Latest Doral redesign looks to lessen power advantage

By Rex HoggardMarch 1, 2016, 8:01 pm

DORAL, Fla. – Early Tuesday morning, Billy Horschel gazed down the first hole at Doral’s Blue Monster and pondered the question.

“I’ll let you know,” he smiled.

Judging the relative fairness of any golf course is difficult because, as any golf course designer will explain, not everyone loves vanilla ice cream. But when it comes to Doral and the dramatic nip/tucks the iconic South Florida layout has undergone in recent years, there is never an easy answer.

Consider that after last year’s WGC-Cadillac Championship there was plenty of debate, much of it heated, among the PGA Tour frat brothers that the Gil Hanse redesign had created a “bomber’s only” ballpark that left mid-length and short hitters few, if any, chances to contend.

“I was pretty close to the max last year,” said Kevin Na, who tied for ninth place at Doral in 2015. “You can always play better, but my goal for the beginning of the week was to shoot even par and I shot 1 under. I did pretty well.”

In this, the proof is in the numbers.

Last year, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the leaderboard – Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson – also ranked third, second and first, respectively, in driving distance for the week.

While there is rarely a shortage of opinions when it comes to Tour types, it’s not always the most constructive dialogue,

“Every year we get feedback from players, some negative and some positive,” Hanse said.

The difference this time was that a week after the 2015 Cadillac Brandt Snedeker sat down with a Tour official to address some of his concerns regarding Doral.

“I felt bad for Gil because he was getting criticized for the redesign, and just said, ‘Here’s the objective view of what I’m seeing and why guys are upset,’” Snedeker said. “Just so it’s more playable and fair for guys who hit it my length. There were times when I was hitting into a fairway that was 12 yards wide, while some of the longer guys are hitting into fairways that were 35 yards wide.

“I understand that length is an advantage but it shouldn’t be a determining factor to the golf tournament, and it seemed like last year length was the overriding factor on who was going to win.”

To be clear, neither Snedeker nor Na are “short” hitters, even by exaggerated Tour standards. Snedeker ranks 57th this year in driving distance (295 yards average) and Na has a 283-yard average this year off the tee. In other words, this isn’t the bottom 10 percent making noise.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for everyone involved, be they long or short off the tee, is that the Tour, along with Doral owner Donald Trump, listened.

“I thought [Snedeker’s] comments were well thought out and insightful. You are always going to get players who are going to vent, but both [Snedeker and Ryan Moore] took the time to analyze the golf course,” Hanse said. “Through the history of the game the longer hitters have always had an advantage, but you’d like to think every class of player would be able to succeed on a particular course.”

All total, six holes at Doral have been tinkered with to varying degrees since last year’s championship, with the most dramatic change coming at the par-4 seventh hole where Hanse and Co. removed a fairway bunker down the right side.

“Looking at ShotLink it was obvious the longer hitters weren’t even thinking about that bunker and the preferred angle is down the right side and now we’ve given everybody a chance to use that angle,” Hanse said.

Another example of this year’s changes was at the par-5 12th hole, where a bunker down the left side of the landing area was pushed some 50 yards down the fairway to bring it into play for even the longest hitters.

Similar adjustments were made at the second, sixth, 14th and 17th holes, and Hanse said Trump was “well onboard” with the changes.

“What resonated for us was some of the average length players felt there was kind of a premium placed on power,” Hanse said.

Officials also plan to use the “back” tee at the first hole this week, which was available last year but never used. At 605 yards (it played 590 yards last year) the goal is to dictate that the first is a three-shot hole.

Think of it as addition by addition.

The first became a talking point last year when J.B. Holmes, who led after each of the first three rounds, hit his second shot on Friday onto the green but his golf ball released into a water hazard.

“That was one of the more controversial aspects last year,” Hanse said. "The thought was to build a green that was receptive to a wedge and turn it into a three-shot hole.”

Whether Hanse’s changes and the Tour’s decision to play the first from the “tips” creates a more diverse leaderboard this year at Doral remains to be seen, but at least it creates an opportunity for those closer to the middle of the pack in driving distance.

“[No.] 12 is a good example,” Snedeker said. “There were two fairway bunkers there and they were ‘pitch out’ bunkers, and for the long guys they weren’t in play at all, where some of the guys like myself if you hit in there you’re hitting a sand wedge out and a 6-iron on the green. It makes guys think a little more and be more strategic.”

As this episode proved, thinking about problems, and possible solutions, is much more productive than yelling about them.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “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.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.