Traditional U.S. Open venues unkind to Spieth

By Rex HoggardJune 13, 2016, 10:23 pm

OAKMONT, Pa. – The last time Jordan Spieth settled in front of microphone in a USGA media tent he was the undisputed heavyweight champion.

He’d just survived four surreal days navigating the brown and bouncy moonscape of Chambers Bay to claim his second consecutive major championship and would win his very next start at the John Deere Classic.

He’d flirt with history at St. Andrews, coming within a few blades of fine fescue of claiming the third leg of the single-season Grand Slam, and would cruise to PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.

There was no putt he couldn’t make and no tournament he couldn’t win.

Fast-forward a year, to Monday’s media meet-and-greet at Oakmont and the 22-year-old wunderkind still flashes the same boyish smile and subtle confidence, but there are now questions that didn’t linger 12 months ago.

In his last Grand Slam start, Spieth blew a five-stroke lead with nine holes to play at the Masters. He’s moved on, he said, and his victory late last month at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational is evidence of that.

“Honestly, I think it's out of our heads now just from that one experience at Colonial,” Spieth said when asked if his Masters meltdown still lingers.

There’s no reason to doubt Spieth and he’s shown an amazing amount of resilience in his young career, yet as he spoke on Monday there wasn’t the same air of invincibility that loomed when he outdueled Dustin Johnson last year in the Pacific Northwest.

After opening his year with a convincing victory at the Tournament of Champions, Spieth looked tired through the rest of the West Coast swing and into the Masters, posting just a single top-10 finish in five Tour starts.

He missed the cut at The Players and began the final round in second place, just two shots behind Brooks Koepka, at the AT&T Byron Nelson only to close with a 74 to tie for 18th place.

He’s also been overtaken by Jason Day atop the Official World Golf Ranking and in the eyes of some golf fans following the Australian’s victories at the Masters, Bay Hill and The Players.

But beyond the crowded field of potential favorites each week in golf and the recent ebbs and flows of Spieth’s career, it may have been the setting, brutish Oakmont, site of this week’s U.S. Open, that makes the defending champion seem somehow less imposing.

Although he’s proven to have a game that travels, with victories at a variety of golf courses from East Lake to Innisbrook, an examination of his record shows a less-than-stellar record at traditional U.S. Open venues.

With the exception of the last two U.S. Open sites – last year at Chambers Bay and in 2014 at Pinehurst, both of which featured no rough and bouncy conditions, he’s missed the cut (Merion) and finished tied for 21st (Olympic Club) in 2013 and ’12, respectively, at his national championship.

At Congressional, a two-time Open venue and the site of the Quicken Loans National, he’s missed the cut and posted one top-10 finish in three starts; and in three starts at Torrey Pines, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Open, he’s missed the cut twice and finished tied for 19th place at the Farmers Insurance Open.

It’s a curious - and perhaps far too nuanced - distinction for a player who has proven himself adept on some of the most challenging layouts; but given the severity of this week’s test it’s not entirely unfounded.

Intellectually, Spieth’s relatively pedestrian record on traditional Open-style courses doesn’t add up. Among the game’s best players he i largely consistent off the tee and his brand of low-technique, ultra-feel putting is perfect for greens like those at Oakmont.

Spieth seemed to suggest as much when asked the keys to victory this week.

“I think the most interesting thing I found here was looking back into '07 [the last time the Open was played at Oakmont], and I think out of the top 10 finishers in the tournament, maybe one or two of them were actually in the top 10 of the guys that hit fairways, and that really shocked me,” Spieth said. “That goes against everything I've been saying, which is you've got to put the ball in the fairway off the tee here, or else it's so hard to just hit it around the green, let alone on the green. . . . I can't seem to fathom why.”

He conceded that Oakmont will be a vastly different test from Chambers Bay and certainly Augusta National, where there is room for mistakes off the tee, and stressed that he’s up to this week’s challenge.

Spieth has preached all along that 2015 was a magical year not easily duplicated, but the heightened expectations born from his historic run through the majors leaves precious little room for a benefit of the doubt.

Spieth is still among the favorites this week at Oakmont – dominant on occasion, human at other times in 2016 – just not the favorite like many believed him to be at this point last year.

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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.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.