For better or worse, Chambers memories will linger

By Rex HoggardJune 23, 2015, 11:47 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Memories fade, but this may take some time.

Regardless of which side of the dusty divide one finds themself when it comes to Chambers Bay and the USGA’s Pacific Northwest experiment, an expansive void that ranges from outright repugnance to lukewarm respect, the post-U.S. Open narrative is littered with warning signs of a championship gone awry.

The rule of thumb when it comes to a U.S. Open venue, particularly an unproven first-time stop like Chambers Bay, is that the course can be the story in the pre-championship build up, but if the conversation hasn’t changed by the time Sunday’s final putt drops – or in Dustin Johnson’s case slides painfully by the left edge of the cup – then something went terribly wrong.

It only compounds the after-action reporting that the litany of problems that plagued Chambers Bay spans the sprawling property – from some greens that were an unsightly combination of dead and dying fescue, poa annua and dirt to an alarming number of “obstructed views” for the area’s ravenous and record crowds.

“They are putting better now. They are basically not living anymore,” Ernie Els said of the greens on Sunday. “The greens are gone. It’s when they had that green growth [poa] coming out of the turf. That’s gone now.”

Billy Horschel was not nearly as subdued in his assessment of the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, stepping to the microphone on Sunday poised to pounce. “I’ve been waiting for this moment all week,” he smiled.

Although most players offered begrudging respect for the layout from tee to green, the agronomic collision of fescue, poa and unusually high temperatures coalesced to create the worst putting surfaces in a major championship since Shinnecock Hills at the 2004 U.S. Open.

“I’m not going to criticize the design. I was talking about wine last night and some guys like certain types of wine and some people don’t. It’s the same for golf course design,” Els said.

What is certain, Chambers Bay was not most players’ glass of merlot.

“The U.S. Open is a great tournament with incredible history. The USGA should be ashamed of what they did to it this week,” tweeted Chris Kirk. “The course wasn’t overly difficult, just tricked up.”

There was no sugar coating this for most players, the condition of some greens, specifically Nos. 4 and 12, was enough to dislodge players from what has become a politically correct desire to avoid overt criticism.

To be fair, the elevated level of vitriol wasn’t universal. Geoff Ogilvy, normally one of the calmer heads in the locker room particularly when it comes to golf course architecture, took the long view when asked his thoughts following the final round.

“I told someone earlier in the week, whoever wins is going to be a quality player,” said Ogilvy, a nod to a leaderboard that included Spieth, runner-up Johnson and even Rory McIlroy with a late Sunday cameo. “You have to move the ball both ways, you have to use your brain, which is a rare thing in modern golf and something we're not very good at.”

The truth is it wasn’t the dead and dying greens or USGA executive director Mike Davis’ increasingly creative use of wildly varying teeing grounds that prompted the greatest amount of push back from players.

Despite record crowds and stunning views, Chambers Bay proved to be a particularly demanding venue for fans. The rolling layout was such a difficult and dangerous walk that the USGA advised those attending this year’s championship it was best to find a seat in a grandstand, and some holes, like the par-5 eighth, were virtually void of any gallery.

“From the fans’ point of view it’s been a strange atmosphere out there this year, because they can’t get close to the action and on some holes there aren’t any [fans],” Lee Westwood said. “From a fan’s point of view it must have been an even harder trek than it was for us players.”

With the U.S. Open booked out to 2021 and little interest, at least from the players’ perspective, in returning to Chambers Bay, it would be easy to write off the USGA’s first trip to the Pacific Northwest as the wrong execution of the right idea.

Late Sunday, however, an impromptu moment stood out amid all the course criticism and competitive chaos.

Midway through the leaders’ closing nine Davis was asked about the issue with the 12th green when Steve Lesnik – the chairman of KemperSports, which manages Chambers Bay – assured the executive they would remedy all of Chambers Bay’s agronomic woes.

While the USGA and Davis, who marked his 10th U.S. Open as the association’s top setup man last week, remained non-committal regarding Chambers Bay’s future status as a U.S. Open course it seems a publically-owned Pacific Northwest venue is a powerful draw to powerful people in the USGA.

For most players still stinging from a long and dusty week along the shores of Puget Sound it was too soon to consider a return engagement.

“I think a lot of players, and I'm one of them, have lost some respect for the USGA and this championship this year for the greens,” said Horschel, echoing a familiar locker room theme from the week.

Despite the cascade of criticism, it’s seems too soon to label Chambers Bay as a one-and-done venue.

Again Ogilvy with the long view: “It's obviously a fantastic city. Along with New York and Chicago, it seems like one of the best sports town in the U.S. It's logistically got issues, but there's nothing that in 15 or 20 years they can’t work that out, I'm sure. I'm sure they'll come back. I don't know when, but I'm sure they'll come back.”

Ultimately, Chambers Bay’s future will depend on how players and the public remember the 2015 Open, either as a misguided and mistake-riddled championship or the site of one of the most memorable major finishes in recent memory.

Only time will tell.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.