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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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.