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.

Getty Images

Watch: Daly makes an ace at the Chubb Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

John Daly won't walk from the Chubb Classic with the trophy, but he certainly deserves recogition for his Sunday scorecard, which came complete with a hole-in-one.

Daly aced the 154-yard par-3 16th on the Talon Course at TwinEagles, when his ball carried the froont bunker and tracked right to the hole.

Two holes later, Daly signed for a final-round 67 that included four birdies, three bogeys and two eagles, which both in the span of four holes on the back nine.

Getty Images

Gustafson shares stuttering success video

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 8:31 pm

Sophie Gustafson shared a breakthrough Sunday morning on YouTube.

Gustafson, a five-time LPGA winner and 16-time Ladies European Tour winner, shared her news in a 4-minute and 15-second video.

She did so without stuttering.

And that’s the nature of her breakthrough, something she is sharing in hopes that it will help others who stutter.

“I’m certainly not perfect, and the next time you see me, I am going to stutter, there is no question about that,” she says in the video. “But I am excited, because I am going in the right direction, and I believe I have found the solution that works for me.”

For someone who has struggled with stuttering all of her life, Gustafson has touched so many with her ability to communicate. She has entertained her legion of Twitter followers with her sense of humor. She also has written articles.

Back in 2011, Gustafson touched Golf Channel viewers when she opened up about her stuttering in an interview that was aired during the Solheim Cup. Her courage in sharing her challenges was recognized the following year, when the Golf Writers Association of American presented her its Ben Hogan Award, an honor bestowed to someone who has persevered through physical ailment. She also won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award that year.

Gustafson, 44, left the game as a player three years ago to become Beth Allen’s full-time caddie on the Ladies European Tour. She explains in the YouTube video that she is making her breakthrough with the help of Steve Gill, a team member with Tony Robbins’ life and business strategy group.

Gustafson said Gill led her to breathing, meditation and incantation exercises that have helped her since they began working together eight months ago.

“If you know anyone who stutters, tell them to breathe in and then speak,” Gustafson said. “I tried it the other way for 44 years, and it's just not working.” 

Getty Images

J.Y. Ko wins her first start as an official LPGA member

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 4:09 pm

Make way for Jin Young Ko.

The South Koreans keep delivering one new star after another to the LPGA ranks, and they aren’t going to disappoint this year.

Ko made some history Sunday winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, closing with a 3-under-par 69 to claim a wire-to-wire victory. She became the first player in 67 years to win her LPGA debut as a tour member. Beverly Hanson (1951) is the only other player to do so.

Hyejin Choi, an 18-year-old who just turned pro, is yet another emerging South Korean star looking to crack the LPGA ranks. She finished second Sunday, three shots back after closing with a 67. She played on a sponsor exemption. She is already No. 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and likely to move up when the newest rankings are released. Had Choi won Sunday, she could have claimed LPGA membership for the rest of this season.


Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open


Ko, 22, moved herself into early position to try to follow in Sung Hyun Park’s footsteps. Park won the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards last year. She joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to do so. Lopez did it in 1978. Park shared the Player of the Year honor with So Yeon Ryu.

Ko said winning the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year Award is a goal, but she didn’t come into the year setting her sights on Player of the Year.

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she said.

Ko finished at 14 under overall.

It was a good week for rookies. Australia’s Hannah Green (69) finished third.

Ko claimed LPGA membership this year based on her victory as a non-member at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall. She’s already a star in South Korea, having won 10 times on the Korean LPGA Tour. She is No. 20 in the world and, like Choi, poised to move up when the newest world rankings are released.

Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko closed with an even par 72, finishing tied for 19th in her 2018 debut. She is in next week’s field at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

Getty Images

Luiten takes title at inaugural Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:25 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten of the Netherlands won the inaugural Oman Open on Sunday to break a title drought of nearly 17 months.

The 32-year-old Dutchman shot a 4-under 68 to finish on 16-under 272, two shots ahead of his friend, England's Chris Wood (69).

It was Luiten's sixth European Tour title and the first since the 2016 KLM Open.

Frenchman Julien Guerrier (71) virtually assured that he would not have to go to qualifying school for the 12th time with a third-place finish after a 13-under 275.

Luiten started with three birdies in his first four holes, but bogeys on the seventh and eighth set him back. On the back nine, he made three birdies, including a key one on the 16th, where he made a 30-foot putt.

''It feels great. I didn't know what to expect when I came here but to play a course like this which is in great condition - it's a great technical golf course as well - it was beyond my expectation and to hold the trophy is even better,'' said Luiten, who is expected to rise to No. 65 in the new rankings on Monday.

''I had a great start, that's what I was hoping for. I hit some nice ones in close and rolled in a couple of nice putts and that gets you in the right position, where you want to be.


Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic


''Unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys as well on the front nine, but I recovered from that with a couple of nice birdies on the back nine and it was a good battle with Woody.''

Playing one group ahead, England's Wood was right in the mix and tied with Luiten at 15-under when their fortunes went in opposite directions almost at the same time. On the 17th hole, Wood drove his tee shot into the hazard left and could do no more than chip his ball out for a bogey. Luiten, meanwhile, drained his 30-footer birdie putt on the 16th for a two-shot swing.

Recovering his form after a series of disappointments, Wood was let down by the loss and said: ''It's golf isn't it? You are never happy.

''I played poorly for six or eight months. Would have never thought I would have put myself into contention. And when you do, you feel gutted when you don't win. I am pretty down really, but in the grand scheme of things, when I reflect after a couple of days, I will think it is a big step in the right direction.''

Luiten's win also got him into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai, securing him a start at the WGC-Mexico Championship in two weeks.

Frenchman Alexander Levy (70), who was hoping to finish in the top five to push into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and grab the WGC-Mexico spot himself, did manage a joint fourth place at 11 under, but Luiten's victory kept him 11th.

The European Tour next moves to Doha for the Qatar Masters starting on Thursday.