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
After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...
Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).
Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.
It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard
On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...
There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.
He sure looks like the real deal, though.
His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.
Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner
Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2
With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.
He picked up one more No. 2, too.
The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.
In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.
Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.
“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”
Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.
Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.
He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.
Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title
Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.
His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.
“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."
Tom Brady, postgame, on wearing the wrap on his hand: “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that. It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) January 22, 2018
Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.
Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.
Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:
Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)
What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.
Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.
Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.
Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.
Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.
Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:
Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry