Punch Shots: Which Am Tour major makes the best golf vacation centerpiece?

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 27, 2012, 10:30 pm

Left: Ivan Marin shows off his winning crystal from the Puerto Rico Open's Sr. Jones division. Right: Bayonet/Blackhorse hosts the Northern California Championship May 19-20. 

What makes the perfect golf vacation? For some, it's the chance for competition on a world class golf course. 

With major championship season under way on the Golf Channel Am Tour, we asked veteran travel writers Jason Deegan and Mike Bailey which major venue they'd most make the centerpiece of their golf vacation.

Jason Deegan: Kohler, Wisconsin

It’s hard to turn down playing on U.S. Open venues (Chambers Bay and Pinehurst No. 2) and PGA Tour stops (the TPC of Sawgrass, Disney and PGA National), but if I were forced to pick one Am Tour major, I’d tee it up at Blackwolf Run for the Midwest Classic May 19-20. It offers arguably the best combination of tracks on the circuit, although fans of Pinehurst and Troon North could certainly argue their sites are just as good or better.

The Meadow Valleys and River courses at Blackwolf Run are championship tests one hour north of Milwaukee in sleepy Kohler, Wis. Nine holes on each course were recently renovated to create a composite layout that will host the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. Golf Digest ranks both courses among the 'Top 100 Public Courses in America' (River No. 15, Meadows Valley No. 60). The setting of the River course might look pretty, but the meandering river creates a dangerous place for golf. More elevation changes characterize Meadow Valleys.

Looking for more? There’s a PGA Championship and future Ryder Cup course right down the road in Haven. Just don’t ground your club in any of the thousand or so bunkers on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits.

The five-star digs at the old-world American Club are gorgeous, but too pricey for many. Stay at the resort’s Inn on Woodlake to save a few bucks. It isn’t warm enough in May to truly enjoy the beaches of Lake Michigan. However, it should be just fine for golf. Kohler is the kind of place where players could bring some buddies, the wife or even the entire family. It’s a relatively affordable destination (away from the resort) and packed with great golf. Not everybody will secure victory against these two tough Pete Dye courses, but at least those who play in the event will head home feeling like a winner.  

Mike Bailey: Black Horse at Bayonet in Monterey 

When asked what my favorite golf destination is, more often than not, I point to one region: the Monterey Bay area. It is, of course, where you'll find Pebble Beach, but the location is special for so much more than that, including the site of the Golf Channel Am Tour's Northern California Championship at Bayonet/Black Horse Golf Club in Seaside on May 19-20th.

The tournament will be conducted on the Black Horse Course, considered the easier of the two layouts, but by no means a pushover at more than 7,300 yards. Like its sister course, which has hosted U.S. Open qualifiers as of late, Black Horse was covered by a 2008 $13 million renovation led by architect Gene Bates. This wasn't just a restoration; this was a complete makeover, better than the original. Despite the great history of this 36-hole complex that was once part of the old Fort Ord military base, these two courses have never looked better, especially Blackhorse. What you have now is a beautiful all-bentgrass championship layout with cool fingerling bunkers, wonderfully complicated greens complexes and views of the Pacific that most golfers didn't even know existed before.

As a golf destination, though, the Monterey area is unparalleled. The event takes place in May, and for some of us in the South, it's already unbearably hot, so the sweater weather temperatures of Northern California are already welcome. Add to that the rest of the courses in the Monterey collection: I am particular fond of century-old Del Monte and even some inland gems such as Carmel Valley Ranch, Quail Lodge and Rancho Canada, and you could spend a terrific week of playing golf. And don't forget nearby Pacific Grove, the back nine of which runs along the ocean and shares the same designer as Pebble Beach.

You can also chalk up the charming ambience of Monterey Bay with its cafes, boutique hotels, Cannery Row, Old Fisherman's Wharf and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There's nothing more beautiful or relaxing.

For a full list of Major Championship venues on the Golf Channel Am Tour, click here

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”