Historic Congressional is capital site for U.S. Open

By Associated PressJune 10, 2011, 6:25 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – It doesn’t take much of a detective to work out the origins of a place with a name like Congressional Country Club. Nor is it hard to realize what it has become today – a prestigious, must-play destination for the world’s top golfers, who will reconvene at the splendid but often unforgiving Blue Course for next week’s U.S. Open.

In between, however, the 580 dazzling acres near the U.S. capital have a vibrant history that hasn’t always gone according to script. The bunkers – not the kind made of sand – are left over from the 1940s, when the club was leased to the Office of Strategic Services as a World War II training ground. Fairways became target ranges and craters marred the course.

It’s easy to say the club was doing its bit of sacrifice in the name of noble service for its country, but actually the country was saving the club. The OSS – predecessor to the CIA – paid $4,000 per month to rent the place.

“Having gone through the Depression years of the ’30s, the club was in serious financial trouble at that time,” Brundred said, “and was probably on the verge of perhaps having to shut the doors, when the opportunity to lease the property to the OSS came along. It was being able to shut the doors and not have any expenses during those years and to put some money in the bank that allowed the club to sort of regroup.”

Money woes didn’t seem possible when Congressional was founded during the Roaring ’20s, the brainchild of two Indiana congressman who envisioned an idyllic setting for politicians and businessmen to recharge their psychological batteries while contemplating the world’s problems. Oscar Bland and O.R. Lubring wanted a place “where talk has no fetters and where exchanged opinion leads to clarity,” according to a 1921 prospectus.

“The official or member of Congress, brain cleared by the bracing air, and exhilarated by the play in which he is engaged, finds a new and more adequate conception of his problems of government; and from his contact with minds that know the nation’s needs, develops more surely the solutions essential for America’s well being,” the prospectus continued.

Five former American presidents – Herbert Hoover, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge – are listed as founding life members. The opening gala in 1924 at the stylish clubhouse with its Mediterranean-style architecture was a grand occasion, but for many years Congressional was too lavish for its budget, particularly during the lean years before the war. Its remote location and lack of local dues-paying members posed problems.

Back on firm footing after the war, Congressional became less of a course for men in power and more of a conventional, exclusive country club for members and their families.

It was also during the postwar era that Congressional realized it could become a place of champions. Renowned designer Robert Trent Jones was hired to overhaul the back nine of the Blue Course in the 1950s and later did the same to the front nine, a much-needed update to Devereux Emmet’s original setup from the 1920s. Jones’ son, Rees Jones, was called on to do another renovation in the late 1980s.

“When I was on the board and we were getting ready to redo the Blue Course,” said Enos Fry, another former club president, “I can remember some of the past presidents coming up to me saying, ‘You’re going to ruin this place. You’re going to change this course, and you young guys should just never do anything like this.’ And it was amazing after we got finished doing it, a couple of them came up to me and said, ‘I’m glad we decided to do this.”’

The Blue Course’s list of blue-chip events is impressive: the 1959 Women’s Amateur, the 1976 PGA Championship, the 1995 U.S. Senior Open, and, of course, the U.S. Open in 1964 and 1997.

Fry worked at the 1964 Open, selling scrip coupons that spectators used to buy refreshments, and he got to witness Ken Venturi walking the down the fairway at No. 18. Exhausted and at times disoriented by the notoriously stifling mid-Atlantic heat and humidity, Venturi persevered through 36 holes on the final day to claim the championship in one of the most extraordinary performances the sport has seen.

But Congressional always had one nagging feature that caused a stir every time the big names came calling. Robert Trent Jones’ redesign in the 1950s left the Blue Course with a par-3 finish, a scenic hole with a tee shot over a lake with the full expanse of the clubhouse in the background.

The members didn’t mind, but it wasn’t deemed fitting for a major event. Officials had to find ways around it. When Venturi won, the Blue Course borrowed two holes from the Gold Course so the tournament would end on the members’ 17th hole, a classic and difficult par-4 finishing hole that leads downhill onto a peninsula by the lake. At the 1995 Senior Open, No. 18 became No. 10, creating a long and awkward walk from greens to tees at the start of the back nine.

In 1997, the U.S. Golf Association decided to give the par 3 finish a chance. The Open was played the members’ way, and it proved a lackluster means for ending a major. The make-or-break shots everyone remembers – particularly Tom Lehman’s fateful 7-iron approach that bounded into the lake – happened at No. 17. The 18th hole was anticlimactic as Ernie Els took home the trophy.

“While the tournament was a great success,” Brundred said, “in the years immediately following as we began to lobby the USGA to return the U.S. Open to Congressional, they kind of let us know that they would very much like to return, but they didn’t want to finish again on a par 3.”

So another facelift was in order. The par-3 hole has been reversed, with the tee and green swapping sides of the lake. It’s now the 10th hole for everyone, members included, and fits naturally into the flow of the course. Next week, the golfers will finish on the same hole as Venturi did all those years ago.

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McIlroy battles back into tie for BMW PGA lead

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 4:09 pm

Rory McIlroy got off to a rocky start on Saturday in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, including hitting a spectator and making a double bogey. But after that incident on the sixth hole, he didn't drop another shot, birdieing the final hole to shoot a 1-under 71 and tie for the lead.

McIlroy had gone into Moving Day with a three-shot lead, but Francesco Molinari had the round of the day, a 6-under 66. "It was nice keep a clean scorecard," said Molinari, who hasn't made a bogey since the 10th hole on Friday.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

McIlroy and Molinari will be paired in Sunday's final round. They are tied at 13 under par, four shots clear of Ross Fisher, Branden Grace, Sam Horsfield and Alexander Noren.

The Wentworth course ends with back-to-back par-5s, and McIlroy birdied both of them. He got a break on the 18th hole as his drive hit a spectator and bounced into light rough.

"It was a struggle out there today," McIlroy said. "I think when you're working on a few things in your swing and the wind is up and you're stuck between trying to play different shots, but also try to play - you know, make good swings at it, I just hit some loose tee balls on the first few holes. But I'm proud of myself. I stayed patient. I actually - I'm feeling a bit better about myself after today than I was even walking off the course yesterday."

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Watch: McIlroy hits spectator on hand

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 2:58 pm

We never cease to wonder at how close fans crowd in to the intended line of some shots, and just how skilled Tour players are in not hitting someone.

But every once in a while, golf ball and spectator intersect, with painful results. It happened to Rory McIlroy during the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, after he had hit a wayward drive on the sixth hole. Attempting to hack out his second shot from under a bush, McIlroy struck a female spectator on her right hand. There was no official word on her condition, but she was clearly - and understandably - in pain.

McIlroy went on to make double bogey but was able to put the incident behind him, as he promptly birdied the next hole.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''