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.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm