Pinehurst No. 2 presents unique U.S. Open test

By Rex HoggardJune 10, 2014, 8:17 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – Bubba Watson compared the new and improved No. 2 course at Pinehurst to the rough-around-edges layout he grew up playing in Florida’s Panhandle. Chris Kirk figured the nip/tucked Donald Ross gem more resembled a linksland layout.

“Except around the greens,” Kirk hedged.

To be fair, most players walked off Pinehurst on Tuesday not exactly sure what that was.

The layout’s makeover is all at once sweeping and subtle.

From the tee, players at this week’s U.S. Open will be greeted with vastly different visuals since the last time the national championship was played here in North Carolina’s sandhills.

Ubiquitous native areas dotted with love grass have replaced the acres of thick rough that ringed the fairways in 2005 and 1999, and a particularly hot and dry spring has resulted in hard, firm fairways baked to a golden brown.

It is one of the most unique Open venues in modern history, which was exactly what Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore hoped to create when they were tasked with restoring the storied layout to Ross’ original condition in 2010.

Crenshaw, Coore and those pulling the strings at Pinehurst say Ross would be pleased with the result.

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As for the 156 players tasked with solving the Scot’s refurbished riddle, the jury is still out.

“Native areas – it's funny, me, Boo Weekley, Heath Slocum, we grew up at a golf course called Tanglewood in Milton, Fla.,” Watson said on Tuesday. “Looks like the same golf course I grew up on – a lot of pine trees, sand everywhere – we don't call it ‘natural area’ we call it … not very good conditions where I grew up. So I'm used to hitting out of sand and hardpan with, again, we call it weeds where I grew up.”

Whether the changes translate to a memorable Open remains to be seen, but the new-look layout has certainly left a mark on many in this week’s championship.

“I thought it was really cool how unique it was,” Kirk said. “They found a way to make it look completely different than any other course we play. Now, ask me again in six days and see if I still think it’s cool.”

Whatever one’s perspective – be it weeds or love grass, native areas or scrub, unique or overcooked – the essence and exam of Pinehurst remains the same. The turtlebacked greens remained virtually unchanged during the makeover and are still No. 2’s primary defense.

Those swales and hollows have been magnified by the dry conditions so far this week, but that could change with the forecast which calls for an increased chance for showers on Thursday.

But for two practice days it has been the perfect storm for the USGA and Pinehurst.

“It’s glassy and that’s what Pinehurst should be. It makes it that much more interesting and elusive,” Crenshaw said. “The international players really like it because I think it reminds them of maybe Australia a little bit, some of the British (Open) courses. It’s kind of a neat mix.”

But then one man’s pristine can easily turn into another’s punishment when the line is as thin as it will be this week, particularly with next week’s U.S. Women’s Open looming.

“Firm and dry,” one caddie said when asked about the course conditions. When pressed if he thought the layout was fair he figured, “So far . . . yes.”

It’s been some time since the USGA overcooked an Open venue, although some will contend last year’s championship at Merion was dangerously close.

But if player reaction is any indication the USGA won’t have to color too close to the lines to be sure Pinehurst maintains its tough-but-fair history (the combined winning score at the last two U.S. Opens played on No. 2 is 1 under par).

For Crenshaw, the Pinehurst project went well beyond the need for shock value. Ross’ original intent was to be unique, maybe even a little surprising if early player feedback is any indication. By comparison, reverting to the original plan was as easy as following directions.

That, however, doesn’t make this week any less stressful.

Late Tuesday afternoon Crenshaw was making his way down the practice tee under a sweltering sun when he was asked if he felt any apprehension coming into this week.

“Always,” he smiled. “You hope they find it interesting and it’s a good test for them and it’s something different than what they find on a regular basis. That’s what Pinehurst is anyway.”

So far it’s certainly proven to be a different U.S. Open venue.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

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First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.