USGA learned lesson from 2010 U.S. Am at Chambers

By Rex HoggardJune 15, 2015, 6:00 pm

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” - H.P. Lovecraft, American author 

Not since the PGA Tour started measuring success with points in lieu of prize money has there been this level of uncertainty among the game’s best players.

Chambers Bay, site of this week’s U.S. Open, is a championship conundrum wrapped in a rolling riddle for most, and what little practical information exists does little to ease anxieties.

In the run-up to this week’s event, the void of uncertainty has been filled with urban-legend stuff like the tale of Scott Langley and Patrick Reed at the 2010 U.S. Amateur that was held at the Pacific Northwest layout.

The story goes that both players made such a mess of Chambers Bay’s opening hole in the second round of match play that when they finally reached the green they had to consult with the walking scorer because neither knew how many swings he had made.

“He made a 7 and I made an 8 and I think we just looked at each other and kind of laughed. ‘Let’s start on No. 2. You’re 1 up,’” recalled Langley, who would win that match in 19 holes.

“It can happen there because there’s fescue and tricky greens and big runoffs. It’s that type of place. You have to keep the ball in play and if you get out of place you have to take your medicine immediately.”

Although a few Tour types have made the trip to Chambers Bay with mixed reviews, what real-world data that does exist about the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design hard on the shores of Puget Sound comes almost entirely from the ’10 U.S. Amateur, which U.S. Golf Association officials used as a dress rehearsal for this week’s championship.

The lessons learned from 2010 will, in theory, keep officials from making the same mistakes this week when the stakes and scrutiny are much higher, and it seems the USGA has made the most of the setup mulligan.

“There needed to be changes made and they made the changes,” said Brooks Koepka, who failed to advance out of stroke-play qualifying at the 2010 Amateur. “I thought the first hole was unfair. You could hit just on the right side of the green and you could end up 80 yards left. They needed to flatten that out which they did ... The seventh green was unfair. The problem is they let the golf course get too firm and it got out of hand.”

Although there have been numerous tweaks to the layout since the ’10 Amateur, the biggest lesson USGA executive director Mike Davis learned from that championship is that there was nothing wrong with Chambers Bay that copious amounts of water couldn’t fix.

The two rounds of stroke-play qualifying were marred by an overly crispy golf course that fell well short of the USGA’s intended purpose of identifying the best players.

Consider that Koepka – now a Tour winner who last year played his way onto U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson’s short list for a potential pick – failed to qualify for the match-play portion of the championship in 2010 after carding a second-round 81 on Chambers Bay.

The roll call of Chambers Bay victims reads like a “who’s who” of the game’s best young players. Masters champion Jordan Spieth and Tour rookie Daniel Berger signed for 83s in stroke-play qualifying while two-time Tour winner Russell Henley was one shot better.

To put those numbers in context, the scoring average for Chambers Bay on Day 1 of qualifying was 79.87, which made Hudson Swafford’s opening 71 on the links-like layout much more than simply a solid round.

“Best ball-striking round I’ve ever had in my life,” Swafford said. “I’m not kidding. I’m dead serious. It was firm and fast. It’s a crazy golf course. I like the scenery and the link style, it has potential to be pretty good but there was a little goofiness to it.”

Although officials dialed the course back for the match-play rounds, the sting of those first two days still lingers.

“I didn’t like it,” said John Peterson, who managed a 73 at Chambers Bay in qualifying. “I didn’t like how firm it was when they set it up for the U.S. Amateur. For stroke play it was obnoxious.

“I think they learned a lot from that. We were kind of the guinea pigs for the USGA. I’m sure they will set it up fine, but it was not good for the first two rounds of stroke play.”

While opinions have varied from the dismissive (Ryan Palmer) to the delighted (Phil Mickelson) among those who have made scouting trips to Chambers Bay, creativity and a competitive acceptance will likely be the two most important clubs in players’ bags this week.

Holes like the par-3 third, for example, will need to be approached in a more deliberate way, with players explaining that any tee shot at the pin is doomed to find a bunker, or worse, while a shot played 10 yards right of the right edge of the green will likely funnel to within birdie range.

“It’s basically the opposite of Pinehurst last year in terms of all the greens at Pinehurst are a bowl flipped upside down. At Chambers Bay the majority of the greens are actual bowls so you have tons of options when it comes to approach shots,” Langley said. “Some guys would call that goofy; I would call it fun. It’s different.”

“Different” seems to be a common theme used to describe Chambers Bay, which is not exactly what players look for in major championship venues and at least partially explains the heightened level of anxiety going into the year’s second Grand Slam gathering.

Not coincidentally, those who accepted the course’s unique ways and embraced an alternative game were also the players who enjoyed the most success at the 2010 U.S. Amateur.

“It's just different,” Reed explained. “I can see how people are going to have mixed reviews on whether they like it or don't like it but I seemed to play pretty well there when I played in the Am.”

Put another way, it’s not the unknown that players should fear at Chambers Bay so much as it is a reluctance to embrace a different kind of U.S. Open.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.