Punch Shot: Four major questions for the U.S. Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 15, 2016, 5:10 pm

OAKMONT, Pa. – Oakmont, the crown jewel of the U.S. Open rota, is in the spotlight again this week for the 116th version of the championship. Our team on the grounds weighs in with answers to four key questions.

What will be the winning score?

Joe Posnanski: Everyone seems to be guessing the score will be around the 5 over that Cabrera won with in 2007. I suspect it will be a bit lower than that, but it’s hard to see anyone breaking par for the week.

Rex Hoggard: 5 over. Although that doesn’t exactly sound like an outside-the-box prediction after Angel Cabrera finished at 5 over at the ’07 U.S. Open at Oakmont, but consider that Cabrera’s swing coach, Charlie Epps, said the course is playing harder this week than it did in ’07 and even Thursday’s rainy forecast won’t be able to mitigate that increased degree of difficulty.

Randall Mell: 4 over. So much depends on the weather. If its firm and fast all week, nobody will be close to par. But if there’s a lot of rain ...

Ryan Lavner: 3 over. A lot will be dependent on the weather. Too many great players are in form for the winning score to go much higher, and with rain in the forecast Thursday afternoon and Friday, the sloped fairways will be easier to hold. Of course, by late Sunday, after two days of 85-degree temperatures and bright sunshine, Oakmont will be plenty scary.  

Jay Coffin: 2 over. There’s talk of it being 5 over if it doesn’t rain, but closer to even par if it does. These guys are too good and the top guys are playing too well right now for anything close to 5 over to be the winning score.

How much of a factor will the golf course be?

Posnanski: The golf course is clearly the biggest factor, not only because it’s so tough, but because it has a reputation of being so tough. Jack Nicklaus used to talk about how players who worried and complained about the conditions or the golf course wrote themselves off before the tournament even began. That figures to be the case here – I would expect several of the game’s best players to play themselves right out of the tournament on Thursday. Oakmont requires extraordinary patience and a powerful ability to move on to the next shot no matter how bad the last shot was. It’s a unique challenge and so Oakmont will likely be the big story of the week.

Hoggard: None. At least not on Sunday if things go well, which is always the goal. There will be a champion and probably a healthy dose of heartbreak, but if the golf course is still the star of the show on Sunday something went terribly wrong.

Mell: If it’s firm and fast, Oakmont will be the star. The course will be the big story. Even players on good form will struggle to avoid bogeys. Those who aren’t on form will be embarrassed by high scores.

Lavner: Not as much as last year, thankfully. Unlike a few of the recent Open venues, the USGA doesn’t need to trick up Oakmont – the course is tough enough as it is. The rough is so long and thick that it’ll force pitch-outs. The bunkers (and their fluffed-up sand) are a half-shot penalty. And the greens are the slickest players will face all year. The focus will be on the players, because they have to execute the proper shots on the toughest test in golf. That’s how it should be.

Coffin: Hardly any. Look, everyone makes the golf course the story early in the week. Everyone. But by the end of the week it’s mostly an afterthought and the players always take away the bulk of the headlines. It’ll be the same here this week, even though Oakmont is a touch above all other Open venues.

Player ranked outside the top 15 who can win?

Posnanski: This could be a good golf course for the grinders like Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and, yes, Jim Furyk, who finished second here in 2007. If Furyk can rediscover his game a little bit – and fully recover from his wrist injury – he has the fairway-to-green game to beat the field at Oakmont.

Hoggard: Brooks Koepka. Going with another bomber may be a little misleading. Oakmont can’t be pushed around, but it can be nudged. Koepka made a scouting trip to Oakmont two weeks ago and is resigned to “playing the course backward,” with more irons than drivers off the tee, but he’s also confident he can take advantage of his rare birdie chances and he has two runner-up finishes in his last two starts.

Mell: Matt Kuchar. He looks like he has been building toward something big with no finish worse than T-6 in his last four starts. He’s 15th in strokes gained-tee to green this year. He’s 23rd in scrambling and 20th in strokes gained-putting. That’s a nice stat package.

Lavner: Brooks Koepka. Comes into this week with consecutive top-two finishes, and a power game always plays well at Oakmont, especially with rain in the forecast Thursday and Friday. Though his Open experience is limited, he’s gone for top-20s the past two years when conditions were extremely difficult.  

Coffin: Phil Mickelson. Maybe it’s my heart talking, but his play over the last month makes me think he has one last crack at completing the career Grand Slam. The opportunities are dwindling and he knows that. Here’s hoping he has a great run in him.

Who will win?

Posnanski: Jordan Spieth. If everyone is right, this golf course figures to manhandle the players, frustrate them, embarrass them, and if that’s the case then the player with the most positive outlook and best short game figures to win. That’s Spieth. He’s the player I’d bet on to turn a 76 into a 71, which I suspect will be required over the weekend. I don’t think his Masters collapse will play in his mind at all. Rory McIlroy rebounded from his Masters disaster in 2011 by running away from the field at the U.S. Open. This will likely not be a runaway, but I think Spieth wins.

Hoggard: Dustin Johnson. During a practice round on Tuesday DJ hit driver-sand wedge on Oakmont’s 484-yard, par-4 18th hole. But then it hasn’t been his power that has cost him that coveted major, it’s been an often-balky putting stroke (see Open, U.S. 2015). But at Oakmont, where birdie chances will be few, he won’t need to putt like Jordan Spieth to win. Putting like Dustin Johnson will be plenty good enough.

Mell: Jordan Spieth. This week will ultimately be about fighting, grinding and refusing to give up. Spieth will hole more of those 4-8-footers that win U.S. Opens. He will take every punch “the ugly old brute” dishes out and be the last man standing.

Lavner: Jason Day. The limb I’m going out on here is about as long as a tee, but Day is playing better than anyone and has the best combination of power, precision and touch. He also has shown a knack for handling the rigors of the Open, posting top-10s four of the past five years.

Coffin: Rory McIlroy. I like his confidence, I like his poise and I like that he’s determined to make patience his friend this week. Now it’s easier said than done, but Rory knows winning at a place where par is a good score is still missing on his major resume. He rectifies that fact this week.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.