Cut Line: USGA's grand experiment at Pinehurst a success

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2014, 8:40 pm

After a favorable fortnight in the Sandhills of North Carolina, the USGA’s gamble to play consecutive championships on the No. 2 course has proven to be a major success and leads off this edition of a Pinehurst Cut Line.

Made Cut

Let’s play two. There was no small amount of concern in the run up to the USGA’s grand experiment at Pinehurst the last two weeks.

The storied No. 2 course would be pronounced DOA following last week’s U.S. Open and the field for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open would be left with the wilted remains, is how the handwringing went.

But the USGA crowned a worthy champion last Sunday, a German on a mission it turns out, and didn’t kill all the grass along the way.

Response from the players at the Women’s Open through one round has been favorable, and the added exposure this week’s championship received is immeasurable.

“It's a lot better than I thought it was going to be. I can tell you that,” Stacy Lewis said earlier this week. “When I came here three weeks ago and played, and once I saw the golf course, I became more comfortable with this whole idea and knew that it wouldn't be bad.”

A favorable forecast the last two weeks allowed officials to keep the No. 2 course just this side of the living dead, but it’s the USGA that took the gamble and deserve the credit.

German engineering. When Martin Kaymer climbed to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking in 2011 he wasn’t sure if he had the complete game to stay there.

Even at the Ryder Cup in 2012, the German was not the most confident player in the European team’s locker room, although he would go on to hole the winning putt at Medinah.

Since then Kaymer has refined and expanded his game on his way to a pair of high-profile titles in his last four starts (the U.S. Open and The Players).

This time the climb to the top has been much more enjoyable for Kaymer, because he knows he has the game to stay there.

Tweet of the week: @ErikCompton3 “#Pinehurst fans I have never felt so much energy. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the support. It kept me going. #USOpen”

Think I can speak for the Twitter-verse here – thank you, Erik.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

So far, so good. The PGA Tour unveiled the fall portion of the 2014-15 schedule this week with few surprises.

The Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Miss., which was last played in July opposite last year’s Open Championship, will move to early November and will now be played opposite the WGC-HSBC Champions.

The Tour, however, still has not addressed the 2015 portion of next season’s schedule, specifically where, or if, the WGC-Match Play Championship will be played.

Accenture dropped its sponsorship of the event this year and the talk on Tour is that the event is poised to move to a new venue. But an early draft of next year’s schedule shows that there are no open dates on the calendar until after The Players in May.

Tour events come and go with little concern, but losing a high-profile event like the Match Play would cause many players to sit up and take notice.

Age limits. Give Stacy Lewis credit for saying what many around the game were thinking, an 11-year-old playing the national championship may not be the best recipe for success.

Earlier this week Lewis was asked about Lucy Li, 11, who is the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. The normally outspoken veteran didn’t hold back.

“I'm not a big fan of it,” Lewis said. “She qualified, so we can't say anything about that. You qualify for an Open, it's a great thing. I just like to see kids be successful at every level before they come out here. I would like to maybe see her play some U.S. Ams, play the Pub Links and get into match play, where you have some experience. I just like to see kids learn how to win before they come get beat up out here.”

Lewis later went on to clarify her remarks and Li’s presence, if not her game, has been applauded by many, but that doesn’t make Lewis’ initial take on the issue, not the player, any less valid.

The Opens are the game’s most democratic championships, but as the game continues to trend younger USGA officials need to be aware that there will be a point of diminishing returns in the not-so-distant future.

Missed Cut

Trumped. Donald Trump wasn’t alone in his assessment of Pinehurst No. 2 last week, it’s just that whether we like it or not “The Don’s” voice carries a long distance in golf circles these days.

Trump took to Twitter to voice his displeasure with the appearance of the No. 2 course during last week’s U.S. Open.

“The only reason I am critical of the Pinehurst look is because I’m a lover of golf, and that look on TV hurts golf badly,” Trump tweeted on Monday, followed by a second tweet on Wednesday, “I was right. TV ratings for (the) U.S. Open are way down from last year. People don’t want to look at a burned out, ugly course.”

Never mind that the brown and scruffy look was exactly what the USGA and architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore were going for with their minimalist redesign.

Officials are trying to sell the idea that “brown is the new green” in golf course design for a number of reasons – including water conservation and reduced maintenance costs – and it doesn’t help when Trump, who currently hosts a Tour event at his property in Doral and is scheduled to host the 2022 PGA Championship at another one of his courses, weighs in with a wildly uneducated opinion.

Trump is a man of many talents and even more jobs, but when it comes to being golf’s unofficial spokesperson we have a simple message for him – you’re fired.

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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.