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.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.