Prairie Dunes sure to confuse NCAA's best

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2014, 11:03 pm

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Mike McGraw strode purposefully down the 12th fairway at Prairie Dunes, his yardage book stuffed in his back-right pocket, reading glasses hooked around his belt loop, four practice putting disks clipped to his side.

“This is my favorite course I’ve ever been on,” he said Thursday, surveying this Perry Maxwell gem. “It’s unlike anything you’ll see.”

Few, if any, coaches in this week’s NCAA Championship have spent more time at this links-style course than McGraw, the former Oklahoma State head coach and current Alabama assistant. He figured this was his 60th round here, after spending a dozen years coaching the Cowboys at the Big 12 Championship.

Naturally, his yardage book is chock-full of hard-earned knowledge:

Hole 10, a 185-yard par 3: “Hit to same spot on all 3 holes locations: Middle.”

Hole 11, a 535-yard par 4: “Hit ball at tree,” with an “X” all down the left side.

Hole 12, a 390-yard par 4: “Think center of green.”

Current Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton has plenty of rounds under his belt too, both as a player (back in the Big 8 days) and as a coach, in 2007, ’09 and ’11.

Texas’ John Fields has coached 11 Big 12s here (three wins).

So how much of an advantage do they truly have this week at NCAAs?

“Certainly we have no excuse on where we’re supposed to go,” Bratton said, “but the guys still have to execute shots.”

Said McGraw, with a smile, “I’ve always wanted to be at a course that I’ve seen.”

Many players here just wrapped up finals, and the one-day cram session here Thursday was not much different: There is a lot of information to process and not a lot of time.

That’s why many teams will conduct their own reconnaissance, either after their final fall tournament or during a soft spot in the spring schedule.

No. 4 Georgia Tech played here in the fall. No. 6 Georgia took a scouting trip three weeks ago, before regionals.

Neither were feasible options for No. 8 Washington, but head coach Matt Thurmond and twoassistants made a quick trip in late March. They played 36 holes on Saturday, 18 the next morning and then flew back to Seattle.

“The last thing I’d ever want is for my guys to feel like they’re at a disadvantage,” Thurmond says. “The only reason we came out was so the players at least felt like the coaches had it under control.”

During those visits, though, it was brown, windy and, like usual, a brutal and fair test. When the 30 teams arrived at 9 a.m. Thursday for their one and only official NCAA practice round, the conditions were nothing like it – warm sun, soft greens, light wind.

Midway through his practice round, Oklahoma’s Michael Gellerman, who grew up about 20 miles away in Sterling, said he had never seen the course so calm.

“It’s the easiest I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “There have been times I’ve played here and thought that breaking 80 that day was pretty good.”

Not long after that remark the horn sounded – likely not for the final time this week – as inclement weather approached. After an hour-long delay, Prairie Dunes was back in itselement, with the sun beating down and a steady 20-mph wind. The number of players searching for their balls in the fescue rose exponentially.

The last four times that Big 12s were played here, the three-round winning score was 19, 19, 26 and 29 over par. Those tournaments were played in late April, when the predominant (and more difficult) wind was out of the north, but even this time of year the wind serves as the sub-7,000-yard course’s main defense.

“It’s not an impossible golf course,” Oklahoma coach Ryan Hybl said, “but there have been some horror stories.”

And he would know: The Sooners shot a combined 172 over par during their last three Big 12 Championships here.

Hybl remembers standing on the fifth green one year and seeing a wall cloud closing in, fast. By the time they reached the sixth tee it was blowing 50. When they were on the sixth green the course was unplayable, with balls rolling off the putting surfaces and sand blowing out of the bunkers. All in 15 minutes.

“I fell in love with this place the first time I saw it,” he said, “and that was with a stocking cap and four layers of clothing on.”

Thursday was the first time that No. 3 Stanford had ever seen Prairie Dunes – at least in person.

For weeks they have researched a website, GolfClubAtlas.com, that posts pictures and hole-by-hole descriptions from an architect’s perspective. They messed around on Google Earth. They even received a few tips from Juli Inkster, who won both a U.S.Women’s Amateur (1980) and U.S. Women’s Open (2002) at Prairie Dunes.

In her chats with Cardinal coach Conrad Ray, Inkster stressed speed control on the greens and the importance of the second shot. From many of these back tees, finding the fairway off the tee is imperative, too.

When Stanford junior Patrick Rodgers, the No. 1-ranked player in college golf, prepares on an unfamiliar course, his mission is twofold: 1.) Get comfortable with club selection and lines off the tee; and 2.) Map how the slopes can help around the green.

“You can see all the pictures that you want,” he said, “but until you see how it’s playing you can’t get a good idea.”

Some coaches are wary of information overload, especially on a jam-packed day like Thursday, which brings us back to No. 1 Alabama.

As McGraw broke down sight lines and wind directions and hole locations, head coach Jay Seawell hung back and kept things loose. He had a rangefinder slung around his right shoulder, his umbrella doubled as his walking stick, and he deferred to the man making his 60th tour around Prairie Dunes.

“I’m doing my job,” Seawell said, “and that’s to stay out of the way. I’m just trying to make sure that they take all that information and remember, simply, that they’re good players.”

Maybe that reminder should be scribbled in their yardage books, too.  

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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.