Old Course doesn't always make good first impression

By Ryan Reiterman July 14, 2015, 8:30 pm

The Old Course at St. Andrews is on every golfer’s bucket list, and it’s often listed by the game’s biggest stars as their favorite course.

But it’s not always love at first sight with the Home of Golf.

Waves aren’t crashing against the course like at Pebble Beach. There isn’t the “I-can’t-believe-I-made-it-inside-the-gates” feeling of Augusta National. And outside of the Road Hole 17th and No. 18, none of the holes really stick out.

You can't even curse the architect when your ball lands in a pot bunker, because, well, it's not exactly clear who designed the course in the early 1400s.

Bobby Jones famously became so frustrated by St. Andrews at the 1921 Open that he stormed off the links after 11 holes in the third round. Sam Snead said it looked like an “old abandoned golf course."

Jones and Snead would both go on to win the claret jug at the Old Course, but St. Andrews still doesn’t leave a good first impression with many of today’s players.

“Hated it,” Rory McIlroy said last year at the Dunhill Links. “Thought it was the worst golf course I've ever played … I just stood up on every tee and was like, ‘What is the fascination about this place?’ But the more you play it and the more you learn about the golf course and the little nuances, you learn to appreciate it. Now it's my favorite golf course in the world, so it's definitely a course that grows on you.”

“Honestly, I wasn’t a fan in the beginning,” said Kevin Na. “I didn’t understand why the golf course was designed like this. I couldn’t see the holes, I couldn’t see the bunkers. I thought 17 and 18 were cool, but besides that I didn’t think it was very good. But the next time I played it … I knew a lot more about golf courses and architecture and I remember playing the first practice round and the second practice round, and I was like, ‘You know what? This place is really cool. I get it now. I get why this is one of the coolest places to play in the world.’ So it took me two tournaments to figure that out.”

However, not everyone had a bad first experience.

“For me it’s the most special place in golf,” said Shane Lowry. “We’re lucky enough on the European Tour we get to play there every year in the Dunhill Links. The first time I played it it was amazing. I was lucky the second time I played it was in the Open Championship in 2010. I’m not sure how the golf course would rate if it wasn’t where it is, but as regards to the whole aura about the place. That’s what makes it for me.”

“It’s always been a magical place,” said Justin Rose. “That atmosphere on holes No. 1 and 18, you feel like the walls are watching. There could be not a soul around, but it has that magical vibe about it, and you almost feel like your adrenaline is going and you could be the only person around. And very few places have that magic.”

It certainly helps to try and gain a little course knowledge before arriving. Jordan Spieth, who is trying to win the third leg of the Grand Slam, said last week he had been prepping for the Old Course by playing it on the simulator in his home in Dallas.

While simulators weren’t available in Ben Crenshaw’s day, he also studied up before his first round at St. Andrews.

“I had seen pictures of it before and kind of knew a little bit of what I was going to see,” Crenshaw said. “I must say when you see it for the first time just off the side you go, ‘God, where’s the course?’ Because it’s encased in two other golf courses. And it’s a narrow strip within these courses, and you’re looking up, ‘Where is it?’

“But when you see it and play it for the first time it’s not like anything else in the world. If you talk about knowing a golf course, there is a lifetime of knowing about that course, and discovering different ways to play it is the fascination of it. I’m looking forward to watching the British Open this year because a British Open at St. Andrews is extra special. I’ve always enjoyed watching how people get around it because there’s a million ways to play it and it changes all the time and you have to know it. You have to have a knowledge of it unlike any other. It’s very difficult [for a] first-timer to win there.”

But no one had a first experience with the Old Course quite like Gary Player. So we’ll leave you with the Black Knight’s equivalent of a mic drop for first impressions of St. Andrews.

“My first experience at St. Andrews was far from the typical trip a professional golfer will have today, and my first impressions of the Old Course were forgettable,” Player said via email. “It was 1955, and my golf club in South Africa took up a collection to fund my ticket to the UK. “Not being able to find affordable accommodations, I went and slept on the beach the first night. I put on my waterproofs and my sweater and I slept curled up in a sand dune. That is quite unfathomable in today’s game, but there I was on my first trip sleeping under the stars! “You have to remember that St. Andrews is not a typical Open Championship course. The fairways are wide and generous, and there is not a great premium for driving the ball. That did not stop me from missing it completely on my first shot. I missed it so bad that the starter asked, ‘What’s your handicap?’ I am certain that I could never forget my first time teeing it up at St. Andrews even if I tried.

“Although my first round at the Old Course left a sour taste in my mouth, St. Andrews is a place you grow to love – especially the town and the people. The golf course was built hundreds of years ago, but continues to stand the test of time. Incredible. It is a golf course that you have to play a couple times to understand and fully comprehend the strategy of the course, and I truly think that the designers were ahead of their time.”

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.