Mental strength a must to win at Chambers Bay

By Will GrayJune 17, 2015, 7:00 pm

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Surveying the landscape at Chambers Bay, it is clear that the USGA has arrived at the far end of the world.

Browned-out fairways. Dusty walking paths cutting through undulating dunes. Nearly 8,000 yards of beastly golf carved out of a seaside crater, with ashen bunkers that recall its gravelly origins.

Oakmont or Winged Foot, this ain’t. As one player described it while walking off the range Tuesday, Chambers Bay is like playing golf on the moon.

The U.S. Open is traditionally an examination in endurance, a 72-hole sweatbox that tests players as much mentally as physically. This week that notion is amplified, as players prepare to embark on a journey that will be part golf, part pinball.

Want to get at the pin tucked left on the par-3 third hole? According to Phil Mickelson, the best play is to bank it off the hill to the right of the green. Miss the target left on No. 1? Expect the ball to roll some 60 yards back down the fairway.

“You’re going to see some different things this week than you have probably any other major championship that we play,” Tiger Woods said.



Ah, the unknown. The greatest enemy of a player, even more so on a major stage. Players tend to embrace the familiar and run from change, whether in pre-shot routine or crafting schedules around friendly venues. This week that playbook is out the window, as the fescue fairways and quirky greens of Chambers Bay offer plenty of variables.

With potential setbacks lurking around every corner, will the trophy go to the player with the most imaginative short game? Perhaps the biggest bomber off the tee?

Try the guy who remains the strongest between the ears.

“You have to understand that there will be some bounces that may not go your way,” Rickie Fowler said. “So as much as it tests your game, it tests you mentally even more so.”

This championship has always been part golf and part chess, with players required to plot and puzzle their way around various layouts. This week it’s more like a game of minesweeper, a ginger attempt to tiptoe through four rounds without causing a total detonation.

There are certainly traits that will prove beneficial toward that end, but Jack Nicklaus recently took the notion of “horses for courses” and flipped it on its head when it comes to this championship, one that he won four times.

“It’s not supposed to suit your game,” Nicklaus said earlier this month. “You’re supposed to suit your game to the golf course.”

Those words were echoed this week by Rory McIlroy, whose U.S. Open win in 2011 came on a soggy and lush layout at Congressional – the polar opposite of the course he will try to tame this week.

“I’d like to say that I can adapt my game to all different types of courses and conditions,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’ve won enough in different conditions that my game is adaptable to wherever you go.”

The edict of adaptation seems simple coming from the lips of an 18-time major champ or the world No. 1, but it’s easier said than done. No player wants to come to a major championship searching for his game, let alone trying to invent new shots and trajectories for a four-day trial run.

But the stubborn players will be easily swept aside this week at Chambers Bay, as will those who bristle at good shots inevitably punished by a bad hop or carom.

“At times it may not be fair, if you look at it that way,” Fowler said. “But understanding links golf and what can happen, you kind of have to be ready for anything, and you have to be able to take the punches when they come, accept it and move forward.”

Woods highlighted the sprinkler heads that line the greens as potential obstacles, circular discs that could provide an inadvertent launching pad for approach shots like the wicker-basket flagsticks did two years ago at Merion.

“It will be interesting to see how many guys hit it, or how many guys just roll the ball off the green and they’re on the steps or up against the steps (in a bunker), take a ruling, have to drop it in the bunker and have it buried,” he said. “Now you’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Indeed, once a ball hits the ground at Chambers Bay, the fun has just begun. It then will journey through swales and dips and over crests, sometimes rolling toward the target but often finding less desirable destinations.

The USGA’s newest toy features plenty of ups and downs in terms of elevation, but the true test will be putting aside any preconceptions and enduring the emotional roller coaster that will indelibly mark this tournament.

“Let me put it this way. It really makes little difference what remarks have been made about Chambers Bay,” Nicklaus said. “You’re going to play the tournament there, and somebody’s name is going to be on the trophy at the end of the week.”

Golf’s first lunar championship is upon us. May the strongest mind win.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.