USGA's Davis in Open spotlight

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2015, 9:06 pm

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – The central figure heading into this U.S. Open isn’t Rory or Jordan or Phil. He won’t mash drives like DJ, or carve irons like Bubba, or roll in putts like Rickie.

The players will provide the drama at Chambers Bay, and by Sunday evening they’ll be front and center, but make no mistake: Right now, this is Mike Davis’ show.

It is Davis, after all, who took a recon trip to the Pacific Northwest a decade ago and advocated for Chambers Bay to secure a future U.S. Open.

It is Davis who alienated players earlier this spring with his bold claim that only those who arrive early and practice often have a chance to win here.

And now it is Davis, the executive director of the USGA and the face of the setup crew, who controls the fate of this U.S. Open.

In his news conference Tuesday, Tiger Woods mentioned Davis’ name nine times.

His message was clear: If this thing goes off the rails, it’s on you.

“The pressure comes from making sure the golf course plays properly,” Davis said. “Here we’ve got more unknowns, just because we haven’t been here.”

Never has the USGA ventured to such an aesthetically and architecturally different venue.

Never has there been wall-to-wall fine fescue grass, or such dramatic elevation changes.

Never has Davis and Co. had such flexibility, such elasticity with the setup.

And naturally, that newness has created an increased level of anxiety and tension for pros.

Everyone is wondering: Come Sunday, will Chambers Bay prove to be a major force or a farce?

Wailing about course setup is as old as the game itself, but the uneasiness ratcheted up a notch when Davis, at U.S. Open media day in late April, said that there was “no way” a player could arrive the week of the tournament, play a few practice rounds and expect to win. “That person’s done,” he said.


First-round tee times: 115th U.S. Open


Add in the disastrous round of stroke play at Chambers in the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the early reviews from the world’s best – Ryan Palmer: “Put a quarter in the machine and go for a ride” – and the handwringing reached epic proportions.

Many players scoffed at the USGA’s perceived arrogance – hey, drop everything and spend one of your precious off-weeks in a remote part of the country for one event! – but they still seemed to heed Davis’ advice. From Rory to Tiger to Phil, nearly all of the big names spent extra time at the mysterious links-style course pressed hard against the Puget Sound.

Chambers is already so concrete-firm, so fast, so tan, so unpredictable, that some have suggested that we’re spiraling toward chaos. Yes, there could be carnage in some places – No. 7 is a brute for the short- to average-length hitter, and as par 4s the first and 18th holes will be rough. And sure, there could be a few more bad bounces or unfortunate breaks with the baked-out, linksy layout, but this Open also has the potential for more creative shot-making and daring recoveries.

It all depends on Davis’ setup.

“I think to be honest there is some anxiousness, but there’s excitement too,” he said. “There’s that element you never quite know everything.”

Those fretting about a potential train wreck should consider that Davis hasn’t botched a setup yet. He has a strong track record of presiding over fair but tough tests.

Remember, there was more intrigue than genuine concern at Merion. The USGA wanted its premier championship held at one of the country’s classic courses, but it came with a risk. Today’s players – bigger, longer, stronger – could overpower the sub-7,000-yard track, prove that equipment had gotten out of hand, that now all of the nation’s treasures are vulnerable.

Was Merion tricked up? Sure, all of these Open courses are to some extent. The USGA will deny, deny, deny, say that the winning score doesn’t matter, that it isn’t trying to protect par, but the numbers tell a truer story: Since Davis took over the primary setup duties in ’05, only four times has the winning score been under par. Throw out the rain-softened Open in 2011, when McIlroy won with a record-breaking 16-under 268, and a total of only 10 players have finished 72 holes under par.

That said, Davis has brought a more even-handed approach to his setups, after previous USGA gaffes such as the goofy hole location at Olympic in ’98 or the unreachable fairways at Bethpage in ’02 or the dying seventh green that required mid-round watering at Shinnecock in ’04.

Said Graeme McDowell, the 2010 Open champion: “I think Mike is extremely intelligent and articulate and understands the modern game more than most and has done a good job setting contentious venues up very well.”

Old-school U.S. Open setups were so predictable – tees way back, narrow fairways, hack-out rough, and small, firm greens.

Chambers Bay, though, presents perhaps the most unique challenge in the tournament’s 115-year history:

• For the first time, the par on the first and 18th hole will alternate between four and five, depending on wind direction. It’ll still add up to a par-70 each round.  

• There is little delineation between where the fairway ends and the green begins. Some putting surfaces are ringed with sprinkler heads, and the USGA has spray-painted white dots on the edge of the green for identification. In many cases, the fairway is running faster than the green.

• And, most intriguing, there is an incredible amount of flexibility. With some of the ribbon tees, the yardage on a particular hole can change as much as 100 yards on a given day. The course is expected to play somewhere between 7,300 and 7,700 yards each day.

“Basically, Mike has an opportunity to play 36 holes and 36 different options,” Woods said.

Course management is a major point of emphasis this week, which is why practice rounds have taken so long. Players are hitting shots from two or three different areas, trying to predict and simulate what they will face come tournament time.

“That’s part of the test,” Davis said. “We want to see how they think on their feet, how their caddie thinks on his feet.”

The biggest concern for Davis’ team is managing the firmness of the golf course. Chirping generally starts when good shots aren’t rewarded, when luck becomes too big of a factor.

With perfect weather in the forecast – high of 75, plentiful sun, light winds – there is no excuse for losing this golf course.

“We will absolutely, positively make some mistakes this week with setup,” Davis said, “but hopefully those are somewhat minor mistakes.”

If not, he’s sure to hear about it. Right now, this is his show.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.