7,800-yard Erin Hills puts premium on preparation

By Rex HoggardJune 8, 2017, 10:30 pm

If every major is defined to varying degrees by the venue, at least until the first meaningful golf shot is struck on Thursday, the 117th U.S. Open is very much an enigma, a little-known Grand Slam guest defined by speculation and second-hand accounts as much as by practical experience and history.

The sprawling layout deep in the heart of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine was built for a national championship, and when the golf world descends on the course for next week’s U.S. Open they will find a worthy test.

At least that’s what officials contend, but then no one knows for sure.

The U.S. Open will be the first significant professional event played at Erin Hills, and what precious little institutional knowledge exists about the behemoth paints an interesting, if incomplete, picture.

It’s been nearly five years since Steve Stricker, who qualified for the U.S. Open on Monday, played Erin Hills but first impressions are often the most lasting and accurate.

“They used to have a tournament [from the tips], I never played in the tournament, but I wanted to play it all the way from the back,” Stricker remembered. “I played nine holes and that was it. This was four or five years ago when I was younger. I hit some sort of utility club or fairway wood into four of the nine holes I played.”

From the “tips,” Erin Hills is listed at 7,800 yards on the official scorecard, including four par 5s of over 600 yards, but it can be played even longer according to various sources.

During the 2011 U.S. Amateur, Erin Hills played to 7,760 yards. While those numbers have become part of the layout’s legend, for the few who have actually played the course in a tournament those yardages can be misleading.

“It's hard and fast and it's long,” said Kelly Kraft, who won that ’11 Amateur. “I tell people that on paper it looks a lot harder than it really is. You can look at it on paper and say, ‘Man, this thing is 7,900, 8,000 yards.’ When do you ever play a golf course that is that long? But not every day you play one that is so firm like that and the ball can roll forever.”

By this time next week, the field will have a much more detailed picture of Erin Hills, and to be fair the last three first-time men’s major venues have been unqualified successes – from Tiger Woods’ victory at the ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines to Rory McIlroy at the ’12 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, and Jordan Spieth at the ’15 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. The key for Spieth and McIlroy was how quickly they learned the new layouts.

Spieth arrived at the ’15 Open on the Saturday before the championship and focused on the speed of the greens and his lag putting.

“I remember it being my best putting practice prior to a tournament I've ever had as far as getting the speed down,” Spieth said. “I had hit so many putts from the Saturday before until Wednesday evening that I already knew what was going to be there. I knew you were going to hit some good putts that were going to miss.

“That was a game changer for most of the week for me.”

It’s hardly a surprise that Spieth – who lost in the semifinals of the ’11 Amateur at Erin Hills – plans to adhere to the same blueprint for next week’s U.S. Open, arriving this weekend and focusing on the speed of Erin Hills’ greens.

Brandt Snedeker said he will follow a similar routine, arriving in Wisconsin this weekend, but explained that first-time major venues create a unique set of challenges beyond the normal issues of deep rough and fast greens.

“You have to approach them differently on the practice side of it. At a typical major, you may only play one practice round, but when you’re playing a new venue you’re going to want to play at least two full practice rounds,” Snedeker said.

Those five-plus-hour practice rounds take a toll. Snedeker calls them “energy vampires,” a reality that forces a player to shift his normal pre-tournament routine to the more immediate need for information.

“There is a lot more energy spent on the golf course than on your golf swing,” said Snedeker, who added he plans to play practice rounds with multiple players in order to see multiple views of the course.

It’s this balance that prompts some players to make separate scouting trips to Erin Hills. Brian Harman visited the layout last weekend, and Paul Casey made the trip on May 29. Even McIlroy, who has been recovering from a rib injury since The Players, was scheduled to get a look at the course this week with a practice round alongside one of the layout’s architects, Dana Fry.

“Golf course set-ups can be very different from the weeks leading up to and the week of [a championship],” Casey said. “But at least if I go and I see the layout you know the routing. You know what you may be facing and you eliminate that shock of getting there Monday and seeing it for the first time.

“There are probably going to be a few guys who don’t get over that shock by Thursday, and you don’t want to be one of those guys.”

Whatever helps players get over that initial shock – it is a 7,800-yard golf course, after all – while maintaining as much energy as possible will be crucial, but Stricker, a Wisconsin native, offered what may be the most encouraging piece of advice.

“You have to crash course, for sure. Guys will figure it out in a relatively short period of time. I don’t think there’s anything tricky about it,” he said. “You go around a couple of times and you’ll have a pretty good idea what to do.”

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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.