No one quite sure what to expect at U.S. Open ... again

By Doug FergusonJune 8, 2017, 11:06 pm

Going somewhere new for the U.S. Open is starting to get old.

For so many years, everyone knew what to expect. With few exceptions, the event's identity as the ''toughest test in golf'' was carved out of traditional, tree-lined courses with tight fairways and thick rough, firm and fast greens. No one ever complained about making par.

Dustin Johnson won last year at Oakmont, which hosted the U.S. Open for the ninth time. He defends his title on a course that only opened 11 years ago.

For the second time in three years, the U.S. Open is headed to a course that has never hosted a major.

The stage this year is Erin Hills, the first U.S. Open in Wisconsin. The course looks like a links with its wispy grass framing rolling fairways and shaved slopes around the greens, except that it's nowhere the sea. Erin Hills is about 40 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

''I heard it's long. Big course. Long walk,'' Johnson said before going up on June 3 to see it for the first time. ''Trees? No trees?''

He wasn't sure.

About the only similarities between Erin Hills and Chambers Bay, which hosted the U.S. Open two years ago off Puget Sound in Washington state, are that both were built as public golf courses and are mostly devoid of trees.

And no one is sure what to expect, even if they've already been there.

Jordan Spieth played the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills. He remembers rolling terrain and not many trees. He remembered the first hole and the 18th hole were par 5s (similar to Chambers Bay). And that was about it.

''Course knowledge is necessary, even more so there than a course like Oakmont that you've maybe watched on TV,'' said Spieth, who won at Chambers Bay by one shot over Johnson. ''Even seeing certain holes, if you just watched major championships in the past, can help you. And so when you come to a completely new venue, it requires quite a bit of work.''

Against this backdrop – pristine pastureland that dates to the Ice Age when a glacier retreated across Wisconsin – the 117th U.S. Open begins June 15 with plenty of intrigue that goes beyond the mystery of a new golf course.

It will be the first U.S. Open in 25 years that doesn't have the names Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson among the starting times. Woods is missing all the majors for the second straight year because of a fourth back surgery, which was a month before his DUI arrest in Florida. Mickelson, with a record six runner-up finishes in the only major he hasn't won, said he plans to skip because his daughter's high school graduation is the same day as the opening round.

Johnson, who shipped the U.S. Open trophy back to the USGA a couple of weeks ago, will try to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to successfully defend his title. Strange is the only player in more than a half-century to win back-to-back, a feat that neither Woods nor Jack Nicklaus managed.

And there is internal pressure on the USGA to get through a U.S. Open without an overload of complaints.

''If I was being completely honest, there is some of that,'' said Mike Davis, the USGA's executive director.

The greens were mostly dead, if they even had grass, when the U.S. Open was at Chambers Bay, though that was largely because of the weather. Still fresh is the fiasco from a year ago when Johnson's golf ball moved on the fifth green and there was debate whether he caused it. The USGA told him on the 12th tee it would wait until after the round for him to review it, meaning Johnson played the final seven holes not knowing the score. Neither did anyone else.

''Those things could have happened anywhere,'' Davis said. ''But they happened to us.''

Even so, this U.S. Open starts with a golf course that has never had the best players in the world, and doesn't look anything like a typical U.S. Open. The scorecard is 7,741 yards, making it the longest in U.S. Open history, though it likely will play shorter depending on how the course is set up each day. The fairways are wider than usual and there is no rough around the greens, much like Pinehurst No. 2., giving players options.

It's a major with which Nicklaus is not familiar.

''I think the USGA has gotten away from their identity with what they're doing,'' Nicklaus said. ''I haven't see the way the courses are set up. I know Chambers Bay was different. I have zero idea what Erin Hills is. I happen to like the U.S. Open the way it is."

''When you start changing around your setup, you're changing what you're asking a player to do,'' he added. ''I don't know if that's good or bad. It's just different.''

Davis, who took charge of U.S. Open setups starting with Winged Foot in 2006, says while the nature of the shots might be different depending on the golf course, the overall is exam is strong. He still strives to make it the toughest test in golf.

And he made no apologies for going to courses so new.

''What Erin Hills doesn't have is history yet,'' Davis said. ''But everybody had to start somewhere.''

This one starts with a little mystery that goes beyond Erin Hills. Going into the Masters, the biggest names in golf were winning - Spieth at Pebble Beach, Sergio Garcia in Dubai, Hideki Matsuyama in Phoenix, Rickie Fowler in Florida and then Johnson, who for the longest time looked as though he couldn't lose.

Johnson, now established at No. 1 in the world, remains the betting favorite for the U.S. Open. But he hasn't looked quite the same since he slipped in his socks down a wooden staircase and bruised his back so badly he had to withdraw from the Masters.

''I'm playing the best golf that I've ever played, and then I hurt myself and can't practice for a month,'' Johnson said. ''It definitely takes some momentum away.''

After missing the cut at the Memorial, mainly due to his putting, he spent two days at Erin Hills and liked what he saw. Johnson also is developing a reputation for being a U.S. Open player. Two years ago, he was 12 feet away from winning at Chambers Bay until a three-putt par to finish one shot behind Spieth. And then he won handily at Oakmont, even under the most bizarre circumstances of not knowing whether he would be penalized one shot when it was over.

''I've finished second and first,'' Johnson said, pausing to smile. ''Two-one-one would be nice.''

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''

Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open

Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''

Day (68) just one back at Australian Open

By Nick MentaNovember 24, 2017, 6:40 am

Jason Day posted a second-round 68 to move himself just one off the lead held by Lucas Herbert through two rounds at the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand after 36 holes in Sydney.

Leaderboard: Herbert (-9), Day (-8), Cameron Davis (-7), Anthony Quayle (-6), Matt Jones (-4), Cameron Smith (-4), Nick Cullen (-4), Richard Green (-4)

What it means: Day is in search of his first worldwide victory of 2017. The former world No. 1 last visited the winner’s circle in May 2016, when he won The Players at TPC Sawgrass. A win this week would close out a difficult year for the Aussie who struggled with his game while also helping his mother in her battle with cancer. Day’s last victory on his native soil came in 2013, when he partnered with Adam Scott to win the World Cup of Golf for Australia at Royal Melbourne.

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Round of the day: Herbert followed an opening 67 with a round of 66 to vault himself into the lead at The Australian Golf Club. He made six birdies, including four on his second nine, against a lone bogey to take the outright lead. The 22-year-old, who held the lead at this event last year and captured low-amateur honors in 2014, is coming off a runner-up finish at the NSW Open Championship, which boosted him from 714th to 429th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His 5-under score was matched by Dale Brandt-Richards and Josh Cabban.

Best of the rest: Matt Jones, who won this event over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott two years ago, turned in 4-under 67. Jones is best known to American audiences for his playoff victory at the 2014 Shell Houston Open and for holding the 36-hole lead at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which was eventually won by Day. Jones will start the weekend five shots off the lead, at 4 under par.

Biggest disappointment: Spieth has a lot of work to do this weekend if he expects to be in the title picture for the fourth year in a row. Rounds of 70-71 have him eight shots behind the lead held by Herbert. Spieth made a birdie and a bogey on each side Friday to turn in level par. The reigning champion golfer of the year has finished first, second and first at this event over the last three years.

Storyline to watch this weekend: The Australian Open is the first event of the 2018 Open Qualifying Series. The leading three players who finish in the top 10 and who are not otherwise exempt will receive invites into next summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Ogilvy urges distance rollback of ball

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 8:49 pm

Add Geoff Ogilvy to the chorus of voices calling for a distance rollback of the golf ball.

In an interview before the start of the Emirates Australian Open, Ogilvy said a "time-out" is needed for governing bodies to deal with the issue.

"It's complete nonsense," he said, according to an Australian website. "In my career, it’s gone from 300 yards was a massive hit to you’re a shorter hitter on tour now, legitimately short. It’s changed the way we play great golf courses and that is the crime. It isn’t that the ball goes 400, that’s neither here nor there. It’s the fact the ball going 400 doesn’t makes Augusta work properly, it functions completely wrong.’’

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Ogilvy used an example from American baseball to help get his point across to an Australian audience.

“Major League Baseball in America, they use wooden bats, and everywhere else in baseball they use aluminium bats,’’ he said. “And when the major leaguers use aluminium bats they don’t even have to touch it and it completely destroys their stadiums. It’s just comedy.

“That’s kind of what’s happened to us at least with the drivers of these big hitters; We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums. So do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter? It seems relatively simple from that perspective.’’

Ogilvy, an Australian who won the 2006 U.S. Open, said he believes there will be a rollback, but admitted it would be a "challenge" for manufacturers to produce a ball that flies shorter for pros but does not lose distance when struck by recreational players.