Oakmont a traditional, very stern U.S. Open test

By Randall MellJune 15, 2016, 7:31 pm

OAKMONT, Pa. – Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ...

If you didn’t like the U.S. Open’s radical departure from its classic roots in the modern era, you’re relishing its return to Oakmont Country Club this week.

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood ...

If you thought the championship was miscast at Pinehurst No. 2, where there was no rough two years ago, and at Chambers Bay, with its moonscape look last year, you’re reveling in the return to a more traditional setup this week. The U.S. Open is back with par defended by this championship’s more familiar fortresses, by lush, penal rough, narrow fairways and fast greens.

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit ...

William Shakespeare was long gone when Henry Fownes built Oakmont in 1903, but the lines Shakespeare wrote in Henry V should resonate with players trying to muster fortitude for the U.S. Open’s return to its most formidable venue. Oakmont is still “an ugly old brute,” as Herbert Warren Wind once wrote. It still possesses “all the charm of a sock in the head,” as Gene Sarazen once said.

“This is the ultimate U.S. Open test,” said Ernie Els, who won at Oakmont in ‘94. “This one is going to test your resolve: mental, physical, everything.”

Oakmont is in many respects the model for a U.S. Open in the modern era.

“Henry Fownes and his son, William, were really the patriarchs of Oakmont Country Club, and it's interesting because they not only came from the penal school of golf course architecture, but, in some ways, they invented it,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “If you think of the golf courses in this country that are really tough tests, Oakmont was really the first.”

Davis has left his fingerprints all over U.S. Opens since he moved in charge of setups in 2006, sometimes controversially. He brought graduated rough to the championship. He brought a more liberal use of variable tees, more dramatically changing distances day-to-day to alter strategy and make players think. He annoyed Jordan Spieth changing the 18th at Chambers Bay from a par 5 to a par 4 in the middle of the championship.

Davis has relished the USGA moving to venues that haven’t fit the modern era’s traditional U.S. Open look, like Chambers Bay, the renovated Pinehurst No. 2 and Erin Hills, home to next year’s U.S. Open.

In so many ways, Davis has enhanced and elevated the championship, but there is an old guard who hasn’t liked his departures from tradition.

A few years back, NBC’s Johnny Miller questioned whether the U.S. Open had “lost its identity” with Davis making such radical alterations. Miller posted that famed final-round 63 when he won at Oakmont in 1973. He believes in penal rough as a U.S. Open staple.

There was no rough at all at Pinehurst in ’14 and again at Chambers Bay in ’15.

Davis has sometimes infuriated players.

After Davis moved the tees up 101 yards at the par-5 16th hole at the Olympic Club in the final round in 2012, Jim Furyk questioned how a player was supposed to prepare for that. Furyk snap-hooked his tee shot into some trees, made bogey and finished second to Webb Simpson.

In the final round at Merion in 2013, Phil Mickelson complained about not being able to reach the third hole, a 274-yard par 3. He made double bogey on his way to yet another second-place finish at the U.S. Open.

“During U.S. Open week, there are probably a lot of players cursing Mike Davis under their breath,” Geoff Ogilvy told Golf Channel in a “Live From” feature Tuesday night. “I think he is very respected, and I think everyone understands he is trying to present a more difficult challenge in a more interesting way.”

Geoff Shackelford, a golf course architect and author, has heard the backlash from players and traditionalists.

“They feel like he’s playing God, or being the Wizard of Oz, behind the curtain and pulling strings,” Shackelford said.

Oakmont will look like the setup traditionalists want for a U.S. Open. While there is graduated rough this week, it’s still quite penal.

Davis was asked Wednesday about how he views the U.S. Open’s identity and how venues as diverse as Pinehurst, Chambers Bay and Oakmont encompass that.

“We want to test all of the shot-making skills of the players, and we also want to test their course management skills and their ability to handle nerves,” Davis said. “I think when we're looking at golf courses that could potentially take a U.S. Open, what we really want to do is take it, first and foremost, to one of the country's great golf courses. So it's got to be a golf course that tests all those aspects.”

This is where Davis’ vision of the U.S. Open departs from traditionalists. He doesn’t like “cookie cutter” setups for the championship. He believes the U.S. Open should showcase the best American courses, and that means some courses that weren’t intended to be played with thick, gnarly rough.

When the U.S. Open was played at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999, the USGA grew rough around the fairways. Before the ’14 U.S. Open, architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore restored the course to Donald Ross’ original design, with wider fairways, no rough and native grasses.

“There is not necessarily a right or wrong,” Davis said. “There is just preference. It’s like a piece of art. Some people like a certain painting and some don’t.”

Traditionalists like the way Oakmont is painted, as Wind’s “ugly, old brute.” Next year, at Erin Hills, which will play more like Pinehurst No. 2 did two years ago, they probably won’t. For Davis, that’s just how art works.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”