Spieth needs to know the Old Course ... quickly

By Ryan LavnerJuly 14, 2015, 5:44 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Tiger Woods loved the Old Course as soon as he saw it in 1995 – all of the history, all of the strategy, all of the creativity. He was drawn to the challenge.

Bernhard Langer’s relationship with the venerable links started in 1978 and was a bit more complicated.

“I didn’t like it at all,” he said Tuesday while standing next to the 18th green. “I thought, ‘This is not golf.’”

Granted, in those days, his task of learning the course was even more difficult. Langer had to create his own yardage book; he couldn’t just flip through detailed pages with yardages to pot bunkers and out-of-bounds stakes.

In the ’78 Open, Langer was 19 years old, and he had never played links golf before: “I’m going, ‘What the heck is this?’ I’m looking and I can’t see a thing but a couple of bushes.”

Langer missed the cut that year, but it wasn’t long before he came to appreciate the design of the craggy old links that overlooks the North Sea.

He came to understand why there are certain humps and bumps in front of the massive greens.  

He came to understand how bunkers that seem as though they’re out in the middle of nowhere all of a sudden come into play.

He came to understand why the greens are shaped the way they are, with subtle slopes that kick the ball away from the hole instead of funneling toward it.   

He came to understand why sometimes it’s wise to play down an adjacent fairway, not just because it lops off some yardage but also because it might be the best angle of attack.  

“It didn’t take me long to catch on,” Langer said, “and now I love it.”

How long it takes Jordan Spieth to catch on is the major storyline heading into the 144th Open Championship.

The 21-year-old is the oddsmakers’ favorite at St. Andrews, but never have there been so many question marks about a player gunning for his third consecutive major.

This is just his third Open start, and other than a Walker Cup appearance at Royal Aberdeen in 2011, Spieth doesn’t have much links golf experience. Of more concern this week: Prior to Monday’s evening spin around St. Andrews, he had seen the course only once in person. He spent the past few weeks playing the Old Course on his home simulator, the kind of new-school move you’d expect from a player born in 1993. 

When Woods won here in 2000 and ’05, he played practice rounds with experienced players to pick their brains about how to attack St. Andrews. Spieth has adopted a different approach, at least so far, after going out alone late Monday and then playing alongside Ryan Palmer and amateur Ollie Schniederjans (part of the heralded high school class of 2011) in Tuesday’s three-ball.

Part of the Old Course’s unique challenge is that it’s a shifting target, and what Woods pays attention to most during practice rounds is the wind direction. On Monday, it came out of the north. On Tuesday, it blew out of the west. The rest of the week, it’s expected to vary from the east to the west to the northwest to the southeast. The thinking goes that the more rounds a player has logged on the Old Course, the more prepared he is for when the wind inevitably shifts direction.  

“A five-degree wind change here changes the whole golf course completely,” Woods said.

Players anticipate that one nine-hole stretch will play easier while the other is more difficult – they just don’t know whether they’ll be able to score going out or coming home. They try to make as many birdies as they can on the holes when the wind is helping, then hang on for dear life when it turns back against them.

“Playing in the different winds and having to hit the different shots, shaping shots completely different from one day to the next on the same hole, it does help seeing the golf course under different winds,” Woods said.  

Added Justin Rose: “The more you go around, you do get to know those little nuances.”

Which is why these three practice-round days are so significant for Spieth, who is developing a game plan with caddie Michael Greller and swing coach Cameron McCormick. It’s information overload, trying to process wind direction and angles and slope, all with the relentless hype of potentially capturing the third leg of the Grand Slam swirling around him.

When asked what guidance he would give to players touring the Old Course for the first time in a competitive setting,Langer said to expect drastically different hole locations than what they’d practiced for, and that they’re never fully prepared for how dramatically the course changes with a simple shift in wind direction.

“But they’re all experienced players and caddies here,” Langer said. “It doesn’t take them long to figure out a place. It might take them a little longer to figure this place out, but not too long. That’s what we do. That’s what we do for a living.”

We’ll soon find out how well Spieth has crammed for an Open exam at St. Andrews.   

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”