Two weeks in June: U.S. Opens like never before

By Randall MellApril 22, 2014, 6:00 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – The USGA’s return to Pinehurst No. 2 feels like an expedition this year.

Golf’s governing body is preparing to take the game to places previously unexplored in this year’s U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open.

Based on Monday’s presentation to the media, the championships this June promise to unfold like nothing the game has ever witnessed.

It isn’t just the fact that the men and women will play in back-to-back weeks at the same venue for the first time in major championship history. It’s the nature of the venue itself. With Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore dramatically restoring Pinehurst No. 2 to the original form Donald Ross intended, these championships are going to have a time-warp feel, circa 1907.

If the U.S. Open goes to a Monday playoff, you’re going to see the men and women on the course at the same time. You’re going to see women teeing it up at Pinehurst No. 2 for their U.S. Women’s Open practice rounds before and after the men’s playoff.

Even if the U.S. Open doesn’t go to a playoff, you’re going to see men and women crossing paths at Pinehurst on their way to practice the weekend of the men’s championship. You’re even going to see them sharing locker-room space.

You’re also going to see them playing a shot-making test unlike any other U.S. Open or U.S. Women’s Open. With Crenshaw and Coore tearing out the lush, wall-to-wall green grass look of Pinehurst No. 2, this championship will be played without rough – or at least without rough as we’ve come to know it.

The fairways will spill through the natural, rugged terrain of the sand hills of this region. Balls that stray from the fairway will no longer sink into Bermuda rough. They’ll run into sand and pine straw dotted with wire-grass sprigs.

The nature of missing fairways now adds the same element of intrigue that Donald Ross’ turtle-back greens offer. In most PGA Tour events, the excitement often stops when the ball hits the green, skips and screeches to a halt. On Ross’ design, the fun is just beginning when the ball hits the green. There’s a sense of wonder in waiting and watching to see what happens to the ball as it catches a slope, swale or hollow and races away.

That same sense of wonder will now carry over to shots that miss the fairway.

"I think from a shot value standpoint, it's going to give the best players in the world some shots that they simply haven't had to make in past U.S. Opens. So, it's exciting," USGA executive director Mike Davis said of the restoration.

Shots that stray from the fairway will be subject to the whim and fancy of Mother Nature now.

“Sometimes, they're going to be on sandy, hard pan,” Davis said. “Sometimes, they're going to be on soft, foot-printed loose sand. Sometimes, they're going to be up against, or underneath, wire grass. Sometimes, its natural vegetation, that just comes up in these areas. Sometimes, the ball will be on pine needles, or up against a pine cone. It's going to give these players who miss a fairway just a different type of challenge.”

The fairways will also be wider than we’re used to seeing. 

“All things being equal, will it be easier?” Davis said. “Probably a little bit easier, but, I suppose, there’s an element of luck involved. If you get on hard pan, for a good player, it’s kind of a green light. Or do you get up against a clump of wire grass? You could have two balls 6 inches apart and one can go for the green and one can't. That's kind of the nature of the game we play. It wasn't meant to be equal all the time, or necessarily fair.”

Coore believes shots played from the wild, natural terrain will add to the excitement of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open.

“The uncertainty of shots that are going to be played from the natural rough, we think that is going to be one of the most interesting stories of the week,” Coore said. “We think you’re going to see some of the most spectacular recovery shots in U.S. Open history.”

While some of the best women in the world have expressed concerns over conditions they’ll be left with after the men are done, Davis is excited by the possibilities.

“Listen, we went into this knowing there would be risks,” Davis said. “But we went into it knowing there would be a lot more upside. It’s a two-week celebration of the best men and women, and there’s just so much more upside.”

The men could play Pinehurst No. 2 from 7,562 yards as a par 70, though Davis said it will likely never play that long. The women will play it from 6,649 yards, also as a par 70.

Davis said the idea is to see the women play using the same irons into greens with similar hole locations. Back in 2010, Davis set up Oakmont for the U.S. Open in 2007 and for the U.S. Women’s Open there in 2010.

Pinehurst No. 2

The par-5 fourth hole at Pinehurst No. 2

“I just remember hearing so many comments, questions of: How are the women going to handle Oakmont?” Davis said. “I always felt that those were really unfair questions, because it just showed almost a lack of appreciation of how good the women play the game. 

“I think that while that was a three-year’s difference, we really did try to set up Oakmont the same way. We had greens 14 ½ to 15 [on the Stimpmeter] for both weeks. The women handled it beautifully. Same fairway widths, same relative length on the distance.

“So, given the fact that these are back to back this year, it's going to showcase, I think, just how good the females can play the game.”

LPGA pros have publicly shared their concerns about going the second week, after the course and practice areas have been beaten up by the men. Some are on record saying they know the men wouldn’t have tolerated going second. Davis reiterated that agronomics was the primary factor in having the women go second. It’s easier, he explained, to take the greens from firm to slightly less firm than the other way around. Also, having the men go first, with more viewers and spectators, better sets the stage for audiences to tune in and compare how the women handle the challenges.

Vicki Geotze-Ackerman, the LPGA’s president, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1989. She’s the only woman to win a USGA title at Pinehurst No. 2.

“From the LPGA players’ perspective, we can already see how this Women's Open is the most talked about and anticipated Women's Open yet,” Goetze-Ackerman said. “The increase in awareness and exposure for the event and women’s golf is a significant positive for the LPGA tour, as well as the game of golf. We feel that bringing the women's and men's games together is not only innovative and open minded, but a great opportunity to showcase the best of the best in the game of golf, for both genders. Personally, I think this is the coolest thing ever.”

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan understands his players’ concerns, but he also sees an opportunity playing after the men at Pinehurst.

“I say this to our players a lot, that you can’t dream big and be afraid of making mistakes,” Whan told earlier this year. “They are not mutually exclusive.

“We’ve talked about how to make the most out of this unique opportunity, in terms of exposure for the women worldwide. I think we have an opportunity to have more people watch the U.S. Women’s Open than have ever watched it before. I’m really looking forward to seeing how many people we can carry over into Week 2.”

Yes, the women will have challenges in the wake of the men. There will be divots to contend with, but Davis said that’s part of the game. He said when he told that to LPGA pros in a players’ meeting at the Founders Cup in Phoenix, half the players scowled at him and half laughed. He said fears that Pinehurst No. 2’s many collections areas around the greens will get beat up is unfounded.

“We saw very, very, very little divoting the last two Opens,” Davis said of collection areas around greens. “Most of the players who do decide to pitch it are more just clipping it. They're not really playing a type of flop shot that creates a divot.”

Between the divots and unlucky lies against wire-grass sprigs, this championship will ratchet up the ability of players to endure bad breaks.

While the USGA will soften the greens slightly for women, the aim is offer similar green speeds.

There looms a question about the health of the greens over two weeks. If the greens are pushed to the edge for the men, is there a danger they’ll be pushed over the edge, negatively impacting the women?

“The notion that these greens are going to be dead afterwards is simply not the case,” Davis said. “We feel extremely comfortable and we really have very little concerns about the health of the greens for a two-week period of time.”

A two-week period unlike anything golf has ever witnessed.

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.