Pieces of the Puzzle

By Rex HoggardJune 11, 2011, 4:30 am

BETHESDA, Md. – On a cold, rainy May morning Mike Davis and entourage slowly make their way around Congressional’s Blue Course. It is not so much a dry-run for next week’s U.S. Open as it is a familiarization course, not so much an oligarchy as it is a democracy of one.

“Before we leave, everybody good with keeping these bunkers (shaved)?” the U.S. Golf Association’s executive director asks the inner circle as they mull about the teardrop-shaped fourth green. “These bunkers have a lot of slope. There’s no way balls are going to stay on that (edge between bunker and green).”

If Joe Dey, the quintessential USGA executive director from 1934 to ’69, ruled the organization with an iron fist, count Davis’ management style as consensus building with a clear mission.

Although Davis would never admit it, when he followed David Fay into the executive director’s office he did so with the stipulation that he’d be allowed to continue his work as the association’s top set-up man for its most-important event.

“We would be idiots if we extracted Mike from his U.S. Open activities,” USGA president Jim Hyler conceded in March.

And why not continue the status quo? Simply put, Davis has avoided the high-profile set-up gaffes that plagued the organization in recent years at venues like the Olympic Club and Shinnecock Hills, so much so word is the membership at the exclusive Southhampton, N.Y., club is considering a return to the Open rota, possibly as early as 2018.

Besides, it’s not as though Davis seems overwhelmed with the additional duties. “I would almost pay the USGA money to allow me to do this. I love putting this puzzle together,” he says.

At Congressional that puzzle started falling into place not long after Ernie Els emerged as the last man standing at the 1997 U.S. Open, the last time the national championship was played in the shadow of the nation’s capital.

Routing and congestion issues plagued the ’97 championship and the par-3 closing hole offered little by way of excitement, particularly when compared with the 18th hole fireworks at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach in recent years.

Architect Rees Jones calls his handiwork on Congressional’s Blue a “brand new golf course.” Davis is a tad more subdued in his assessment, but then hyperbole is not within the man’s DNA. What is certain is that the layout that awaits this year’s Open field will be vastly different than what Els played in ’97.

The 17th hole, which was parred by just one contender (Els) on Sunday in ’97, has been lengthened (490 yards) and made the 18th hole, while the former par-3 finisher has been reversed and dubbed the 10th hole.

But the most dramatic difference, at least for Davis, will be the sixth hole, which in ’97 and when the AT&T National was played at Congressional from 2007-’09 was played as a par 4. For the first time in 110 attempts the USGA will add to par at a U.S. Open venue (71), playing Congressional’s sixth as a risk/reward par 5.

As Davis scribbles notes and wipes rain from the bill of his hat, he’s asked exactly what distance defines a “risk/reward” par 5.

“Whatever it takes,” he says simply. “I’m going to keep moving up the tee until the majority of the field tries to reach the green in two (shots). We had the back tees at Torrey Pines’ par-5 18th (for the 2008 U.S. Open) but we never used them.”

Perhaps it’s an utter lack of ego, an aversion to numbers, be it a perceived fascination with par or the 500-yard par 4, or a single-digit handicap that gives Davis a player’s perspective; whatever the “why,” the “what” has been a collection of U.S. Open venues that have largely been filed in the “tough but fair” folder.

On a spring day that felt more like fall just outside the “Inner Loop,” the thought occurs that it may be a management style, not the man, that has so deftly traversed the razor’s edge between solid test and simply unplayable.

With nothing but well-worn Gore-Tex standing between himself and the elements, Davis, Hyler and USGA executive committee member Tom O’Toole cover Congressional’s front nine. The mission on this day is to tentatively earmark five pin positions on each green (one for each round and a possible 18-hole playoff), check grass heights and, on rare occasions, suggest more intense maintenance, like at the par-4 fourth hole.

“We’re going to use this back tee for three days, but for on one day I thought about using the far right portion of (a forward) tee to really force them to make a choice,” Davis says. “They can hit it beyond the bend but there’s not a lot of fairway so they have to make a choice. Can you take off a little part of this limb so we can keep the tee markers as far right as we can?”

The U.S. Open has long been considered the street brawl of the Grand Slam game, a triathlon that rewards stamina almost as much as skill. Davis, however, seems more interested in multiple-choice exams.

Shaved banks promise to bring the Blue’s litany of bunkers more into play, a common theme during May’s walk-through and likely to be a hot topic among players during championship week.

“In ’97 you almost had to hit it in one on the fly to get in there. Now if you’re not careful your ball will roll in there which is what we want,” Davis says.

With green speeds expected to approach 14 ½ on the Stimpmeter during the championship, Davis’ best, and most demanding, work may come on Congressional’s putting surfaces.

The club, at the USGA’s suggestion, had Jones soften some of the slopes like on the fourth green to accommodate such speeds and Davis examines each possible location with the eye of a player, as well as an administrator.

Yet for all his success as set-up man, Davis knows the blue blazer comes with a bull's-eye. One bad weather forecast or a single pin position too close to the edge can mean the difference between a successful Open and something less than that.

“You get a green 14 ½ (on the Stimpmeter) trying to lag to that, you’re going 6-7 feet past,” Davis says as he studies a potential hole location on the fourth green. “That’s pretty good.”

If Davis has been predictable during his tenure as set-up man it has been with his desire to err, if at all, on the side of the player. Since taking over for Tom Meeks in 2006, Open champions have finished at 5 over, 5 over, 1 under, 4 under and even par, an eclectic collection of totals that perhaps best defines Davis.

“When you set up a golf course, or at least when I do, I'm not even thinking about a total yardage,” he reasons. “I'm really looking at each hole for what it is, and you really start with the putting green and its complex and work backwards. Is this a green that was designed to have a 3-iron come into it or is it better with a pitching wedge or 9-iron?”

For Davis, a big picture guy shrouded in an accountant’s body, it’s not about par or length so much as it is results. Scorecards don’t make good championships, players do.

As he eyes a final pin position on the sixth green, rain still falling and darkness closing in, Davis finally gives into the elements, “Perfect,” he allows. The hole location, and so far the set-up man.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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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.