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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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”