Erin Hills: Enticing, but deadly

By Rex HoggardJune 12, 2017, 10:20 pm

ERIN, Wis. – Early Monday at Erin Hills, Wesley Bryan joined Jon Rahm for a practice round. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the Spaniard marched back to the ridiculously long course’s back tees.

“We played it all the way back and it’s freakin’ long, there’s no ifs, ands or buts about that,” Bryan said.

At 7,741 yards, Erin Hills is what everybody thought it was – a sprawling layout that, depending on how the course is set up, will be the longest in championship history. But then it will also be the first course played as a par 72 to host the U.S. Open since Pebble Beach in 1992, which if first impressions are relevant is all part of the dichotomy of the 117th edition.

On one hand, Erin Hills will play more than 1,000 yards longer than The Olympic Club (6,714 yards) did when it hosted the 1987 championship, but if player feedback on Monday afternoon was any indication those kinds of comparisons are somewhat misleading.

“The fairways are a little wider than typical U.S. Opens, but we’re saying that now. Thursday morning we won’t be saying the same thing,” Brandt Snedeker predicted. “And that being said, it’s probably the most penal rough I’ve seen. If you get outside a fairway here you are not going to find [your golf ball].

“It will be an interesting combo, where driving accuracy is maybe less important to some but the foul ball will be penalized more.”

Keeping with recent history, the USGA will use a version of graduated rough that’s about four paces off the fairway before reaching the fescue, which by all accounts is where good rounds will go to die.

“That rough is un-findable in some places, un-hittable in many places. If you do try to hit out of there it’s going to create some massive, massive numbers,” Snedeker said.

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Although some of the landing areas are nearly 50 yards wide, the penalty for an extremely errant tee shot will be severe, so much so, the notion that Erin Hills is little more than a bomber’s paradise may not be entirely correct.

During his practice round with Rahm on Monday, for example, Byran – who made a scouting trip to Erin Hills after the Dean & DeLuca Invitational last month – noticed that although the Spaniard enjoyed an advantage off the tee it was somewhat mitigated by both the looming rough and green complexes that encourage the use of slopes and mounds to access certain hole locations.

“There’s opportunities to get the ball, not necessarily close to the hole, but you can move it around some slopes, but it’s definitely an advantage hitting 8- or 7-iron into these greens where I’m going to be having a 4- and 5-iron at times,” Bryan said. “I think it’s more important to miss on the right side of the green than to bomb it off the tee.”

To prove the point, when asked how he was preparing to play from Erin Hills’ deep stuff, Rahm’s response was equal parts inspiring and insightful.

“I didn't step in it. I'm like there's no need to injure my wrist this week before I tee off,” he said. “It really looks very penalizing. Unless you get extremely lucky where you might be able to move it 120 yards, it looks like a 30-yard chip out to the fairway. . . . It wouldn't surprise me if someone loses a ball and has to take an unplayable.”

Erin Hills appears to be more than simply the sum of its shin-high fescue or the yardage on the card. Asked which holes could be pivotal this week, most players and caddies referenced the par-4 second, the shortest par 4 on the course that can play between 338 and 361 yards, and the par-3 ninth, which is dramatically downhill and just 135 yards.

At the second hole players will face a “blind” tee shot to a ridge followed by an approach to a narrow green with dramatic run-off areas to the left and behind the putting surface. The ninth could be even more challenging to a green that tilts from front to back.

But then the U.S. Open is always billed as the toughest test in golf whether it’s played at a first-time venue or one of the more historic stops. Winning the U.S. Open is never easy, and this year’s event will be no different.

“Golf at the U.S. Open has always been a bit harder than at The Open or any of the other ones,” Henrik Stenson said. “We know Augusta has got the challenges, and The Open, you've got the weather. The U.S. Open you normally play on golf courses that are tricked up just to the limits, sometimes over the limits and sometimes just underneath. So it's certainly a tiring week. But it's all worth it if you stand there with the trophy on Sunday.”

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook sank a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without making a bogey on the Plantation Course or the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

Cook was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back.

Bubba (64) fires his lowest round of 2017

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:12 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Bubba Watson’s plan when he left the Dell Technologies Championship in September was to take a few months off and come back fresh in 2018

Those plans changed after a few weeks.

“What we figured out was the mental side, preparing for kindergarten - not for me, for my son - preparing for [wife] Angie's knee surgery. It's been a tough go,” Watson said.

“Being home and being with the family and everything, I realized how much I missed the game of golf, and that's why I wanted to come and play in these tournaments.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

The plan has paid off this week at the RSM Classic, where Watson is tied for 12th place after a second-round 64 on the Seaside course moved him to 7 under par.

Watson, who tied for 51st two weeks ago in Las Vegas, got off to a quick start on Day 2, playing the opening nine in 29. Despite a miscue at the 14th hole, when his tee shot wedged into a tree, he was solid coming in for his best individual round this year.

The left-hander was particularly sharp with his ball-striking after what has been a difficult year.

“I want to play golf now and right now I'm swinging at it pretty nicely,” he said.

S.H. Park (65) builds three-shot lead at LPGA finale

By Doug FergusonNovember 17, 2017, 9:58 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Golf felt so easy to Sung Hyun Park that only when she took out her card to catch up on her scores did she realize she had closed out the front nine with five straight birdies at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Park kept right on attacking.

The 24-year-old from South Korea added a 30-foot eagle putt late in her second round and finished with a 7-under 65, giving her a three-shot lead going into the weekend at Tiburon Golf Club.

Nothing seems to bother her, even the chance to cap off an amazing rookie season by sweeping all the big awards on the LPGA Tour.

''To be honest, I don't feel quite as nervous as I thought I would,'' Park said through an interpreter. ''After the first shot, after the first hole, I felt a lot more comfortable. I'm not feeling as nervous as I thought I might be going into today.''

Leave that to the players chasing her.

Even with a three-putt bogey on the final hole, Park was at 12-under 132 and was three shots clear of Caroline Masson (66) and Sarah Jane Smith (69).

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

More importantly, none of the other players in the chase for the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus or any other big award was within five shots of Park, who is trying to become the first rookie since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to win LPGA player of the year.

Lexi Thompson, who leads the Race to the CME Globe and the Vare Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average, shot a 67 and wound up losing ground. She was six shots behind and must stay within 10 shots of Park to win the Vare.

So Yeon Ryu, who leads the points-based award for player of the year, managed a 71 with her sore right shoulder but was 11 shots back.

The other two players who need to win the tournament to collect the $1 million bonus also had their work cut out for them. Brooke Henderson had another 70 and was eight shots behind, while world No. 1 Shanshan Feng shot 73 and was 11 shots behind.

Park was in control, only she didn't see it that way.

''I don't think it's quite that far of a lead,'' Park said. ''Two, three shots of a lead can change at any moment. We will have to see what's in store for this weekend.''

Park began her big run with an 18-foot birdie on No. 5, got up-and-down for birdie from just off the green at the par-5 sixth, holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7, and then closed out the front nine with birdie putts from 8 feet and 15 feet.

''I actually didn't know that I was going five birdies in a row,'' Park said. ''Come hole No. 10, I realized that I hadn't been jotting down my scores as diligently, and so I realized it a little bit later on. And it felt great.''

That gave her the lead by one shot over Suzann Pettersen, except that Pettersen faded badly on the back nine.

Pettersen dropped four shots in a three-hole stretch by getting out of position off the tee and she shot 39 on the back nine for a 70 to fall five shots behind.

''I feel like I'm playing good,'' Pettersen said. ''Three bad drives on the back nine cost me four shots. That should not be possible on this course, where the fairways are about 100 yards wide.''

Park was honored at an awards banquet Thursday night as the LPGA rookie of the year. Now, she has more awards in her sights. A victory would give her the award for player of the year. She would capture the money title, which she leads over Ryu. And depending on how the weekend goes, she might be able to surpass Thompson in the race for the Vare Trophy.

Thompson did well to recover from two bogeys on her opening three holes.

''I hit a few really erratic shots in the beginning. It wasn't a good start to the round,'' Thompson said. ''Just tried to stay positive and find something that could work for the last 14, 15 holes.''

Lydia Ko fell six shots behind in her bid to avoid a winless season. She was one shot behind going into the second round but managed only three birdies in her round of 71.

Park, meanwhile, had everything going her way. Even when she pulled her drive on the par-5 14th into a sandy area with a root next to her ball, she picked it clear and sent it through a goal post of trees back to the fairway. Three holes later, she blasted a drive and had only a 7-iron into the green at the par-5 17th, which she hit to 30 feet and made the long putt.

Does anything make her nervous?

''I hate spiders,'' she said. ''But in terms of golf, I always get nervous to this day on the first tee. I can feel my heart pounding.''

It's a feeling that doesn't appear to last very long.