High winds turn Pebble Beach's 7th into tiny terror

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 9, 2017, 11:20 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Pebble Beach’s delightful seventh hole also has an evil side. It was on display Thursday, when blinding rain and 35-mph gusts turned the PGA Tour’s shortest hole into one long headache.

How many 111-yard par 3s would surrender only four birdies to the world’s best players? The iconic seventh played to a 3.14 scoring average during the opening round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which was later suspended because of unplayable conditions.

“I’ve never played anything like it,” Mark Hubbard said afterward, his ski cap still dripping. “That was the wackiest golf shot I’ve ever hit.”

It was a make-par-and-move-on kind of day. With Pebble’s greens softened by weeks of rain, and with the hole location only four paces from the left and just five from the back, there were only two tee shots closer than 10 feet.

And even Patrick Reed’s birdie required some help.

With the wind howling in and from the right, Reed hit a low, driving 9-iron that hugged the left side of the green. His ball landed in the rough but received a fortuitous bounce to the right, eventually settling 4 feet away.

Reed looked at Pat Perez and smirked. When the crowd started to cheer – to be fair, they didn’t have much to applaud Thursday – Reed shrugged and said, “Bull!"

The conditions deteriorated as the afternoon progressed, but even the first few groups out faced a terrifying shot that, under normal conditions, wouldn’t be more than a flip wedge.

“I try not to give it the prominence that it has, to treat it like another hole,” said Michael Thompson, who was in the first group with Jonas Blixt. “When it’s windy like this, I almost like to imagine that the ball goes out over the water and comes back, just to give the idea of hitting a low punch shot. It’s such an elevated tee that it’s so easy to hit it straight up into the air, and then you don’t know what it’s going to do. I just try to make a real little swing, take enough club, and pray that I get a good gust to keep it on the green, because you don’t want to go long, either.”

Club selection ranged from 6-iron to pitching wedge. Reactions were just as varied.

Andrew “Beef” Johnston, normally a gregarious character, was in no mood to joke after his 6-iron sailed over the green, into the back bunker. He threw up his arms, huffed, and then picked at his beard.

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Shane Lowry, meanwhile, did a little jig when his ball landed safely on the green. Then he eased the concerns of his amateur partner, Gerry McManus, by telling him to punch a 9-iron.

“You just have to hit a good shot,” Lowry said later. “That’s the way the hole is. It’s just feel. An educated guess. You’re just a golfer from there.”

Next up in that group was Padraig Harrington, whose ball started to drift but caught a piece of the left side.

“I could see it like, No, no, no!” Harrington said, shaking his hand to imitate the flight of his ball. “But then you’re like, Phew.”

Afterward, Harrington played it cool. “It doesn’t pose much of a problem,” he said. “I’d play golf all day on 7.”

The rest of the field likely would disagree, after just 23 of 42 players (54.8 percent) hit the green.

Indecision reigned.

Luke Donald was about to play when he stopped, reset behind the ball and asked, “A little right to left?” Yeah, it sure felt like it, but the flag was blowing back toward the tee, at about 5 o’clock. Now Donald was really confused. Uncommitted, he yanked his 8-iron left of the green, onto the eighth tee box.

“Huh,” said Donald’s caddie, Mick Horan. “I fancied 9 myself. It’s really an unbelievable hole.”

Chris Stroud chose pitching wedge and, unlike most players, hoisted it high into the air. His ball hit a wall of wind and dropped 40 feet short. Safe.

Jimmy Walker was more aggressive, punching a low, drawing 9-iron.

“Mmmm,” Stroud said, watching the flight. The ball landed about 10 feet left of the flag. “Golf shot. Beauty.”

It was about 11 a.m. local time when the weather turned nasty, when a sideways rain blew in off the Pacific, when the wind gusted so hard that the tee sign looked as though it might rip clean from its bolted structure.

With the group still putting out on the sixth green, Brad Fritsch’s caddie, Richard Wahl, headed to the seventh tee to get a head start on club selection.

Walking over, he pretended to tip over. “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain!” He studied the yardage book, then looked up at the green. “Hit it at that rock” – yes, the rock that’s 50 yards right of the green – “and we might be able to get it close to the hole.”

Almost on cue, the wind started to howl, the strongest it had all day. Fritsch threw down a ball, no tee. He pushed his 7-iron into the hazard right of the green, the only player to miss that far right.

“At least it’s almost physically impossible to hit it in the water because it’s blowing so hard,” Hubbard said.

The seventh hole was Hubbard’s 16th of the day, and he had little choice but to start his tee shot over the ocean. His ball wound up in the far-left corner of the left greenside bunker. He still saved par.

“Honestly, it’s so bad right now that it’s tough to even get nervous or try to commit,” he said. “It’s so crazy and wacky that you just kind of hit it and laugh. You don’t really grind too hard because what are you supposed to do right now?”

Well, there is one thing. As one caddie walked off the tee box, he turned and said: “Yeah, that was just a total guess.”

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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.