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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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause
AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.
The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.
“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”
Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.
As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.
“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”
Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid
AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.
Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.
“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”
Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.
“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”
Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.
“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”
This week, let the games(manship) begin
AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.
What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.
During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.
“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”
Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.
“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].
Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.
Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.
“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”
Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.
“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”
While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.
But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.
“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”
It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”
McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”
It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.
“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.
Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.
Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana
While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.
The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.
"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."
Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.
According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."
"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."
Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.
Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Web.com Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.
"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."
Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.