Pinehurst isn't pristine, but that's the point

By Doug FergusonJune 9, 2014, 11:07 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Pinehurst No. 2 is anything but perfect for the U.S. Open, at least in the traditional sense of major championships in America.

USGA executive director Mike Davis could not be any more thrilled.

''It's awesome,'' Davis said Monday as he gazed out at a golf course that looks like a yard that hasn't been watered in a month.

Sandy areas have replaced thick rough off the fairways. They are partially covered with that Pinehurst Resort officials refer to as ''natural vegetation,'' but what most anyone else would simply call weeds.

The edges of the bunkers are ragged. The turf is uneven just off some of the greens, with patches of no grass.

Instead of verdant fairways from tee-to-green, the fairways are a blend of green, yellow and brown.

Shortly after this Donald Ross gem was awarded its third U.S. Open in 15 years, the fabled No. 2 course went through a gutsy project to restore it to its natural look from yesteryear, before this notion that the condition of a course had to be perfect.

Ernie Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion, was amazed when he walked off the 18th green.

''I wouldn't call this an inland links, but it's got that character,'' he said. ''I was a bit nervous when I heard of the redo. But this looks like it's been here for a long time.''

Els has been playing the U.S. Open for two decades. He never imagined the ''toughest test in golf'' without any rough. Nor does he think that will make it easier.

'You don't need it,'' he said. ''When I played it in '99, I didn't like it. You hit it in the rough, you're just trying to get it out. It was one-dimensional. Now, you're going to have an unbelievable championship.

''If you miss the fairway, you're not just going to wedge it out. You've got a chance to hit a miraculous shot. And then you could really be (in trouble). This is the way it used to be.''



Els said the look of Pinehurst No. 2 reminded him of Royal Melbourne, and a guy who actually grew up next to Royal Melbourne agreed.

''These are Melbourne fairways,'' Geoff Ogilvy said as he walked down the first fairway, where the grass was green for the first 200 yards before turning brown, and then going back to greener grass toward the green.

''This is kind of the way grass is supposed to be. In the summer it browns up, and in the winter it's green. To my eye, this is what golf courses are supposed to look like.''

Ogilvy understand architecture better than most players. He was looking at photos as Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw worked on the restoration. He had heard stories. And it still managed to exceed his expectations.

As for the idea of a U.S. Open without rough? He pointed to clumps of grass in the sandy areas, and some of the wiregrass bushes. And yes, the weeds.

''Look, the reality is there is rough there,'' he said. ''It's probably what rough used to be like before we had crazy irrigation.''

The past two U.S. Open champions finished over par - Webb Simpson at Olympic Club, Justin Rose at Merion, both at 1-over. A third straight U.S. Open champion over par would be the longest streak in nearly 60 years.

Not many were willing to bet against that.

''I've never played anything like it,'' Jordan Spieth said. ''And it's already - right now, with the pins in the middle of the greens - hard enough for even par to win. It's going to be extremely challenging. But at the same time, it's a great test.''

More than a great test, Davis is hopeful it sends a great message.

The USGA has been preaching in recent years to get away from the idea that golf courses have to be perfectly manicured to be great.

Pinehurst No. 2, and perhaps Chambers Bay next year outside Seattle, allows a chance to show the golfing public what it means.

The restoration project involved removing some 35 acres of sod and keeping only 450 of the 1,150 sprinkler heads. Water use is down an estimated 40 percent.

''It's look back in the past, but it's really looking forward to the future,'' Davis said. ''Owners, operators and superintendents won't give you this until the golfers think it's OK.

''At private clubs, unless the greens committee says, 'This is what we want,' the superintendent won't do it. It's people thinking, 'This looks fine.'''

Pinehurst No. 2 effectively presents the opposite perception of Augusta National. For years, superintendents have complained that too many courses wanted to be just like the home of the Masters in the quality - near perfection - of the conditions.

''Hopefully, this sets a precedent,'' Ogilvy said. ''If Augusta has been the model everyone followed, hopefully this shows that it doesn't have to be that way to be great.''

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 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%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.