Olympic Club has a history crowning surprise champion

By Doug FergusonJune 9, 2012, 7:23 pm

Nothing ever turns out the way anyone expects when the U.S. Open goes to The Olympic Club.

Instead of a record fifth U.S. Open for Ben Hogan, Olympic delivered Jack Fleck in one of golf's biggest upsets. Arnold Palmer turned his pursuit of a record score into a royal collapse. Tom Watson had his heart broken in San Francisco when Scott Simpson ran off a late string of birdies.

The way this year is unfolding, Olympic seems like the ideal location.

Hardly anything has gone according to plan.

Tiger Woods already has won twice this year, most recently last week at the Memorial with a ball-striking clinic and a chip shot that brought back some of that magic. That made him the betting favorite to end his four-year drought in the majors with a record-tying fourth U.S. Open.

Only it's not that simple.

Two months ago, Woods won Bay Hill by five shots and became an instant favorite at the Masters. Instead of slipping on the green jacket, he turned in his worst performance as a pro at Augusta National, starting the worst three-tournament stretch of his career.

'He goes to the Masters and he fell apart because of nerves for the first time in his career,' Johnny Miller said. 'So I don't know what to think of Tiger Woods at the Open. I don't know if that was learned from Augusta, or something he can't control.'

Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, returned to No. 1 in the world just over a month ago and looked like the player to beat until the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland missed three cuts, threw a club and suddenly looked lost.

Rickie Fowler, finally a winner on the PGA Tour, was poised to take his popularity to new heights until he shot 84 at Muirfield Village playing in the second-to-last group with Woods. Phil Mickelson played in the last group of the Masters and fell out of contention when Lefty hit consecutive shots from the right side. The green jacket went to another lefty, Bubba Watson, a big hitter who never liked the notion that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Golf is difficult to predict even in steady times. There's no telling what to expect when the 112th U.S. Open returns to The Olympic Club on June 14-17 for the fifth time. History would suggest there are more surprises in store on the golf course built on the side of a hill just south of the Golden Gate Bridge.

'You think about the past national Opens here that have been played ... and in some ways you think, `Geez, you remember more about who didn't win – what great legend didn't win an Open here –versus who did win,'' USGA executive director Mike Davis said.

Adding to the intrigue is the parity that has taken over golf over the last few years. Ever since Padraig Harrington ended the 2008 season with consecutive majors, 14 players have won the last 14 majors.

Predictions, anyone?

Perhaps the only safe bet is that Olympic won't be a pushover.

McIlroy shattered U.S. Open scoring records last year at Congressional when he reached double figures under par before he even finished his second round. Because of soft conditions from rain earlier in the week, he finished at 268 to break the 72-hole record by four shots, and his 16-under par score was four better than Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000.

The USGA didn't lose much sleep when Woods finished at 12-under 272 at Pebble Beach because no one else was under par and he won by 15.

Congressional was different. McIlroy won by eight shots, but 20 players broke par, the most since 1990 at Medinah, a par 72.

Remember, the year after Johnny Miller shot 63 to win at Oakmont in 1973, the U.S. Open was as tough as ever. Hale Irwin finished at 7-over par and still won by two shots at Winged Foot.

Payback time? Davis almost guaranteed a tougher U.S. Open, though not from anything the USGA has cooked up.

'We're trying to make it the toughest test of the year. It didn't happen last year,' Davis said. 'I would say most of that was caused by Mother Nature. What most people don't understand is that it doesn't matter how you set up a course. If you give them the ability to know when the ball lands it's going to stop, it's significantly easier.

'That's what is going to make the U.S. Open this year – without us trying to retaliate – that much harder,' he said. 'When the ball lands, whether it hits the green or in the fairway, it's going to roll. You have to think about what happens when it lands.'

Miller was a junior member at Olympic as a teenager, and he was low amateur in 1966 the year Billy Casper chased down mistake-prone Palmer. He knows what to expect from Olympic, with its tight fairways that bend one way and slope another, and its tiny greens.

'Congressional, it was a good course, but it was almost like a Tour course,' Miller said. 'You looked at the scores that were be being shot, it was like playing on a good, strong Tour course. This is a whole different ball game, and more like being back at a U.S. Open. ... It's not going to be so much fun and games out there. It's going to be hard work, and I think a sterner test.

'Rory basically won waltzing around there like it was no big deal,' he said. 'I just don't see Olympic Club ... being something easy for anybody.'

Woods recently played a practice round and was amazed to see a 9-iron hit the green and bounce as high as the top of the flagstick. Olympic is nearly 200 yards longer than when Lee Janzen won at even-par 280 in 1998. Some of the fairways have been shifted. The greens have been resurfaced. The 520-yard opening hole is now a par 4, while the 522-yard 17th hole is now a par 5. An additional tee was built on the par-5 16th hole, making it 670 yards, the longest hole in U.S. Open history.

'It's going to be a hell of a test,' Woods said.

Then again, that's that the U.S. Open is supposed to be.

'When they set courses up tough, firm and fast, you're put to the test emotionally,' former British Open champion Stewart Cink said. 'Hanging in there becomes a big challenge. The task feels insurmountable, unattainable. Olympic is a good example. They have fairways sloping one way or the other, and eventually it start to feel like you're outmatched.'

Congressional was an exception last year because of the rain, though hardly anyone would complain about the quality of winner it produced.

McIlroy, a 23-year-old from Northern Ireland with that unique combination of power and balance, had been trending in this direction. He shot 63 at St. Andrews the summer before. He had the 54-hole lead at the Masters last year until imploding in the final round. But he showed resiliency in bouncing back with a performance unrivaled to win the U.S. Open and become the youngest major champion since Woods won the Masters in 1997 at age 21.

Comparisons to Woods, who already had won 10 majors and the career Grand Slam twice before turning 30, can be dangerous. McIlroy is finding that out the hard way, especially after missing the cut three times in a row. The last weekend off at least gave him time to see Olympic before arriving for his title defense, and then he headed to Tennessee for the St. Jude Classic, adding the tournament with hopes of getting back into form.

Woods' form couldn't be any better. The question is how long it will last.

He is desperate to win his 15th major and get back on track in pursuit of the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus. But he's not the only player in dire need of a major. Luke Donald is going on his 47th week at No. 1 in the world, longer than all but five players in the 25-year history of the ranking. All that's missing is a major. Lee Westwood and Steve Stricker head the list of best without a major, along with Sergio Garcia.

Phil Mickelson holds the wrong kind of U.S. Open record – five times a runner-up, more than anyone.

Don't be surprised if Woods or Mickelson get into contention. And don't be surprised if they lose out to someone not quite as famous.

Olympic has a knack for doing that in the U.S. Open.

The four U.S. Open champions at Olympic combined for seven majors in their career. The four players who were runner-up combined for 27.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.