Tour battles two-way miss with course setup all week

By Will GrayMay 15, 2016, 11:29 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In some ways, a championship golf course is similar to a back judge at an NFL game.

There’s a role to play in the proceedings, sure, and an important one at that. But neither should ever become the focal point of an event or dictate the outcome.

And much like a referee, a course often only gets the brunt of attention when things go awry. Last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, for instance, players battled a brute of a layout that kept the winning score in single digits under par. But we didn’t hear a peep.

This week at The Players Championship was, uh, the opposite of that.

Just as amateurs fight the dreaded two-way miss, tournament officials never could quite get it right this week with the Stadium Course setup. Players feasted on surprisingly soft greens for the first 36 holes, only to encounter glassy surfaces where simply balancing the putter blade behind the ball became a challenge.

Player feedback on the greens Saturday ranged from “borderline unfair” to “dead and balding” to “putting on dance floors.” After two days of getting crushed for offering up soft conditions, tournament officials simply sprinted too far in the opposite direction.

“We always play golf on the edge. That’s what tournament setup is,” Justin Rose said Saturday. “Championship golf is always getting it on the knife edge because you want it firm and fast. Players talk about, ‘Oh, we want it firm and fast,’ but then when we get it just a little too firm and fast, we hate it. So there’s a very fine line there, and it’s difficult sometimes.”

It was a shift that, by multiple player accounts, only occurred because the biggest story of the first two days was how easy the course was playing as eventual champion Jason Day broke the 36-hole scoring record.

While the Tour took successful steps to rein the greens back in for the final round, they also insisted that Saturday’s side show was simply the result of a meteorological perfect storm, not a reaction to low scores.

“We didn’t deviate from our program,” said Mark Russell, the Tour’s vice president of rules and competition. “We just got in a situation where, no humidity and wind, and not a cloud in the sky.”

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Either way, the ramifications of Saturday’s carnage were clearly felt the following day as Tour officials made not one, but two revisions to final-round pin placements in order to err on the side of caution.

“I’m sure they scared themselves with what happened to the course yesterday,” Graeme McDowell said. “I think with the humidity levels and how dry they got, I think they just scared themselves a little bit that that was possible.”

With course conditions shifting quickly from TPC Deere Run to Shinnecock Hills, players didn’t know what to expect entering the final round. Justin Rose improved his score by 12 shots, going from 78 to 66, but he also admitted to stepping up to a lengthy birdie try on the opening hole with a fear of where his ball might end up.

“I had no clue,” Rose said. “I’m like, ‘OK, well they look a little slower, but I have no idea.’ … I could have putted it off the green. I just had no concept.”

Variations in speed were expected all week long – after all, an inability to maintain consistency with this particular grass strand is a big reason why the greens will be dug up come Tuesday and replaced with a more responsive mini-verde variation.

But the larger issue for players, and the one that led to much of the belly-aching, was one that the Tour likely could have neutralized ahead of time.

“I think the shock factor was worse than anything else yesterday,” McDowell said. “It was like, ‘Whoa, what the hell just happened?’ It wasn’t unplayable, it was just shocking to see the change.”

“I think the thing we were all saying yesterday was there was no warning. There was no warning that it was going to get like that,” added Rory McIlroy. “If there was a notice up in the locker room saying, ‘The greens are stimping at 14 right now,’ then you sort of have a decent idea.”

Years from now, the lone memory of this year’s Players will likely be the dominance with which Day raised the Australian flag high above TPC Sawgrass.

But if the folks in Ponte Vedra are paying attention – as they assuredly are – they’ll learn from the mistakes incurred this week, where course setup decisions very nearly marred the circuit’s flagship event.

The fluctuations in setup were far from ideal, but as McDowell points out, things could have been much worse as the dying greens hosted their final hours of competitive play.

“What would have been interesting would have been if they got it nearly right yesterday, what would have happened today?” he wondered. “If they hadn’t learned from what happened yesterday, today could’ve been scary.”

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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.