Shinnecock Poses Stern Test

By Associated PressJune 15, 2004, 4:00 pm
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. --Shinnecock Hills Golf Club only gets better with age.
And tougher.
After going 90 years without a major championship, it allowed only one man to break par -- Raymond Floyd -- in the 1986 U.S. Open. When it returned in 1995, Corey Pavin became the first player in 16 years to win the U.S. Open at even par. If the wind blows all four days this time around, some believe no one will break par.
And yet players known to complain about something during a U.S. Open have nothing but praise for the 113-year-old course on the eastern end of Long Island.
Scott Verplank spoke for many when he said Shinnecock was simply the best he has ever played.
Asked why, Verplank offered an incredulous stare.
``Have you ever been there?'' he replied.
Not much has changed since Floyd's victory in 1986, and changes since Pavin won in 1995 have been mainly cosmetic.
``We've done very little to Shinnecock since the last time it was there,'' said Tom Meeks, the USGA's senior director of rules and competition who has been setting up U.S. Open courses since 1996. ``Other than three new tees and eliminating the back tee on 17, there wasn't much done at all.''
When Mark Michaud took over as course superintendent in 2000, he had his crew take down a few trees, clear out a lot of underbrush and level hillsides to open up spectacular vistas of an already breathtaking piece of property. From some holes, the entire golf course is visible.
And what a sight.
While Pebble Beach has the Pacific and Pinehurst No. 2 is famous for the turtleback greens conceived by Donald Ross, the image of Shinnecock Hills is a contrast of colors -- green fairways, framed by brown waves of fescue and bluestem grasses.
``I love the definition of the golf course, the way the bunkers are, the way the fescue and the grass grows, the difficulty of the greens, the wind,'' he said. ``I think it's going to test the players' overall game. We've had some tests at the U.S. Open that are very one-dimensional -- can you hit the fairway, can you hit the green. I think at this year's Open at Shinnecock Hills, short game will be a big factor.''
The biggest surprise is that more U.S. Opens have not been played at Shinnecock Hills.
The second U.S. Open was played at Shinnecock in 1896. James Foulis won the 36-hole tournament with a 152 on a course that stretched all of 4,423 yards.
Now, the par-70 course with plenty of doglegs, 164 sand bunkers and two water hazards will play at 6,996 yards, just 84 longer than it was in 1986. There will be seven par 4s over 435 yards, and the fairways will be about 26 yards wide, with typical U.S. Open rough -- 4 inches -- waiting to swallow up errant shots.
The fescue can be punishing or forgiving.
``The clearing of brush allowed the native grasses to grow to maturity,'' USGA agronomist Tim Moraghan said. ``Where Bethpage had thick strands of rye, you get off line (in the fescue) and the ball can be findable, retrievable, and sometimes you get lucky and there's not a lot of grass to grab the hosel of the club.
``Then again, there's a chance you could wind up in the thick stuff and have no shot.''
Jack Nicklaus hit his ball in the yellowish fescue on the 10th hole and never found it. Tiger Woods hit into the rough as a 19-year-old amateur in 1995 and tore wrist ligaments trying to hack out. He had to withdraw.
``We're not trying to come up with rough to injure anybody,'' Meeks said. ``The rough will be tough but we don't want to make it all pitch out or sand wedge. We hope they'll be challenged to make a shot out of there.''
Don McDougall, the head pro at Shinnecock for 43 years and just one of three men to ever hold that position, said the winning score will be determined by the weather.
``If we have rain, wind and cold weather that makes everything a little tougher at Shinnecock,'' he said. ``I would guess a score of 2-under would win if the weather stays the way it normally is. A calm day is a plus for the players. Hopefully they'll have good weather but not too good. We want to make a tournament out of it.''
Vijay Singh is among those with plenty of local knowledge.
``I think it's one of the best golf courses in the world I've played,'' he said. ``I've played many a times after the tournament. I was a member there, and I've gone and played quite a lot of times. It just excites you to go and play Shinnecock. Every hole is different, it's tough. You know it's going to be a hard week.
``If the wind blows, it's going to be almost impossible. I know even par out there could be winning the tournament.''
The Open was on Long Island just two years ago at Bethpage Black, a public course where golfers often slept overnight in their cars to try to get a tee time.
Things will be different at Shinnecock.
``For being an hour and a half away from Bethpage, it's a whole different world,'' said John Cook, who played in the '86 and '95 U.S. Open. ``You throw away the yardage book. It doesn't matter how far you hit it. If you don't hit in the fairway, you'll look stupid. You better be prepared to see some stuff you've never seen before.''
In Shinnecock's case, seeing is believing.
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    Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

    By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

    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.

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    Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

    By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

    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.

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    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.

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    Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

    By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

    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.

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    Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

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    Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

    By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

    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.”

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    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.”