More to 2014 U.S. Open than just Phil and Pinehurst

By Rex HoggardJune 11, 2014, 6:10 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – Phil Mickelson and Pinehurst.

Pinehurst and Phil Mickelson.

After weeks of chatter that’s what the 114th U.S. Open has come down to – a 43-year-old trying to pen a memorable final chapter and an iconic course that has turned back the clock for all the right reasons.

Ever since Lefty hoisted the claret jug on a similarly brownish layout last July at Muirfield the talk, much of it born from his own admissions, has fixated on Mickelson completing the career Grand Slam at Pinehurst, the site of his first national heartbreak back in 1999.

“The thing for me is that I look at those close calls as positive signs for having given myself so many opportunities in our national championship,” said Mickelson, a six-time runner-up at the U.S. Open. “I believe that I’ll have more opportunities.”

Perhaps. Maybe this will be Phil’s week where the missed opportunities from Merion to Winged Foot are washed away, but there is no sugar coating the fact that along with the pressures of completing the career Grand Slam Mickelson will also be dealing with a balky putter (he switched to a modified claw grip … this week) and an ongoing federal investigation over possible insider trading.

Nothing spices up a post-round interview like federal agents looming to ask uncomfortable questions.

Which leaves Pinehurst, which has been left scruffy and brown by Mother Nature and architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore’s handiwork.


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While player reaction has been mixed this week regarding the new-look No. 2, there is an undercurrent of concern among the rank and file.

“Kind of looks like Shinnecock (Hills),” figured one player as he glanced over the scorched landscape on Wednesday.

And we all know how that turned out (see U.S. Open, 2004).

Yet for all the fixation on Mickelson and the venue, the reality is only once in the last 20 years have either of those elements emerged as the ultimate Sunday storyline – in 2006 when Mickelson sliced his title chances into corporate tents and ’04 when the U.S. Golf Association did the same with its setup of Shinnecock Hills.

History strongly suggests the final headline will have nothing to do with either the course or Mickelson. It’s not as though either story isn’t compelling; it’s just that among the 155 other options there are too many Plan B’s to ignore.

Consider Rory McIlroy, this week’s betting favorite, hasn’t finished outside the top 25 on the PGA Tour this season and won the European Tour’s flagship event three weeks with a commanding final round.

The Northern Irishman is also showing the same overpowering precision off the tee that he enjoyed when he lapped the field at the 2011 U.S. Open by eight strokes.

“He is in a really, really good spot,” said Dave Stockton Sr., McIlroy’s putting coach. “He’s worked harder on his game now than maybe ever. He’s focused on his golf.”

In a twist of fate, however, few within the golf world are focused on him this week.

The same could be said for Adam Scott, perhaps the most under-the-radar world No. 1 coming into a major championship.

Never mind that after assuming the world’s top spot from his couch last month he’s won (Crowne Plaza Invitational) and finished tied for fourth (Memorial Tournament).

Never mind that the Australian ranks among the top 5 on Tour this season in ball-striking, total driving, scoring and birdie average, all areas that would seem to play well on No. 2.

To put Scott’s obscurity in context, during his news conference on Wednesday morning he was asked seven questions. By comparison, Mickelson’s media Q&A on Tuesday included 20 questions.

The week has seen similar scenarios across the tee sheet.

From Jason Day, perhaps the hottest player in golf this year until he landed on the DL with an ailing thumb after winning the WGC-Match Play Championship, to Matt Kuchar, who would top many lists for the most likely player to join the major championship club this week, and Henrik Stenson, the world’s second-ranked player who wasn’t even asked to endure a news conference.

For all the hyperbole over Mickelson and Pinehurst, it seems much more likely it will be a “non-story” who steals the spotlight when play begins on Thursday just before 7 a.m. ET.

Someone like Nicolas Colsaerts, who opened with a 69 last year at Merion and tied for 10th, or Michael Thompson, who was the surprise first-round leader two years ago at The Olympic Club.

And what of Mother Nature, the ultimate harbinger of how things transpire at any golf tournament?

The forecast for rain chances varies between 50 percent (Thursday) to 30 percent (Saturday), but as USGA executive director Mike Davis pointed out on Wednesday the forecast has been the same for days with virtually no relief for the parched golf course.

The event would seem to have a Benjamin Button feel to it with the course evolving in the opposite direction from most major championships.

Normally these Grand Slam soirees become increasingly more difficult, but as a result of the forecast and the realities of next week’s U.S. Women’s Open, which will be played on the No. 2 course, officials may have to dial things back as the tournament progresses.

The ever-present alternative is a golf course that can so easily lapse over the line between fair and impossibly frustrating.

“When you are watching well-executed shots being penalized, we never want that,” Davis said. “Having said that, when you get the world’s best players, and we’re trying to set it up in this manner it’s probably easier to cross the line.”

The only certainty, however, is that the final line won’t likely be about the course or Mickelson – despite the pre-tournament hype. The national championship has a tendency to dig much deeper for it’s storylines.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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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.