Public Golf Supporters Rise Up and Take Your US Opens
Here's a blessing to count: The U.S. Golf Association has chosen two public courses for its national championship.
The 2008 U.S. Open will be played at Torrey Pines Golf Club's South Course in La Jolla, Calif. The 2009 Open will be held again at Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., the track that met with good reviews (from everyone but the players) in this year's championship.
It felt right this year, and will again in seven and eight years, that the national championship of the world's most egalitarian sport was played where the great mass of golfers can play. It felt like Election Day when politics were clean, like democracy in action. But this time with sports. I expected Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt to come around the corner with one-day badges, looking on a map for the grandstand by the 17th green.
For the USGA, the choices can't help but move the PR needle in the right direction. Five private clubs founded the USGA in 1894, and ever since, the association has endured allegations of elitism, sometimes justified. The public - some say the toughest public there is, New Yorkers - responded well to the summer golf festival at Bethpage.
With all that good feeling, can we be blamed for wanting more? Of course, not many public courses are U.S. Open quality. But just as an after-work exercise, let's daydream about some public venues across America we'd like to see host U.S. Opens. You pour us a beer.
New York City: Van Cortlandt Park. Yeah, I know, it's impossible. But talk about popular appeal: This is New York public golf central. I'm surprised there aren't hot dog stands on every other tee. And as long as we're going over the top, why not clear Central Park and see how many golf holes Rees Jones could work into it? Leave the Sheep Meadow high for the requisite U.S. Open rough. Note to USGA rules guru Kendra Graham: What's the ruling if my ball comes to rest under the bus stop shelter across 61st Street from the park? And 'Eeyyy, I'm chippin' ovah heah!
Pittsburgh: Oakmont. No, not that one: Oakmont East, the little public track right next to Oakmont Country Club on Hulton Road. For other Oakmont Opens, the East course was used as a parking lot. (Probably will be a again when the Open comes to Oakmont in 2007.) But in its natural life, the East is one of the few courses downtown day workers can reach after work for a quick nine before daylight savings sunsets. The Church Pew bunkers of Nos. 3 and 4 on the 'big course' are visible through the fence along the first fairway, but then you're on your own over hill and dale above the Allegheny River. Guaranteed Open fun: Watching the pros choke down 3-woods to drive the green of the downhill, 300-yard fifth hole.
Chicago: Cog Hill No. 4 is the obvious choice, and unlike the fantasies above, it's the real deal. The Jemsek family gem in Lemont has been host of the PGA Tour's Western Open since 1991. It has the toughness and interest a U.S. Open course needs, and it's no secret that the heirs of the late Joe Jemsek, who was known as the father of public golf in Chicago, would love to have the Open at Cog.
Chicagoans would love it too, just as they did at Medinah in 1990. But the public panache of a Cog Hill Open would work in The City That Works. My advice: Hang out on the back nine and watch hopes rise and fall on some of the toughest finishing holes the pros ever face. Oh, and don't worry, either the Cubs or the White Sox will be in town. That's the way the schedule works.
Portland, Oregon: Pumpkin Ridge. Between the hills on the city's western rim and the coastal mountains are delightful farmlands that boast a number of fine courses, but none better than the pair at the Ridge. USGA competition officials could use either course, or make a hybrid as the folks at La Costa did for their event. The climate is perfect, and the golf has the rustic feel the USGA seems to prize. The 1996 U.S. Amateur and 1997 Women's Open were great dry runs.
Thanks for indulging me in some of the fun I poked here. But think about it: The USGA may have started a laudable trend for the U.S. Open. That's not to say private clubs should be abandoned. But the mix is more reflective of golf in America today.
And since we started thinking about it, don't you feel a lot less wound up?
Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back
CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.
A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.
The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.
Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.
Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.
Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement
AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.
Just like that other tournament, right?
Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.
But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.
After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.
Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.
“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”
The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.
It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.
“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”
His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.
Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.
Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.
“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”
But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.
While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.
“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”
But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.
Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.
Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.
Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title
BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.
Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.
Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.
The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.
First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).
Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson
AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.
In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.
“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”
Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.
After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”