Davis, USGA trying to make the U.S. Open great again

By Randall MellJune 14, 2017, 10:40 pm

ERIN, Wis. – Remember when the U.S. Open used to be the greatest major championship in golf?

OK, maybe you never believed that, but those of you who did had a pretty strong argument for your golf brethren who thought the Masters or The Open were the best majors.

If you love the U.S. Open, you hate the suggestion that it’s now the third or maybe even the fourth best major.

You hate how the PGA Championship is praised for having the best setup man in golf (Kerry Haigh) and how the USGA is criticized for having the most controversial (Mike Davis).

If you love the U.S. Open, you hate what has happened to the event’s aura, how it has gone from a blue-chip golf property to a black-and-blue one.

You used to love how the USGA didn’t seem to give a crap what players thought about its setups. You loved Sandy Tatum at the “Massacre at Winged Foot” in ’74 saying that his organization wasn’t trying to embarrass the best players in the game, but merely identify them. You loved how that attitude resonated through so many of the tough setups that followed.

You used to love it when players whined about the setup.

Now you find yourself sympathizing with them.

Now you cringe when you hear how the USGA is courting player opinions, trying to repair relationships among pros who have openly complained that the governing body is “run by a bunch of amateurs” and who have openly wondered if the PGA Tour ought to break off to set up its own set of rules.

You hated seeing respect for the USGA deteriorating with the event played on a dead moonscape at Chambers Bay two years ago and then again with the controversy that erupted over the Dustin Johnson ruling at Oakmont last year.

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler boldly took to Twitter to call out the USGA over its handling of the Johnson ruling.

U.S. Open: Tee times | Full coverage

Golf Digest wrote Wednesday that PGA Tour pros were so indignant about the way the USGA handled Johnson’s rule issue that “there was talk if Dustin Johnson had lost because of the penalty that some players might have skipped this year’s tournament.”

That’s hard to believe, but, ouch!

If you love the U.S. Open, you had mixed feelings hearing Davis offer up a mea culpa Wednesday at Erin Hills on the eve of the 117th rendition of the championship.

“You would think something like what happened the last couple of years would affect just the championship department, maybe the rules department, but it affects the whole organization,” said Davis, the USGA’s executive director. “By that, I mean that anytime your competency comes into question that affects the people doing our equipment testing, the agronomic people on the greens section, our people in dealing with the history of the game and helping to grow the game. So, of course, we want to avoid those things.”

Competency? Yes, he used that word, because there’s no getting around how all the complaints about the USGA have added up to that harsh indictment.

Give Davis credit for the ruthless self-examination.

If you love the U.S. Open, there were mixed feelings listening to Davis, because there’s hope in more than what he’s acknowledging. There’s hope in what he’s doing, with the USGA on the offensive trying to correct the complex problems that have led to waning respect and credibility.

The USGA and R&A are breaking tradition trying to react more swiftly to problems now with quick solutions. We saw that in December, with the announcement of the new local rule that eliminates penalties when a ball is accidentally moved on a putting green.

We saw that in March, with the outline of a sweeping initiative to modernize and simplify the Rules of Golf.

We saw that last month, with the release of a new rules decision limiting the use of video evidence.

And we will see it at this U.S. Open, with the USGA revamping its rules officiating system as a reaction to what happened to Johnson at Oakmont. Instead of walking officials, the USGA is stationing officials at each hole this year, with Thomas Pagel serving as chief rules official “empowered to make instantaneous decisions.” There will also be video stations on the course that will allow officials to more quickly review rules issues that may arise.

“We think this will allow us to really expedite our rule-making process and be decisive in our communications, which were two things that perhaps we fell a little bit short last year,” said John Bodenhamer, the senior managing director of championships. “We really have learned a great deal.”

If you love the U.S. Open, there was hope in the unspoken theme to Wednesday’s USGA news conference.

“Make the U.S. Open great again!”

That’s the opportunity Erin Hills presents starting Thursday.

Davis and Co. could use quick confirmation that their work is paying off.

“We want a nice, smooth U.S. Open,” Davis said.

Good luck with that.

There’s always been controversy in the U.S. Open. It’s in the championship’s DNA. It comes with trying to set up the toughest test in golf. It comes with pushing the envelope, taking shot-making challenges to the extreme.

Davis complicated all of that practically redefining the U.S. Open with his change in setup philosophy. He has remade the championship, redefining it as the “ultimate test of golf” instead of the “toughest test.”

Instead of making every U.S. Open about narrow fairways, chop-out rough and speedy greens, Davis has made it about adapting the challenge to the unique design of the particular golf course.

At Erin Hills, that means 50- and 60-yard wide fairways, penal fescue and rugged penal bunkering that will test shot making in typically windswept conditions.

In fairness to Davis, the U.S. Open is always the toughest championship to set up in golf, because it requires pushing the limits of fairness.

You may not like Davis’ changes in the philosophy, but they are intelligently argued. It isn’t the philosophy that’s failed him. It has been the execution.

Trying to set up the ultimate test of golf has never been more difficult with advancements in equipment and ball technology making the game appear easier than it’s ever been.

Davis practically handpicked Erin Hills.

This course looks like it could be his masterpiece, as championship setups go. Erin Hills could embody why his philosophy better showcases not only the all-around ability of the game’s greatest players but the diverse nature of this country’s best courses.

Or Erin Hills could be the final piece of evidence that his philosophy won’t make the U.S. Open great again.


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.''