior product, not only will the best players in the world continue to use our clubs, but well also be able to get the word out to consumers and retailers that Sonartec has solutions for golfers of all ability levels. And I cant begin to tell you how exciting that is for us. When you walk up and down the driving range at any PGA TOUR event, if you stop and ask these players who Sonartec is and what they think of Sonartec they will tell you nothing but good things. Even guys that dont use our products because they are contractually obligated to play other clubs, theyll tell you that Sonartec makes some of the best fairway woods and hybrids in the world. Now we are really looking forward to being able to inform and educate golf consumers about our products so they know as much as what the TOUR pros know. And this new capital infusion is going to allow us to do that.
Srixon / Mike Pai, VP Sales and Marketing
A U.S. Open setup favors guys who can control their golf ball, hit it straightguys who can work the ball towards the pin. And we are lucky to have several guys who can do that not the least of which is Jim Furyk. I was out with Tim Clark earlier in the week and even though he has had some health issues he feels as good as he has in eight months and he was absolutely hitting the ball pure. Our TOUR techs made a little bit of an adjustment on the lie angles of Tims clubs and now he is fully confident about where the ball is going. And John Rollins is another of our players who is playing extremely well right now. Hes one of the better ball strikers out here and Oakmont is certainly a ball strikers type of golf course. The most important characteristic for a player to have out here is patience and I think there are several guys on our staff that excel in being patient on the golf course. This is as hard of a golf course as I have ever seen and the last man standing will be a guy who knows how to stay calm in adverse conditions. As far as equipment set up goes, guys are tweaking wedgestaking some bounce off and looking for fresh grooves. Controlling the ball around these super fast and hard greens is really key to putting a good round together.
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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019
The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.
The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.
The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.
The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at Club de Golf de Panama.
Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins
An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.
It was too much “socializing.”
“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”
Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.
“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”
Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.
His plan for doing that?
“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”
McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018
Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.
So much for easing into the new year.
So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.
McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.
“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”
McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.
If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.
After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.
“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.
McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.
“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”
It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.
“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”
A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.
A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.
Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.
To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.
Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.
McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.
“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.
A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.
“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”
A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.
Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open
SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.
The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.
Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.
Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.
''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''
The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.
''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''
Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.
''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.
Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.
He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.
Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.
Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.
He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.
Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.