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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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

John Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge, and moved to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means:

This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff. Rahm had missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18, his birdie bid found the cup.. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest:

A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt slid by on the right side of the hole. This is his best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day:Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day:

"One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.