Bethpage Black and Blue
I've played a number of U.S. Open venues, and figured this linksy layout would be tough, but not outrageous. To tune up, I played Shinnecock Hills G.C. A similar feel and a USGA pedigree to boot. I played well, shot mid-70s and was certain that my game was ready for the Black.
I stood on the first tee feeling a bit sorry for golfers who would be dissuaded, rightfully so, from a shot at the Black Course. Sometimes a layout is just too challenging for a particular golfer, as I was about to find out. Jack Nicklaus says that the U.S. Open is a complete examination of a player's golf game. If that's the case, Bethpage Black is a graduate course in distance with an emphasis on humility.
Take a hole-by-hole look at Bethpage Black
The first tee has a dramatic elevation, and with the USGA mow pattern in effect, the landing area seems impossibly small. The hole doglegs to the right and is not overly stressful to play. I nailed my drive, as long and straight as I can hit it, and was at the dogleg in the middle of the fairway. A short iron and two putts and I was on my way.
I didn't realize it would end up being my best drive of the day and the easiest hole by far. I like a course that allows you to play your way into your game. One that starts off with a moderate hole and gets progressively more difficult. Bethpage does just that.
The USGA preparations, my unfamiliarity with the course and blustery conditions conspired to yield a couple of bogeys, but when I turned from the third green to make my way to the fourth tee I caught a beautiful, elevated view of the course's signature hole. A beautiful par-5 with a split level fairway dominated by bunkers possessing that classic Tillinghast look, the fourth is a sight to behold. I hit two good shots and had a sand wedge in, but gave it a little too much. I thought I'd successfully negotiated all of the trouble on the hole, but my ball had caught the slope just behind the hole and had run almost all the way to the fifth fairway.
As my score rapidly inflated, the course just seemed to get longer and longer. The wind was rarely an ally, and on some holes I hit good drives that barely reached the fairway. I've been technologically impaired for some time now. I prefer the karmic power of my dad's old Wilson blades to the forged/cavity back forgiveness of modern day equipment. I have decided I'm old-school (read 'cheap'). My one nod to the advancements made is my original Callaway Warbird driver. I can keep it straight, but don't hit it more than 280, ever.
The characteristics of the course were very pleasant: native fescue grasses, ever-present wind and the yawning thick-fingered bunkers of A.W. Tillinghast. The parallel fairways of 10 and 11 had an ancient links feel to them, but treachery lay just off the short grass. The rough has been groomed, not only to choke the fairways into slivers of their former selves, but to be the thick brutish tangle which is only seen at a U.S. Open. While not yet at championship length when I played, the density was staggering. Any drive that wandered off the fairway would settle down into the rough. Usually the best play was to just advance the ball however possible, and play for a bogey.
The problem with this strategy was the havoc the thick grass would play with the clubface. Being twisted to awkward angles made finding the fairway from the rough an uncertain proposition and an interesting adventure.
By the time I'd reached 15, with its awesome blind green elevated five stories above the fairway, I was a beaten man. Rough, bunkers and sheer length had humbled me. If this was an examination, I needed to ask the teacher for a mulligan. The closing three holes were as challenging and varied as the 15 that preceded them. The elevated tee shot of 16, the infinite number of hole locations on the wide, but shallow par-3 17th and the elevated tee and green of the home hole are characteristics I'm looking forward to watching on NBC's telecasts.
I walked away wondering how the world's best would fare this June. It's the longest U.S. Open course in history, with some huge par-4s. Today's professionals hit the ball so much farther than good amateurs, I'm not sure they'll struggle with the length. U.S. Open rough is always penal. Players will have to be accurate with their length. The USGA also likes to get that stimpmeter running a little, so look for hard and fast greens. Even speedy greens will be defenseless, however. Nicely sized and pretty much devoid of undulation, there will be a ton of long putts made this year.
In the final analysis, a player who is long and straight off of the tee and can hit high approaches to stop on hard greens, should have the advantage. If it rains early in the week and the greens are soft for competition, the scores should be pretty low. But, look out if it's dry and windy. The USGA would love those conditions. In the wind, players will have trouble judging distances and will also struggle to keep the ball in the fairway. Dry greens will remain hard and fast, and would have an added element of intrigue as wind gusts affect balls on the putting surface.
A championship set-up, the vagaries of Mother Nature, a classic design, the top players in the world, a course too long and demanding for 99 percent of the world's golfers, the 102nd United States Open is upon us. Will the world's best players hit it a mile and feast on the flattest greens of any national championship in recent memory? Or will Mother Nature throw in her two cents and help A.W. Tillinghast leave the cream of the crop bruised, just like yours truly. We will soon have our answer.
Full coverage of the 102nd U.S. Open
Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.
Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.
''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''
Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.
''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''
Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.
''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''
J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.
''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''
Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.
''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''
He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.
''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''
Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.
''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''
Park's stumble creates wide-open finale
NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park didn’t turn the CME Group Tour Championship into a runaway Saturday at Tiburon Golf Club.
She left with bloody fingernails after a brutal day failing to hold on to her spot atop the leaderboard.
OK, they weren’t really bloody, but even the unflappable Park wasn’t immune to mounting pressure, with the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the money-winning title among the prizes she knew were within reach when she teed it up.
“It’s honestly some of the worst pressure,” Stacy Lewis said of CME week. “It’s so much pressure. It’s just really hard to free yourself up and play golf.”
Lewis isn’t in the mix for all those prizes this year, but the two-time Rolex Player of the Year and two-time Vare Trophy winner knows what the full weight of this week’s possibilities bring.
“It’s almost nice to come here without all that pressure, but you want to be in that situation,” Lewis said. “It’s just really tough.”
Park is no longer in charge at Tiburon.
This championship is wide, wide open with a four-way tie for first place and 18 players within two shots of the lead.
Park is one shot back after stumbling to a 3-over-par 75.
Count Michelle Wie among the four tied for the lead after charging with a 66.
Former world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn (67), Suzann Pettersen (69) and Kim Kaufman (64) are also atop the leaderboard.
Kaufman was the story of the day, getting herself in contention with a sizzling round just two weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.
Park is in a seven-way tie for fifth place just one shot back.
Lexi Thompson (69) is in that mix a shot back, as is Lewis (67), who is seeking to add a second title this year to her emotional win for Houston hurricane relief.
For Wie, winning the tournament will be reward enough, given how her strong rebound this year seemed derailed in September by an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.
Before the surgery, Wie fought her way back from two of the most disappointing years of her career, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.
“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” Wie said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun. That’s when I play my best.”
All the subplots make Sunday so much more complicated for Park and Thompson, who are best positioned for a giant haul of hardware.
They have the most to gain in the final round.
Park has already clinched the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, but she can add the Rolex Player of the Year title, joining Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win both those awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978.
A fifth place finish or better could give Park the Player of the Year Award outright, depending what others do.
“There are a lot of top players right now at the top of the leaderboard,” Park said. “Keeping my focus will be key.”
Thompson can still take home the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy and the CME Globe jackpot. She needs to win the tournament Sunday to win Player of the Year.
Like Park, Thompson is trying not to think about it all of that.
“I treat every tournament the same,” Thompson said. “I go into it wanting to win. I’m not really thinking about anything else.”
The Vare Trophy for low scoring average is Thompson’s to lose.
Park has to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson on Sunday to have a shot at the trophy, and they are tied at 9-under overall.
The money-winning title is Park’s to lose. So Yeon Ryu has to win the tournament Sunday to have a chance to wrestle the title from Park, but Ryu has to pass 31 players to do so.
The CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot remains more up for grabs, with Thompson and Park best positioned to win it, though Jutanugarn is poised to pounce if both stumble. A lot is still possible in the race for the jackpot.
The pressure will be turned way up on the first tee Sunday.
“There is always that little bit of adrenaline,” Thompson said. “You just have to tame it and control it.”
Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.
On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.
“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.
Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.
“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”
Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.
New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.
In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.
Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Web.com Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.
“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”
Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.
His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.
“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”