Long Drives Led to Changes

By Associated PressMarch 12, 2002, 5:00 pm
It didn't take long for Hootie Johnson to be certain that the Augusta National Golf Club was doing the right thing.
On the eve of last year's Masters, the club announced plans to strengthen the par-4s to 'keep the golf course current with the times.' Two days later, Johnson was headed toward Amen Corner when he noticed a ball rolling down the 11th fairway.
It was Phil Mickelson's tee shot, and it was long enough to make Johnson curious.
Dressed in his green jacket, the chairman of Augusta National ducked under the ropes after Mickelson hit his approach. A sprinkler head next to the divot told Johnson what Mickelson had for his second shot on the 455-yard hole.
'He was 94 yards from the front of the green,' Johnson said. 'I was standing there when it rolled up, right by the 94-yard sprinkler. I went under the rope and went out to look at the sprinkler to see what was written on it.'
Mickelson's drive on No. 11 and Tiger Woods' drive on No. 18 in the final round -- he had only 75 yards to the hole, a simple lob wedge -- was all the assurance the chairman needed.
'That made me realize we were on the right track,' Johnson said during a recent interview. 'And it gave me incentive to be aggressive.'
The result was the most significant overhaul of Augusta National in its 68-year history.
There have been more drastic changes to certain holes over the years. A stream became a pond guarding the par-3 16th green in 1947. Two massive bunkers were added left of the landing area on the 18th fairway in 1967.
Still, Augusta has never had this kind of a facelift. Half of the holes no longer look the way they did when Woods won his second green jacket 11 months ago.
'We would like not to change the golf course,' Johnson said. 'The change in the game, and the change in the equipment, left us no choice.'
They left nothing to chance.
Most players routinely hit driver over the bunker down the first fairway. With the tees moved back 25 yards and the bunker extended about 15 yards toward the green, it now requires a 300-yard carry.
Should Mickelson hit that same drive on No. 11, you can bet he won't have a wedge into the green. Not only have the tees been moved back 35 yards, the left side of the fairway has been raised to make it more level, eliminating the slingshot effect off the right side.

If Woods has 75 yards left on No. 18, it will be his third shot. In perhaps the most drastic change at Augusta, the tees have been moved 60 yards back and the bunkers are 10 percent larger. To clear the bunkers on the fly is 335 yards.
The most fascinating change is No. 7, which is 45 yards longer. It's still only 410 yards, but is lined by tall Georgia pines on both sides and leaves precious little room for error.
'They used to hit 2-iron and 3-wood off the tee,' Johnson said. 'Then, they started hitting it so far and they realized the hole opened up down there, and they started hitting driver. And you saw what happened. They didn't have to worry.'
Johnson paused. He chooses his words carefully, and asked for a mulligan.
'I don't like to use that word, 'worry,'' he said. 'They're going to have to think.'
And that might be the greatest change at Augusta National.
'It isn't just the length,' Johnson said. 'The changes are going to make strategic value off the tee very important.'
Yes, power is important. It always has been and will be in golf.
But position is everything.
With the tees shifted 10 yards to the right and 20 yards back on No. 8, players will want to hit a slight fade. The ninth hole requires a slight draw. The 10th hole requires a big draw to stay out of the second cut of rough and reach the slope.
'In the past, it was a driving paradise,' Ernie Els said. 'Now, you've really got to get yourself in position and take it from there. You've really got to shape the ball.'
The advantage figures to go to the best driver, not necessarily the biggest driver.
Six of the last 10 winners at Augusta didn't exactly bomb it off the tee. Ben Crenshaw ranked 172nd in driving distance on the PGA Tour the year he won his second Masters. Mark O'Meara ranked 117th in 1998. Nick Faldo measured in at 120th in 1996.
Does the 285 extra yards help Woods, Mickelson and David Duval? It doesn't hurt, but if they're not hitting their driver well, it could lead to a long week - or worse, a short one.
'Whoever is driving the ball well and really putting well ... basically, whoever is playing well, it doesn't really matter if you're long or short at Augusta,' Woods said.
Augusta has never been a tougher, or more thorough, test.
When the changes were announced last year, Nick Price was asked what a stronger set of par-4s at Augusta National would mean.
'We'd have to use a few more brain cells,' he said. 'What little we have left.'
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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.