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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Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award
The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.
The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.
Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.
The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.
Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4
Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.
Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.
Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.
The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout
It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.
Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.
Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.
"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."
Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.
Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.
Wie takes shot at LPGA dress code in crop top
The new LPGA dress code got mixed reviews when it was announced in July, and Michelle Wie is taking full advantage of her offseason with no restrictions.
The 28-year-old former U.S. Women's Open champion is keeping her game sharp while back in her home state of Hawaii, but couldn't help taking a shot at the rules while doing it, posting a photo to Instagram of her playing golf in a crop top with the caption, "Offseason = No dress code fine."
Wie isn't the first to voice her displeasure with the rules. Lexi Thompson posted a similar photo and caption to Instagram shortly after the policy was announced.