Inside the Ropes at Hazeltine


At each of the domestic majors I spend the early part of the week on-site talking to guys, walking the course and trying to get a feel for the upcoming championship. This week I had to shoot Leaderboard Report on Monday so my research was reduced to a day and a half. I take notes throughout the day and then organize them on the flight home to use during updates this week. Here are some of my notes on some of the players at Hazeltine:
Davis Love III - Hit the ball better on Tuesday than Wednesday. Re-learning the course. Played all four rounds in 1991, but got in late Tuesday. Went straight to the Champions Clinic, hit the driver, then played the front 9 at about 5 p.m. Don't worry if you see him doing neck rolls on television. He feels great and does that to stay loose, and prevent any problems.
Paul Azinger - Says he's really 'matching up' well, in other words everything is where it should be at contact. He had back trouble this summer and took 10 days off. He shortened his swing and found that he didn't lose any distance. His ball striking was as good as it's been in a long time. He had another 10-day layoff, and was worried that it wouldn't hold when he resumed, but it did. He was stopping everyone on the range and showing them how far he was hitting it. Lanny Wadkins was ribbing him but Zinger kept on hammering his 3-wood.
John Cook - Doesn't remember much about 1991. He said it played long, but even with technology and the lengthening of the course, this year seems longer. I asked him how his practice round was and he said 'early'. He Tiger and O'Meara went at 6:15 a.m. on Tuesday.
Chris DiMarco - Has cooled off a bit recently. He had a slight cold on Tuesday. As of noon he hadn't seen the course yet. Watch for him to get stronger and more comfortable as the week progresses and his scores drop.
Peter Lonard - Loves the course and the set-up. The most upbeat course review I heard. He played nine holes on Monday and nine more Tuesday. If it stays dry, it sets up well for him. If it rains it will make the par-5s difficult for anyone to hit except maybe Tiger. If it gets windy, well Aussies love the wind.
Tom Lehman - One of the most impressive sights I saw was Minnesotan Tom Lehman signing hundreds of autographs. Playing late in the day, by himself, he ran into a gauntlet of fans at the turn. Everyone wanted his autograph, and he couldn't say no. THREE groups played through while he signed. He hasn't played the course all that often, but seemed to be striking it well.
He's gone to the belly putter and says he's putting more consistently good. By that I mean Tom was always a streaky putter, and would win when he was on a good putting streak. Now it's all a pretty good streak and is getting better as he gets used to the club. He guesses it's helped one and a half strokes per round since the switch. Remember, confidence in your putter take pressure off of the rest of your game. You don't have to be tight to make birdies, so you can swing more freely with your irons and driver.
Hal Sutton - Switched to a longer shaft in his driver, but his iron play suffered because of his body position in relation to the ball. He felt like he couldn't fire on his irons and held his release too long. He's taken an inch off his driver but the problem is taking a long time to get sorted out. He's coming around.
Now I can't give you all my tidbits, I've got to save something for the broadcasts! Enjoy the year's final major.