Punch Shot: Who does Pinehurst setup favor?

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 22, 2014, 12:28 pm

Media members got a sneak peek at Pinehurst No. 2, site of this year's U.S. Open, on Monday. That got our writers thinking, which player does the setup favor the most? They debate here:

By JASON SOBEL

Dustin Johnson’s game should be well suited for Pinehurst No. 2.

Based on the dispatches from colleagues who attended media day at the U.S. Open venue on Monday, the greatest determining factor at this year’s national championship just might be a little thing called luck. That’s because the randomness of lies off the fairways will leave players in varying degrees of optimal positions.

And hey, while Johnson has certainly earned everything he’s attained, it always seems like he’s enjoyed a decent amount of luck, too.

This should also help: The USGA will have rules officials walking with each group, letting players know whether they’re in a hazard or a waste bunker. That should be, um, helpful for Johnson.

But really, the main reason the course suits his game is because he’s one of the best ball-strikers around. Of the current top 10 in that category, players like Billy Horschel, Graham DeLaet and Louis Oosthuizen are all potential contenders, but DJ has the most upside of the bunch.

That doesn’t mean he’s the favorite, nor does it mean he’ll win, but he should find some advantages in the surroundings during U.S. Open week.


By RANDALL MELL

Phil Mickelson will finally get his U.S. Open title.

This year’s championship at Pinehurst No. 2 will reward creativity more than most U.S. Opens. It will also reward bravado without overly penalizing failure.

That’s right down Mickelson’s alley.

With Pinehurst No. 2’s turtle-back greens making it difficult to hit greens, the short game will be especially important. Getting up-and-down regularly will be vital. 

That favors Mickelson.

With fairways framed by wire grass, sand and pine straw instead of traditional rough, you won’t be seeing the typical chop out when players miss fairways. You’ll see some creative recovery shots.

That’s Mickelson’s game.

Factor in the good vibes of having come so close to winning at Pinehurst No. 2 in ’99, and this feels like a great opportunity for Mickelson. 


By REX HOGGARD

The house always wins and your scribe has learned that betting against Las Vegas is a zero sum game, but it is not Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy who should be the favorites heading into June’s U.S. Open.

That honor belongs to Matt Kuchar, and this isn’t just about what he has done for his odds lately.

Sure, the smiling assassin has earned more money in his last four PGA Tour starts than Tom Weiskopf did in his entire career and he hasn’t finished outside the top 5 since the middle of March.

Kuchar’s victory on Sunday at the RBC Heritage may have been his first of the 2013-14 season, but consider that in 11 events he’s finished inside the top 10 eight times and is first on Tour this season in scoring average.

But that’s not why he should be the early favorite for this year’s Pinehurst Open. Kooch is our frontrunner because of how well his game has travelled this season.

From the bomber’s ballparks at the Golf Club of Houston (where he lost a playoff to Matt Jones) and Augusta National (where he finished tied for fifth) to the ballstriking haven of Harbour Town, Kuchar refuses to be typecast which is a perfect recipe for Pinehurst.


By RYAN LAVNER

Only one player in the past 40 years has won the first two majors in a season, but Bubba Watson is positioned to make a run at the double dip. The Masters champion should also be the favorite for Pinehurst.

No. 2 will play more than 7,500 yards for the U.S. Open, with four par 4s stretching over 500 yards. That will put Watson, the Tour’s leader in driving distance, at a massive advantage, especially at a course that will feature virtually no rough. And with the severe slopes and runoffs around the greens, Watson will be able to rely on his deft touch and imagination to get the ball close to the hole, as he did a few weeks ago at Augusta.

If he can refocus in time for the year’s second major, Bubba has an opportunity to add his name to an elite list of Grand Slam winners.


By WILL GRAY

The conditions at Pinehurst No. 2 will favor Graeme McDowell as he looks to win the U.S. Open for the second time.

The Ulsterman has quietly put together a solid campaign in 2014, with five top-10 finishes in just eight starts, but two statistics will make him a favorite in June. McDowell is 16th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, which is annually a key stat at the U.S. Open but may be more important at Pinehurst as players look to avoid the unpredictable sandy areas lining the fairway. He’s also second on Tour in strokes gained-putting, and whoever is best able to conquer the devilish, turtleback greens on No. 2 will likely contend.

McDowell is also 32nd in greens in regulation percentage and 18th in proximity to the hole this season. As conditions become more firm as the week progresses, the viable landing areas on the greens will continue to shrink, which will require players to become increasingly accurate with their approaches.

This will not be a typical U.S. Open setup, but McDowell’s game appears ideally suited for whatever Pinehurst – and the USGA – will throw at the field seven weeks from now. 

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''