Latest USGA quandary: Fuming over fescue

By Rex HoggardJune 13, 2017, 8:00 pm

ERIN, Wis. – A warning sign was posted at Erin Hills for this week’s U.S. Open: Please keep track of small children, dogs and errant golf shots when entering the rough.

Actually, that would have been a welcome bit of levity given the seriousness of recent U.S. Opens, but then we all know the USGA really doesn’t do funny and when players arrived for this week’s championship not many were laughing.

Although no one has been lost to the wilds of the shin-high fescue rough, the deep stuff has led to a few lost tempers.

Kevin Na was first up, posting a video on social media that included two mighty hacks into the fescue that were only able to advance his golf ball about a foot.

“Now, why can’t we have a lot of past U.S. Open winners get together and set up a major. I’d like to see that happen,” Na said.

Na wasn’t alone in his consternation.

“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,” Brandt Snedeker figured.

At least part of that reaction wasn’t so much a byproduct of the long rough, and ridiculously long golf course, as much as it was a short fuse when it comes to the players’ attitudes toward the USGA. After less-than-stellar greens at Chambers Bay and a less-than-timely ruling at Oakmont marred the last two U.S. Opens, any semblance of a benefit of the doubt is in short supply.

Given the association’s recent history, maybe it should have been no surprise that as the rains relented on Tuesday maintenance crews descended on Erin Hills and began cutting portions of the fescue.

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A USGA spokesman said Tuesday’s maintenance had “nothing to do with reaction from players.”

During a maintenance meeting on Monday afternoon officials addressed how certain types of fescue have a tendency to lay flat when it rains or when the wind blows. As a result, crews “trimmed” portions of the fescue rough on Nos. 4, 12, 14 and 18.

Either way, players didn’t really care why officials had taken such drastic steps as much as they were curious how much of the fescue had been turned to hay.

“It’s extreme, even if it is 50 yards apart,” Adam Scott said. “It will be interesting to see, but I don’t know how big a difference it will make on the next shot. I don’t know if they cut it short enough that guys can advance it 150 yards or 30 or 200 [yards], but it’s probably nice not to see us trudging through and losing balls as often as you would in the longer grass.”

Not everyone cheered the move, particularly considering that Erin Hills’ fairways are the widest many players have ever seen at a U.S. Open.

“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,” Rory McIlroy said. “These are the widest fairways we've ever played in a U.S. Open. Even the first and second cut is another 10 yards on top of that. So if you've got 50 or 60 yards to hit into and you're complaining about the fescue that's wider than that, I don't think that's an issue.”

Either way, it’s easy to imagine Phil Mickelson sitting at home in sunny Southern California thinking he could do without any type of delays on Thursday at Erin Hills, otherwise he’ll be inclined to jet out for his afternoon tee time on a layout that’s already being picked apart despite never having hosted a single major championship round.

Fescue may be the issue du jour – and as Scott pointed out it seems unlikely the USGA’s 11th hour changes will have much impact on play unless the ground crews can manufacture a few more acres of manicured fairway before Round 1 – but what’s important to point out is that this is a symptom, not the ailment.

The USGA has become the game’s most polarizing organization. Some questioned Tuesday’s nip/tuck as more than simply a “prescribed plan based on weather,” as the association’s spokesman explained. They contend the “trimming” was an attempt to quiet the crowd at an event that desperately needs to avoid another major miscue.

Whether that’s the case really didn’t matter. Not on Tuesday as news of the cutting was met with a mixture of eye rolls and raised eyebrows. It’s not that players didn’t believe the official statement, but they’ve become conditioned to think the worse when it comes to the USGA.

Whether it’s been poor putting surfaces at Chambers Bay or the decision to ban anchored putting, the USGA has become a lightning rod for all the wrong reasons and this week’s early headlines only feed that persona.

Maybe the 117th edition will be the championship officials envisioned when they ventured into Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine to an untested layout. Maybe on Sunday the trimming will seem like a distant memory. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with Erin Hills that four rounds of major championship golf and a world-class field can’t fix.

Maybe the USGA will be rewarded with a stress-free championship they so desperately need, but there’s no denying that this week’s event is not off to a good start.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."