Randall's Rant: Ultimate risk/reward for Davis

By Randall MellJune 12, 2017, 7:17 pm

This U.S. Open feels like it will be Mike Davis’ defining moment in his reign over this championship.

The Erin Hills setup could brilliantly showcase the sometimes controversial changes in philosophy Davis has used in practically redefining the U.S. Open.

By week’s end, Erin Hills could stand as a testament to why this USGA executive director is right, why the championship is better breaking out of the strict and uncompromising mold it was shaped into in the ’50s under USGA executive director Joe Dey and USGA president Richard Tufts. Those were the guys who made this championship all about narrow fairways, chop-out rough and concrete greens.

Erin Hills could prove the ultimate examination Davis wants, an all-around test of a player’s shot-making abilities but also a test of a player’s creativity, smarts, adaptability and emotional stability, in ways more profound than the Dey/Tufts mold ever was.

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Erin Hills could spectacularly embody why it is important setup complements golf course architecture and why Davis believes setup should vary depending on a course’s unique design. Erin Hills could also 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 greatest golf courses.

Or, then again, by week’s end, it is possible this U.S. Open will stand as the final piece of evidence proving the departure from the Dey/Tufts mold has been some sort of failed experiment.

Anything seems possible on this unproven venue hosting its first U.S. Open.

There’s both excitement and angst in the mystery that awaits.

There was a huge risk for Davis in taking the championship to Erin Hills, but there’s potentially a huge reward, too.

Either way, Davis’ fingerprints will be on this venue more than any since he took over course setup in 2006 and took over executive director duties in 2011.

Davis was instrumental in the USGA deciding to take a chance on this upstart course, this relative newborn at just 11 years old. Davis walked the land in ’04, two years before it opened. He had input into the course’s design and redesign.

In some ways, this is his baby, too.

Davis hates that thinking. He doesn’t want the U.S. Open to be about him, but there’s no avoiding it, not with the dramatic changes he has made to setup philosophy.

I would love to see Davis and his team pull this off.

Of course, we’ve learned how one mistake can overshadow everything.

Dustin Johnson’s tour-de-force performance at Oakmont last year was viewed through a fog of confusion created by that controversial rules decision in the final round.

Jordan Spieth’s victory two years ago at Chambers Bay was viewed through a cloud of criticism over the burned-out moonscape that made it play so unlike any other U.S. Open in history.

Davis helped deliver two great winners, but the finishes were somehow diminished by the debate that led to them.

At its best, this U.S. Open can deliver the promise of Chambers Bay without the controversy. It can be a refinished, varnished version of Chambers Bay, with all of its mysterious appeal and none of its downside.

Or this U.S. Open can end up being about a record number of lost balls in the jungle-like fescue, about the slowest of slow play, with wind wreaking havoc and that fescue devouring shots. It can be about the exasperation of balls that won’t stop rolling, adding to a snail’s pace of play.

Here’s hoping it’s the former, because Erin Hills is so malleable, maybe more so than any course in U.S. Open history.

Davis loves malleable.

Erin Hills, with its prodigious length – it could be stretched more than 8,000 yards but won’t this week – with its multiple tee boxes and generous landing areas, allows so many potentially creative tweaks to daily setups. Davis can dramatically change multiple holes overnight if he wishes.

Erin Hills’ malleability allows deeper dives in testing a player’s creativity, smarts, adaptability and emotional stability.

If you’re not a fan of malleability in U.S. Open setups, you might call these daily tweaks curveballs.

If you like narrow fairways and chop-out rough as your U.S. Open mold, you might interpret malleable as sinful departure, maybe even sacrilege.

I love the idea that Davis has found a new course that allows a more thorough test of what players are made of, with so many options potentially frustrating more one-dimensional players.

Of course, there will be howling and even whining at this U.S. Open. That’s part of the soundtrack at the best championships the USGA has ever staged. Let’s just hope it’s sweet music this time, with the most reasonable players singing Erin Hills’ praises by week’s end. Either way, the soundtrack is going to define Davis, for better or worse.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”