NCAA men get good look at brutal finals course

By Ryan LavnerMay 28, 2015, 9:48 pm

BRADENTON, Fla. – The NCAA Women’s Championship looked and felt like the 2014 U.S. Open, and not just because of the penal setup.

This is the first time that the women’s and men’s championships were played on the same course in consecutive weeks.  

At Pinehurst, it was the women who walked inside the ropes in the final round as Martin Kaymer waltzed to another major title.  

Here at Concession, it was the men who strolled the grounds as they got a sneak peek at the championship venue.  

More than anything, what they saw on television, online and in person was a brutal golf course. Southern Cal won the 72-hole stroke-play portion at 40 over par. Only three players finished under par. There was an alarming number of scores in the 80s and 90s, and with that came the predictable chorus of critics.  

“We weren’t surprised at all,” said South Florida coach Steve Bradley, whose school is hosting this year’s NCAAs. “We’ve played this place. We know how tough it is.”

Full coverage: NCAA Division I National Championships

So what, then, can the 30 men’s teams here learn from their predecessors as they prepare for their own championship, which begins Friday?

Not much, apparently.  

Sure, they could familiarize themselves with the layout, but the men play an entirely different style of golf, big and brawny. They’re longer off the tee. They flight the ball higher. They spin the ball more. And they’re used to putting on lightning-fast greens.  

All of which is why Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler had little interest in watching the women’s championship unfold.

“I don’t want to make judgments on it beforehand,” he said, “or you’ll think it’s the hardest place in America.”

Let’s be clear: The cutoff for match play this week will not come at 62 over par, as it did on the women's side.

Many coaches expect to see a winning qualifier score around even par, with the eight-team cut somewhere in the mid-20s. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see several players fire a round in the mid-to-upper 60s, depending on the crankiness of the setup staff.

For the women, tournament officials set up the course more difficult early, then dialed it back late when the number of high scores – and complaints – increased. 

Many anticipate that the men will be greeted by a softer, more forgiving setup early and for the course to become more difficult as the week progresses.  

Though the men might not be able to learn much from the women’s tee-to-green game, they at least saw where (and where not) to miss.  

They knew, for instance … that the par-4 eighth requires a very precise approach, with sand left and water short.

And they knew … that it’s not always wise to go for the par 5s in two, because of their severe (excessive?) undulations.    

And they knew … all about Mariah Stackhouse’s debacle at the par-5 13th, where she laid up in the fairway and hit what seemed like what a solid wedge shot to the back-right part of the green. Too much sidespin sent her ball all the way into the valley left of the green, and she proceeded to play pinball before eventually conceding the hole. 

It was an all-too-familiar sight for the USF players.

“This course can bite you really quick,” sophomore Rigel Fernandes said. “Most courses only have a few of them, but Nos. 1-18 out here are big-number holes.”

It’s clear that the Bulls have a significant advantage this week, even though they’re an hour from campus and Concession isn’t their home track. As the host school USF is the only team that was allowed to practice at the championship venue during the season, and the Bulls felt so comfortable Thursday that they played only 11 practice holes.

That doesn’t mean they always torch this place. Far from it.

This spring alone they’ve teed it up at Concession eight times. It took the Bulls seven tries before they finally had multiple players break par in a round, a reminder that there’s a big difference between comfort and execution.  

“You’d have to spend 10 hours out here to understand every single slope,” Fernandes said.  

Heck, the rest of the field almost did Thursday, as teams slogged through a seven-hour practice round in 95-degree heat. That’s a less-than-ideal way to warm up for an already brutally long week, but the other 29 teams had no choice – they had to maximize their time at Concession in their one and only tour.

Unless, of course, it’s a team like Stanford, which felt as though it already intimately knew the track. Last week, Lauren Kim, an integral part of the women’s team, texted photos of her entire yardage book in a group chat. During the week leading up to this event, they practiced the specific shots they knew they would face.

“We already knew what the holes looked like,” said Cardinal sophomore Maverick McNealy, the presumptive favorite for player of the year. “Just thinking about it is huge.”

So was seeing the execution of a sound game plan. McNealy and Co. had a view from the rope line Wednesday as the women’s team took home its first national title, 3-2, over Baylor.  

“One of the coolest things I’ve seen in person,” McNealy said, “watching it all go down.”

Now it’s up to his teammates – and the rest of the 29 squads here – to conjure up the same magic.

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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.