USGA's pin-setting strikes a nerve with players

By Ryan LavnerJune 15, 2014, 1:40 am

PINEHURST, N.C. – For the first time this week, players saw Pinehurt No. 2.  

Martin Kaymer rapped his 50-footer up the hill on the sixth hole Saturday, but the ball took a peek at the cup and sped by, down the slope, ultimately finishing 15 feet off the green. The fans by the green responded accordingly – Woahhhh-OHH-ohhh! – as if they were riding a roller coaster on a terrifying downhill plunge, hands held high.  

A day earlier, Kaymer wondered aloud how the USGA would set up the course for the third round here at the U.S. Open. Leading by six, with only one bogey through 36 holes, he hoped for the most difficult conditions possible – that way, he said, it’d be harder for his pursuers to play catch-up.  

Well, he said with a smile Saturday night, “The USGA listened, unfortunately.”

With a birdie on the last, Kaymer posted a 2-over 72 – nearly two shots better than the field average (73.82) – on a day in which the penal setup drew the ire of some players.  

There were only two rounds in the 60s Saturday. There were four rounds in the 80s, including an 88. There also was a 79, posted by Brendon Todd, who was playing in the final group.  

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Fourteen holes yielded single-digit birdies. The field of 67 could muster one only birdie on both Nos. 2 and 6, par-4 holes that played in excess of 500 yards and featured back hole locations, on the top of a slope, mere paces from hell. Todd putted off the green on 2. Kaymer, of course, did the same on 6.  

Todd, who took 36 putts, described the hole locations as “very aggressively set.”

“It was a little bit of a revenge day,” he said.  

Kenny Perry, who shot 74 Saturday and is playing in his 13th Open, took it a step further: “It was a golf course of 18 of the toughest pins I’ve ever seen.”

The unsettling part is that players expect those hole locations because, well, it’s the U.S. Open and apparently that’s what’s supposed to happen. Holes teetering on the edge of unfair is just part of the gig. Over the years the Open has become as much a physical examination as a mental one, to stay in it, to not get rattled.  

The irony, of course, is that Pinehurst doesn’t need to be tricked up, with its domed, turtleback greens – already running at 12 1/2 on the Stimpmeter – as menacing as anything you’ll ever see.

But on Saturday, “I think they used the hardest pins they could possibly use on almost every hole,” Jordan Spieth (72) said.  

Said Matt Kuchar (71): “In practice rounds you guess where you think the pins will be and you kind of say, ‘Well, that’s too severe; they won’t put them there.’ And sure enough, that’s where the pin is. It seems to be year after year, and you should know better by now.”

So maybe Kevin Na should have known better too, but he was cruising along, only four shots back, when he hit what he thought was a brilliant shot into the par-4 14th. Heck, he even twirled his club. His ball landed short of the flag and skipped to about 15 feet right of the cup, seemingly an ideal birdie position, but then it kept going, and going, and going … and eventually it was 20 yards off the green.  

“No WAY!” he yelled from the middle of the fairway.  

Naturally, it only got worse up by the green. Attempting to drive his chip into the bank between him and the hole, Na instead caught the ball a little too cleanly and skulled it over the other side of the green. His next shot? Flubbed.

“Oh, Kevin,” he groaned, and the ensuing double bogey led to a closing 39 and, now, an eight-shot deficit.  

Which makes you wonder what type of setup we’ll see for the final round Sunday, with Kaymer leading by five shots and no rain in the forecast.  

“I think they’ve got to know that we’re teetering on the edge,” Kuchar said, “and they don’t want to have another Shinnecock (in 2004) all over again. It’s close. I think the guys understand that, and I think it could easily become that again.”

As for the leader? Oh, he wants it tough, as tough as possible. Again.  

“It would be nice if they made it difficult, because then it’s all about ball-striking,” Kaymer said. “I enjoy playing those courses a lot more than just a putting competition.”

And then he smiled, knowing what a baked-out, on-the-edge setup would potentially mean.  

“But it’d also be nice to have some kind of a chance every once in a while,” he said.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.