By Joseph Mark Passov
BETHESDA, Md. ' People seem to remember Congressional because of its place in golf history: It was where Ken Venturi won the death march U.S. Open in 1964, when he nearly collapsed from heat prostration, yet staggered home with a victory. They recall Congressional as a stern challenge that somehow was elevated to the realm of greatness, not so much for its classic design, but for its relentless difficulty. Small wonder that when Venturi was asked at the press interview immediately following his win what he thought of Congressional, he replied'in somewhat Gary Player-like fashion'Best course I ever won the Open on. Humor aside, Venturi didnt exactly gush with praise as to the merits of the then-longest U.S. Open course in history, at 7,053 yards.
Few clubs anywhere on earth enjoy the rich heritage and superior legacy that characterizes Congressional. Located in gently rolling horse country a short jaunt from Capitol Hill, Congressional was conceived in 1921 as the brainchild of two U.S. Representatives from Indiana, Oscar Bland and O.R. Luhring. Contemplating a club where government officials could go and relax and use as a home club away from home, they enlisted the financial support of many of the top names in industry and entertainment. Founding Life Members included Charlie Chaplin, John D. Rockefeller and William C. Carnegie, plus an assortment of other luminaries from the apex of high society.
Of special significance was a round table of past, present and future presidents who were also tabbed as Founding Life Members: William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. President and Mrs. Coolidge presided at Congressionals opening day on May 23, 1924; Hoover was the new clubs first president.
The clubs golf course opened that same year, designed by Devereux Emmet. Yet, even with its most auspicious of beginnings, Congressional floundered during the Depression and nearly went under. Enter World War II.
It so happened that the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA, was looking for a place to train men in parachute jumping, espionage, sabotage and the like. They found their place in Congressional. By 1945, the rental money secured from the U.S. Government had saved the club. The war was over; it was time to get back to leisurely pursuits such as golf.
Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his son Rees both have made over the Blue course, which has hosted several big events, including the 1997 U.S. Open, the Kemper Open and now Tiger Woods AT&T National. It also will be the site of the 2011 U.S. Open.
The par-4 3rd hole illustrates Congressionals virtues perfectly. It demands a crushed drive to a reasonably wide fairway pinched by three bunkers up the right side that progressively narrow the landing area. A thick stand of pines will grab a hooked drive. The approach is slightly uphill to a large green that is open in front, but is otherwise framed by a huge bunker left, two pot-style bunkers right and by clusters of oaks and maples behind the green. Like many at Congressional, the hole is totally honest but fair, just exceedingly difficult in its shotmaking demands.
Congressionals incoming nine is full of rugged, slightly uphill par 4s. Your reward for surviving this tough slog is the 18th, which served as the 17th hole in the 1997 Open. From the fairway, the golfer is greeted with the best vista on the course, a broad panorama of the downhill approach to the green, and of the stately clubhouse perched hilltop in the distance. The peninsula putting surface extends into a lake, so dont want to miss left, right or long, but the right-to-left angled green ties directly into the existing fairway grade, so shots that land short can roll onto it.
Year founded: 1922
Architects: Devereux Emmet, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Rees Jones
Year founded: 1922
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Classic courses Congressional Country Club
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.