Chicago Golfs Kind of Town

By Mercer BaggsJune 8, 2003, 4:00 pm
CHICAGO -- Chicago. One word that conjures up a kaleidoscope of images. It means different things to different people, depending upon ones connection to the city. When you hear the word Chicago, what do you think? Gangsters? Champions? Curses? Pizza? An Oscar-winning musical? A blustering wind than brittles the bones and burns the skin? Mustachioed men bellowing 'da Bayrs!' over beers?
Its all of the above. And its golf. Chicago may be known as the Second City, but many ' particularly locals with subjective views ' see it as second to none when it comes to the sport.
Theres Chicago Golf Club, Medinah, Cog Hill Dubsdread, Shoreacres, Skokie, Glen View, Kemper Lakes, Butler National, North Shore and Merit Club ' just to name a few of the notables layouts.
Theres the Western Golf Association in the northern suburb of ' yes, its true ' Golf, Ill. Theres the legend of Chick Evans, a life-long amateur who won 54 tournaments, including the 1916 U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur titles. And theres the Evans Scholars Foundation, administered by the WGA to provide college scholarships to caddies.
And, as a reminder to the collective conscience, there is Olympia Fields Golf Club, site of this weeks 103rd U.S. Open.
For the second time in its 80-year history, the now 7,190-yard, par-70 North Course is playing host to the nations premiere event.
A Closer Look at Olympia Fields
This is the 13th time that a Chicago-area course has hosted the United States Open. Five times such a course has done so for the PGA Championship; three times for the U.S. Womens Open.
In all, the USGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour and LPGA Tour have conducted their business in excess of 100 times in Chicagoland.
Its easy to acknowledge, yet difficult to fully appreciate, the true romance between golf and the Windy City. But for now, theres a singular fling to focus on in the South Side suburb of Olympia Fields.
Weve always wanted to go back to the Chicago market, but weve just felt uncomfortable with the other venues that have expressed interest, explained United States Golf Association Director or Rules and Competition Tom Meeks.
Lets play two ' Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks
This is the second time Olympia Fields will play host to a U.S. Open. It first did so in 1928, when Johnny Farrell toppled legendary Bobby Jones in a 36-hole playoff.
Willie Park, Jr., a two-time British Open champion, originally designed the course, hand-crafting the greens. The course was near its original condition when Jerry Barber won the 1961 PGA Championship there. (It also hosted the 1925 PGA.)
It wasnt until 1997 that another major returned to Olympia Fields ' though it was the site of five Western Opens between 1920 and 1971.
The USGA came calling six years ago for the U.S. Senior Open, won by David Graham. The commission was impressed with the layout, and believed it could again host one of its competitions ' granted a few changes were made.
We did go back and gave them a very healthy checklist of things they would have to do in order to be eligible for the U.S. Open, Meeks said.
Most of the bunkers had to be deepened to make them more difficult. Several tees were added; two greens had to be rebuilt. Long story short, we gave them this checklist, they agreed to it.
Golf architect Mark Mungeam, whose alterations helped the course land the 97 Senior Open, made some more improvements ' which were done at a reported cost of $3 million ' at the behest of USGA officials. The changes were completed in Fall 2001. Meeks and company returned in November, and liked what they saw.
They did everything we asked them to do. From that point forward we just did some minor changes to get the golf course ready for a U.S. Open, he said.
Even though its technically only 24 yards shorter, Olympia Fields is not a monstrous venue like last years bully, Bethpage Black. The course has only one par-4 extending beyond 470 yards ' the 496-yard ninth. By contrast, Bethpage had four par-4 holes measuring in excess of 475. At 7,214 yards, the Black Course was the longest layout in Open history.
Nearly 350 yards were added to the total length of the course. The front and back nines were reversed ' with the excpetion of the first and 10th holes. It now starts with two par-5s over its first six holes. The place to get birdies here is 1-6theyve got a lot of work to do coming home, said Olympia Fields Director of Golf Brian Morrison.
With a par of 34 down the backstretch it is conceivable that the Open nine-hole record of 29 will fall this week. But Meeks believe the track will play tough enough to where the 72-hole record of 272 (12-under is the 72-hole championship record in relation to par) will stay intact.
Its not length that will defend against red numbers at Olympia Fields, its the tiny, severely contoured greens; the 3 -inch rough; the 24-28-yard-wide fairways, the frugal hole locations.
We are accused of trying to protect par, Meeks said. Our attitude when we set the U.S. Open golf course upusing the philosophy that the USGA has had over the years, there are some criteria that we use. Number 1 criteria is firm, fast greens. We really want the greens to be as fast as they can be and yet still be fair.
We also want to narrow the fairways, and yet still be fair. Our fairways are generally 26 yards wide. Several years ago, they were 28 to 30. Rough, we want a hard, tough rough. But, on the other hand, were not trying to make every shot in the rough a pitch out. The player should have a chance.
(At Pinehurst, the rough was actually lowered because the USGA wanted to allow players an opportunity to reach the small, sloped greens with long irons.)
Our hole locations (never call them pin placements in front of USGA officials) generally are the four most difficult on a green for a U.S. Open, and we try to balance them out as far as fronts and back, and lefts and rights, Meeks continued.
Meeks, who has been involved in championship course set up since 1975, said holes are usually placed around five paces (15 feet) from the edge, but will move closer depending upon the size of the greens. Expect tighter positions this time around.
After years of preparation, the course is set ' minus a little more tinkering here and there, and the players will full descend upon the area by Tuesday ' being that the FBR Capital Open wrapped-up Monday.
For many, it will be the first time theyve ever seen the course, and the same can be said for the public. Fear not, says Meeks.
I think the golfers are going to be pleasantly surprised about Olympia Fields, he said, and I think the viewing audience is going to enjoy it as well.
Related Links:
  • U.S. Open Mini Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • Olympia Fields Course Tour
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    Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

    Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

    “I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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    Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

    “[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

    Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

    “He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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    This week, let the games(manship) begin

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

    What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

    During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

    “Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

    Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

    “There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

    Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

    Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

    “Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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    Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

    “I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

    While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

    But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

    “It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

    It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

    McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

    It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

    “Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

    Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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    Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

    By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

    While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

    The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

    "I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

    Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

    According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

    "I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

    Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

    Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

    "I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

    Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.

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    Spieth vs. Reed random? Hmm, wonders Spieth

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 6:42 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Monday’s blind draw to determine the 16 pods for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play didn’t exactly feel “blind” for Jordan Spieth, whose group includes Patrick Reed.

    Spieth and Reed have become a staple of U.S. teams in recent years, with a 7-2-2 record in the Ryder and Presidents Cup combined. So when the ping-pong ball revealed Reed’s number on Monday night Spieth wasn’t surprised.

    “It seems to me there's a bit more to this drawing than randomness,” laughed Spieth, whose pod also includes Haotong Li and Charl Schwartzel. “It's not just me and him. It's actually a lot of groups, to have Luke List and Justin [Thomas] in the same group seems too good to be true. It might be some sort of rigging that's going on, I'm not sure.”

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    Spieth will play Reed on Friday in the round-robin format and knows exactly what to expect from the fiery American.

    “I've seen it firsthand when he's been at his best. And we have history together in a couple of different playoffs, which is a match-play scenario,” Spieth said. “I've got to take care of work tomorrow and the next day for that day to even matter. But even if it doesn't matter, trust me, it will matter to both of us.”