Erin Hills already playing mind games on players

By Rex HoggardJune 14, 2017, 7:17 pm

ERIN, Wis. – However you slice it, Erin Hills is a sprawling ballpark. Think the Coors Field of golf, with four par 5s that measure over 600 yards, four par 4s over 500 yards and a total tab that stretches 23,400 feet from the back tees.

Intimidating, interminable, immense, whatever qualifier you choose seems to fit this year’s Midwest stopover, and the seemingly impromptu yard work by the maintenance staff on Tuesday only crystalized the notion that the USGA is already in damage control mode.

Officials said trimming portions of Erin Hill’s fescue wasn’t a byproduct of player complaints. Instead it was, essentially, a move to make the layout more playable less than 48 hours before the first tee shot is hit.

But for all the tales of woe and the increasingly clever chatter on social media, it won’t be the “miscue with the fescue” that will ultimately define this championship or any other agronomic issue (see Bay, Chambers 2015).

It’s all a shell game, sleight of hand stuff to draw the players’ attention. If the field is worried about the length of the fescue on the fourth hole they aren’t paying attention to the man behind the curtain.

U.S. Open: Tee times | Full coverage

The same could be said of those ridiculous numbers on the Erin Hills scorecard.

One caddie explained this week that it took him more than 30,000 steps to round Erin Hills during a practice round, but ultimately it won’t be the physical toll players will need to overcome so much as it will be the championship’s unique mental challenges.

The consensus is the layout won’t play nearly as long as advertised thanks to rolling hills and fairways that run as fast as you typical green at a municipal track; but for those sitting around thinking about the next 72 holes it certainly leaves an impression.

“It's always a physical test. It's a big golf course. It's a tough one to walk. The rough is always thick. You're just putting more effort into each round. But then most of all it tests the mental game more than any other place in golf,” Jordan Spieth said. “If you came for a stress-free tournament you didn't come to the right place.”

You could argue that some in the 156-player field have already fallen victim to these mind games, but then acres of swaying fescue can do that to even the world’s best players.

Asked on Tuesday his reaction to the USGA’s decision to tidy up some of the deep stuff, Rory McIlroy made no attempt to hide his displeasure.

“We have 60 yards from rough line to rough line. You've got 156 of the best players in the world here, if we can't hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home,” McIlroy said.

Nothing brings out tough love like a U.S. Open.

While the Northern Irishman’s take may be a little harsh for some, it’s also a shining example of the mental impact of playing a U.S. Open. You don’t have to hit into the fescue to be impacted by the stuff, you just need to know it’s there.

The U.S. Open is as much a mind game as it is marathon. Look no further than the par-3 ninth, the shortest hole on the course at 135 yards, to prove the point. It should be no more than a wedge for most in the field, but the USGA blocked off seven different tee boxes they could use on the hole on any given day.

It’s all part of the competitive curveball that makes up the U.S. Open mystique, a test of a player’s mental ability every bit as a much as their mettle. It’s by design.

“I talked to Jack Nicklaus quite a few times about this, but to hear Jack talk about coming to a U.S. Open, he loved it, absolutely loved it when players would be chirping about things he'd say that player is done, that player is done, and in most cases he was right,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s chief executive officer. “You have to come into this test of golf, whether it's this week or the Women's Open or the U.S. Girls Junior, you've got to come in with a certain mindset. And you know we're going to test you.”

The USGA may have started to gravitate away from the notion that the U.S. Open is “the game’s toughest test,” to the less intimidating tagline of being “the game’s ultimate test,” but a mental test by any other name is still a mental test.

Davis & Co. have become experts at pushing the envelope and beyond. Look no further than the 2015 edition as an example of the latter when Chambers Bay’s greens ventured too close to the edge, and the field spent the week putting across and around patches of dirt.

There are no immediate indications the USGA is dancing too close to the sun this week. In fact, Tuesday’s grooming of the rough is an example of the association’s desire to err on the side of caution, but it will do nothing to change the mental dynamic that is such an overriding, if not rarely addressed, aspect of this championship.

“Everyone has a breaking point and a limit or threshold that they'll actually reach,” Jason Day figured this week. “They'll go, 'OK, do I actually want to push it even more or do I have enough in the tank?'

“Those moments are the moments when you learn the most about yourself, whether you can actually push more than you've ever pushed before in your life.”

Those are the moments that make the U.S. Open unique among the game’s Grand Slam stops – a 72-hole SAT without equal. Everything else – the ridiculous length of the course or acres of fescue waiting to be turned to hay – is simply a distraction, a way to identify not only this week’s best player, but the mentally strongest as well.

Rahm, Koepka both jump in OWGR after wins

By Will GrayNovember 20, 2017, 1:19 pm

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka both made moves inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings following wins in Dubai and Japan, respectively.

Rahm captured the European Tour season finale, winning the DP World Tour Championship by a shot. It was his third worldwide victory of 2017 and it allowed the Spaniard to overtake Hideki Matsuyama at world No. 4. It also establishes a new career high in the rankings for Rahm, who started the year ranked No. 137.

Koepka cruised to a nine-shot victory while successfully defending his title at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix. The victory was his first since winning the U.S. Open and it helped Koepka jump three spots to No. 7 in the latest rankings. Reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele, who finished second behind Koepka in Japan, went from 30th to 24th.

After earning his maiden PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic, Austin Cook vaulted from No. 302 to No. 144 in the world. Runner-up J.J. Spaun jumped 48 spots to No. 116, while a hole-out with his final approach helped Brian Gay rise 73 spots to No. 191 after finishing alone in third at Sea Island.

Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas with Rahm and Matsuyama now rounding out the top five. Justin Rose remains at No. 6, followed by Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson. Rory McIlroy slid two spots to No. 10 and is now in danger of falling out of the top 10 for the first time since May 2014.

With his return to competition now less than two weeks away, Tiger Woods fell four more spots to No. 1193 in the latest rankings.

Love to undergo hip replacement surgery

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 1:08 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.

Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

“I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.

Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.

“Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.

Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.

CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.

LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.

Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

How did she evaluate her season?

“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”