Cut Line: Erin on the side of caution

By Rex HoggardJune 9, 2017, 4:41 pm

As the buzz builds for next week’s U.S. Open, we offer a national championship primer that covers the good (Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker), the fair (Adam Scott’s warnings) and the kooky (alternate list).

Made Cut

Family Man. Mickelson has lost a U.S. Open on the final hole (2006 at Winged Foot) and been beaten on the final hole (1999 at Pinehurst), but this is a first for Lefty.

Mickelson will likely not win the 117th U.S. Open because of a scheduling issue. Well scheduling, and a personal list of priorities that supersedes any professional aspirations – like his daughter’s graduation from high school.

Lefty revealed last week that barring some sort of delay on Thursday he’ll be skipping next week’s U.S. Open so he can attend his daughter’s graduation on June 15, the same day as the opening round of the lone Grand Slam event that Mickelson has not won.

Asked this week in Memphis if the decision to miss the U.S. Open was difficult, Mickelson’s answer was a testament to priorities.

“I love the Open, but this is a special moment for us,” he said. “I mean my daughter's speaking, she's giving the speech there at graduation. It's one of those things you just need to be there, so it wasn't a hard decision.”

Mickelson has found all sorts of ways to lose the U.S. Open, but picking family over potential fame is his best finish yet.

Home game. Stricker asked the USGA for a special exemption into the U.S. Open, which will be played about an hour from his home in Madison, Wis., but he didn’t expect the request to be fulfilled.

It wasn’t.

Instead, the 50-year-old U.S. Presidents Cup captain earned his spot the old fashion way, enduring the 36-hole sectional qualifier on Monday in Memphis, Tenn.

Stricker took medalist honors with rounds of 67-65 to secure his 20th career start at the U.S. Open and first since 2014.

“It was a good day. It means a lot. It's been at the forefront of my thinking for a while now. It's kind of a relief I got in on my own terms. I went through qualifying. I'd rather have it that way. I'm glad I did it this way,” Stricker said.

We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but imagine how Cheesehead Nation will respond if Stricker figures out a way to keep the fairytale going next week.

Tweet of the week:

The accompanying photo of Kisner’s caddie Duane Bock next to a new truck speaks volumes about the duo’s relationship. After Kisner’s victory last month at Colonial, Bock had this to say about his boss: “He impresses me every time he tees it up.” It’s really no surprise that Kisner is just as impressive off the course.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Warning label. It hasn’t been a great run for the USGA at the last few U.S. Opens. In ’15, Chambers Bay produced a worthy champion, Jordan Spieth, on a course that was neither user nor spectator friendly; and last year’s penalty involving Dustin Johnson still doesn’t add up to many.

Given the association’s recent history, and an untested venue at Erin Hills, Adam Scott’s not-so-subtle warning was fully warranted.

“Let's just have something that's a challenge and interesting, not just playing brutal,” Scott said last week at the Memorial.

Scott is one of the game’s most measured and respected voices and his take shouldn’t be ignored. While no one at the USGA will confirm that even par is the preferred winning outcome, consider that over the past 11 years, four U.S. Opens have been won with over-par totals.

“Maybe it's time to do away with the even-par target,” Scott said.

Or, maybe it’s time the USGA heeds some unsolicited advice.

Save the date. PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua took to the internet this week to explain the association’s pending decision on whether to move the PGA Championship from August to May.

While Bevacqua was clear that “we have not made a decision” and he added that the PGA is “deep into analysis,” his 3 ½-minute video seems to set the foundation for the move.

Bevacqua explains that the championship would enjoy a stronger TV market in May, and the timing would be beneficial for PGA professionals who are just beginning their seasons and can use the exposure to enhance player development initiatives.

The PGA’s possible move to May appears to have taken on a new urgency in recent weeks, and Bevacqua’s video is only going to feed that notion but he seems to be sidestepping the real issue for the potential move and the entire schedule makeover.

A condensed season, outside of the shadow of football, is good for golf, not just the PGA of America or PGA Tour.

Missed Cut

Mystery theater. Every year the alternate list for next week’s U.S. Open becomes an issue and every year the USGA goes to ground like Jason Bourne.

Alternates for next week’s championship are picked from the sectional qualifying sites, but the USGA doesn’t make the priority list public.

The association does keep players informed of potential changes in order to give them time to make travel plans, but the formula for deciding alternates – which includes how many spots each sectional event was allocated, and the strength of field determined by the world ranking – is a closely guarded secret.

There’s little doubt the formula is complicated, it does include the world ranking, after all, and it would likely mean little to most golf fans; but the non-profit association that’s charged with overseeing the game in the United States should not be in the business of keeping secrets.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.