Spontaneous Moments Spark Strange Golf Stories
Jack Nicklaus was on his way home from a design project in Spain when he stopped in London for a brief chat with the media. He was asked about the British Open at St. Andrews, and Nicklaus said it would be his final major championship. And this time, he meant it.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was walking to the clubhouse during the finals of the Match Play Championship when he was asked an innocuous question about the future at La Costa Resort, which always seems to be under water. Out of the blue, he tipped his hand about massive changes in store for golf.
'We're looking at a lot of different things in the schedule,' he said. 'It's time to take a look at a number of parts of the schedule to see if we can make it more compelling.'
Golf is always full of surprises, especially outside the ropes. Here are some other moments that went beyond birdies and bogeys, green jackets and pink skirts:
It is not unusual for players to help each other with tips, whether on the range or during a practice round.
Michael Campbell was playing with Vijay Singh at Pinehurst No. 2 early in the week of the U.S. Open when they got to the 15th hole. Campbell sought the advice of a three-time major champion on how to play the bunker shot.
'He told me to get your hands ahead of the ball and hit a floaty, running shot,' Campbell said. 'It pops out and high and floats, so there's no check spin.'
On the last day of the tournament, Campbell had a two-shot lead when he hit into the bunker on No. 15. Using the tip from Singh, he blasted out to 6 feet to save par, the pivotal shot in his first major title.
Campbell did not see Singh again until they were at St. Andrews for the British Open. As they passed each other on the range, Campbell smiled and said, 'Hey, thanks for the tip.'
David Duval brought his family to St. Andrews for the British Open, but got off to a late start when he tweaked his back and had to spend an hour in the fitness trailer before his first practice round. He joined his group on the fourth hole, and was walking up the fairway when he stopped and took from his bag what appeared to be a range finder.
It was a digital camera.
Duval paused and took pictures of his stepsons on the Old Course -- Deano standing beside a pot bunker, Nick on the tee with Fred Couples and Davis Love III. Duval never looked more at ease.
He had another tough year, with more rounds in the 80s than the 60s. But on that day, Duval showed he is far from miserable on the golf course.
The relationship between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia can best be described as curt, and the 25-year-old Spaniard is not afraid to get under Woods' skin. That much was clear at The Players Championship.
The tour has a policy that practice rounds cannot start on the back nine after 8:30 a.m., but Garcia squeezed in front of Woods and Retief Goosen on Wednesday. Woods, who tees off at dawn and tries to finish before breakfast, found himself waiting on nearly every shot.
Worse yet, Kenny Mayne of ESPN joined Garcia for some fun on camera the last few holes.
'I'm going to hold up play for Tiger,' Mayne said to Garcia as he took an extra putt on the 18th.
'Yeah, they're loving it,' Garcia said.
Garcia is a friend of Goosen, and waited for him behind the green. As they chatted, Woods came over to shake Goosen's hand.
He never looked at Garcia, standing a shoulder's length away.
Robert Allenby had not played Doral in four years. He was walking by a row of lockers looking for the gold plate with his name on it when he gave up and asked the attendant, who showed him a locker with his name written on masking tape.
'You must have been one of the late entries, but we're working on it,' the attendant told him. 'We should have it up this afternoon, don't you worry. But it's great to see you again. We've missed you the last few years. It's great to have you back here.'
Allenby was impressed with such star treatment, and was leaving to eat lunch when the attendant called after him.
'Oh, by the way Stuart, you get the upper and lower lockers,' he said.
Allenby and Stuart Appleby are best friends from Australia who often are mistaken for each other, for no reason other than the spelling of their names.
Tiger Woods wasn't playing his best at Bay Hill, and he knew it. Waiting on the tee at the par-3 17th toward the end of the third round, he muttered to himself, 'I (stink). I'll probably miss the cut next week.'
Someone standing next to the tee reminded Woods that he since he left Stanford after two years and didn't get his degree, he was stuck playing golf for a living.
'I could always go to night school,' Woods replied.
And what would be his major? Something like economics?
Woods smiled when he heard this.
'I don't need economics,' he said. 'That's why I left school in the first place.'
Predictions can be a dangerous business in golf, although Adam Scott nailed one.
He was at the Sony Open discussing his plans for the early part of the season when someone asked why he was taking a month off from the PGA Tour.
'For a tour that tries to follow the sun, it seems we play under water a lot of the time,' Scott said.
While there were weather issues on the West Coast, rain wasn't a factor until Scott returned to the PGA Tour at the Nissan Open, where only 36 holes were completed. Six of the next eight tournaments were delayed by rain, and Scott played in five of them.
Scott, by the way, won the Nissan Open in a playoff. But because it was only 36 holes, the PGA Tour didn't count it as an official victory. That means the 25-year-old Aussie did not qualify for the season-opening Mercedes Championships next week at Kapalua.
That's too bad. The weather is supposed to be gorgeous.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
V-i-n-d-i-c-a-t-i-o-n: Repeat gives Koepka credit he deserves
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – In an ironic twist Sunday, the last man to win consecutive U.S. Opens was tasked with chronicling Brooks Koepka’s final round at Shinnecock Hills.
Carrying a microphone for Fox Sports, Curtis Strange kept his composure as the on-course reporter. He didn’t cough in Koepka’s downswing. Didn’t step on his ball in the fescue. Didn’t talk too loudly while Koepka lined up a putt.
Instead, Strange stood off to the side, clipboard covering his mouth, and watched in awe as Koepka stamped himself as the best U.S. Open player of this next generation.
And so after Koepka became the first player in 29 years to take consecutive Opens, Strange found himself fourth in the greeting line near the 18th green. He was behind Koepka’s playing competitor, Dustin Johnson. And he was behind Koepka’s father, Bob. And he was behind Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott.
But there Strange was, standing on a sandy path leading to the clubhouse, ready to formally welcome Koepka into one of the most exclusive clubs in golf.
“Hell of a job, bud,” Strange barked in his ear, above the din. “Incredible.”
That Koepka prevailed on two wildly different layouts, and in totally different conditions, was even more satisfying.
Erin Hills, in Middle of Nowhere, Wis., was unlike any U.S. Open venue in recent memory. The wide-open fairways were lined with thick, deep fescue, but heavy rain early in the week and the absence of any significant wind turned golf’s toughest test into the Greater Milwaukee Open. Koepka bashed his way to a record-tying score (16 under par) and over the past year has never felt fully appreciated, in large part because of the weirdness of the USGA setup.
Koepka doesn’t concern himself with that type of noise, of course, but when he arrived at Shinnecock earlier this week he felt a sense of familiarity. The generous fairways. The punishing venue. The premium on iron play.
“It’s a similar feel,” Elliott said. “We said it all week.”
A new, quirky venue like Erin Hills might not have been held in high regard, but the rich history of Shinnecock? It demanded respect.
“He’s some player,” Strange said, “and I’m proud of him because there was some talk last year of Erin Hills not being the Open that is supposed to be an Open. But he won on a classic, so he’s an Open player.”
“This one is a lot sweeter,” Koepka said.
Those around the 28-year-old were shocked that he even had a chance to defend his title.
Last fall Koepka began feeling discomfort in his left wrist. He finished last in consecutive tournaments around the holidays, then underwent an MRI that showed he had a torn ligament in his left wrist.
Koepka takes immense pride in having a life outside of golf – he never watches Tour coverage on off-weeks – but he was downright miserable during his indefinite stint on the sidelines. He said it was the lowest point of his career, as he sat in a soft cast up to his elbow, binge-watching TV shows and gaining 15 pounds. The only players he heard from during his hiatus: Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.
“You just feel like you get forgotten,” Koepka said.
During the spring, Elliott would occasionally drive from Orlando to Jupiter, Fla., to check on his boss. “He was down in the dumps,” he said. “That sort of injury he had, it didn’t seem like there was going to be an end. There was no timeframe on it, and that was the most frustrating thing.”
After the Masters, Koepka told Elliott that his wrist was feeling better and that he was going to start hitting balls. Elliott brought his clubs to South Florida, and they played a few holes at The Floridian.
“He was hitting it right on the button,” Elliott said. “I said, ‘Are you sure you haven’t been practicing?’ He hadn’t missed a beat. I have no idea how he does it. He’s just a tremendously talented guy.”
In limited action before the Open, Koepka fired a trio of 63s, at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial. He’s never been short on confidence – as a 12-year-old he once told his dad that he was going to drop out of school in four years and turn pro – and he recently woofed to swing coach Claude Harmon III that he was primed to win sometime in May or June.
“I said to him on the range this morning, ‘You were on your couch in January and February, not really knowing if you were going to be able to play here,’” Harmon said. “I think that’s why it means so much to him. That’s one of the reasons that he kept saying no one was more confident than him, because to get this opportunity to come back and play and have a chance to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, he was going to take advantage of it as best he could.”
Koepka carded a second-round 66 to put himself in the mix, then survived a hellacious third-round setup to join a four-way tie for the lead, along with Johnson, the world No. 1 and his fellow Bash Brother.
As much as Johnson is praised for his resilience, Koepka has proven to be equally tough in crunch time, especially in this major. There’s no better stage for Koepka to showcase his immense gifts than the Open, an examination that tests players physically, mentally and even spiritually. But Koepka, like Johnson, never joined the growing chorus of complainers at Shinnecock. The closest he came to criticizing the setup was this: “I think the course is very close.”
Rather than whine, he said that he relished the challenge of firing away from flags. He accepted bad shots. He tried to eliminate double bogeys. Even after his wrist injury, Koepka showed no hesitation gouging out of the deep fescue, his ferocious clubhead speed allowing him to escape the rough and chase approach shots near the green, where he could rely on his sneaky-good short game.
“He has the perfect game to play in majors,” Harmon said. “He probably plays more conservatively in majors. We’re always joking that we wish he would play the way he does in majors every week. I just think he knows how important pars and bogeys are. It says a lot about him as a player.”
Johnson has many of the same physical and mental attributes, and they’ve each benefited from the other’s intense focus and discipline. They both adhere to a strict diet and are frequent workout partners, which even included a gym session on Sunday morning, before their penultimate pairing. They made small talk, chatting about lifting and how many of the Sunday pins were located in the middle of the green, but after they arrived at the course they barely said two words to each other.
“They’re good friends on and off the course,” Harmon said, “but they definitely want to kick the s--- out of each other.”
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Strange said. “If they’re best buddies, well, you’re standing between me and the trophy. You don’t care much for him for 4 1/2 hours.”
There was much at stake Sunday, but none more significant than Koepka’s march on history. Squaring off head-to-head against the game’s best player, Koepka outplayed Johnson from the outset, going 3 under for the first 10 holes to open up a two-shot lead. And unlike at Erin Hills, where he pulled away late with birdies, it was his par (and bogey) saves that kept Koepka afloat on Nos. 11, 12 and 14.
In the end, he clipped Fleetwood (who shot a record-tying 63) by one and Johnson by two.
“You’ve got to give him a lot of credit,” Strange said, shaking his head. “He’s got a lot of guts.”
As Koepka marched away to sign his card, Strange was asked if it was bittersweet to know that he’s no longer the answer to the trivia question, the last guy to go back-to-back at the Open.
“Heck no!” he said. “What are they going to do, take one away? I’m a part of a group. And it’s a good group. I hope it means as much to him as it has to me.”
This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.
His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.
“This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”
The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.
Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.
There was also one other similarity.
“Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.
“It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”
Sunday drama won't overshadow USGA's issues
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It looked like a British Open.
It was playing like a U.S. Open.
Through two rounds, Shinnecock Hills was double trouble in the best kind of way.
It was a hybrid in the most appealing sense of golf course architecture’s ancient allure and its modern defenses.
Halfway through, the USGA was nailing the setup, with Dustin Johnson the only player under par in one of the toughest but fairest tests in recent U.S. Open memory.
This looked like it was going to be remembered as USGA CEO Mike Davis’ masterpiece, but even a Sunday to remember couldn’t trump a Saturday to forget.
Sunday’s drama - with the history Brooks Koepka made becoming the first player in three decades to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, with Tommy Fleetwood’s 63 equaling Johnny Miller’s final round record - could not restore faith being lost in the USGA’s ability to set up and manage this championship.
This U.S. Open ended with footnotes the size of headlines.
The issues arising Saturday with the USGA losing control of the course raised even more troubling questions about why this organization’s heavy hand can’t seem to avoid becoming as much a part of the story as the competition.
The controversy that was ignited Saturday when Phil Mickelson intentionally incurred a two-shot penalty by making a putting stroke on a moving ball also raised questions about the organization’s ability to fairly administer its own rules.
It’s a shame, because Davis has some good ideas.
His reimagined vision of this championship as the “ultimate test” makes sense as a better and more complete event. His ideas are designed to identify the game’s most complete player on America’s best courses better than any other major.
It’s just not working.
This year’s failure in the wake of the ’04 debacle at Shinnecock Hills is especially worrisome. Davis vowed it wouldn’t happen again. Somehow, some way, he let it happen again.
Maybe the old standards we’ve come to judge the U.S. Open upon are too high, impossible to meet with today’s more athletic player, high-tech coaching and space-age drivers, shafts and balls.
Nobody ever protected par better than the USGA, but maybe par can’t be properly protected anymore, without tricking up a course.
Because if USGA officials can’t make its exacting formula work at an architectural treasure like Shinnecock Hills, where they had it absolutely perfect for two days, you wonder if they can make it work at all.
The testament to how the USGA was nailing its formula wasn’t in what we heard the first two days. It was in what we weren’t hearing. Only one player was under par through Friday, but there wasn’t a complaint to be heard in the locker room or on the range.
They were wiping the smiles off players’ faces without infuriating them.
In that regard, the USGA was delivering a miracle.
The wonderful appeal Shinnecock Hills held as a U.S. Open/British Open hybrid at week’s start ended up being twisted into something else by week’s end. It stood as a symbol of the championship’s confusion over its proper identity.
Even with Sunday’s compelling storylines unfolding, players were still frustrated over setup.
Saturday was over the edge, with Davis admitting “there were parts of this, simply put, that were too tough.” He said winds were stronger than expected, but the winds weren’t that much different than were forecast.
So USGA officials softened the course for Sunday, with more overnight watering and more friendly hole locations.
That turned Shinnecock Hills into Jekyl and Hyde on the weekend.
Scoring told the story.
Rickie Fowler shot 84 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday. Fleetwood shot 78 and 63.
They weren’t alone, even though the weather wasn’t as dramatically different as the scores would indicate.
This wasn’t about the weather. It was about the course being manipulated in ways that frustrated players.
“They soaked the hell out of it,” Pat Perez said after tying for 36th. “They’ve got all the pins in the middle.
“It is supposed to gradually get to where it was Saturday afternoon. You don’t lose it on Saturday and then try to make up for it, soak the course and make it totally different.”
Brandt Snedeker was equally befuddled playing drastically different conditions in weather that wasn’t so drastically different.
“The thing that is unfortunate is that the guys that were playing the best golf this week took the brunt of it yesterday, when it should have been vice versa,” Snedeker said. “Some guys got robbed of a really good chance to win a golf tournament yesterday afternoon, which is not fair.”
There were other issues that continued to challenge faith in the USGA.
Despite later acknowledging it set up the course too tough in spots on Saturday, the USGA put players on the clock for slow play.
The Mickelson penalty also raised issues.
He got a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5 (playing moving ball) when there was some outcry over whether he should have been penalized under Rule 1-2 (exerting influence), which would have opened the door to disqualification for a serious breach. The USGA rigorously defended 14-5 (playing moving ball) as the proper call.
John Daly wasn’t disqualified for striking a moving ball in a similar instance at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. He also got a two-shot penalty, but there was a difference in the situations that might have justified Mickelson’s disqualification.
Daly said he intentionally hit a moving ball out of frustration, as protest over the USGA’s unfair hole locations.
Mickelson said he intentionally hit a moving ball on the 13th green Saturday at Shinnecock Hills to try prevent his ball from rolling off the green. He said he knew the rules and was intentionally breaking them to gain an advantage. He compared it to using the rules to get a better lie with a drop, but there’s a difference between using the rules to your advantage and breaking them to gain an advantage.
The difference in those motivations, as Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee pointed out, opened the interpretation of the violation as a serious breach worthy of disqualification.
The question of whether Mickelson’s manipulation of the rules was serious enough to invoke disqualification as a breach of etiquette under Rule 33-7 was dismissed by the USGA as inappropriate.
It should be noted that the USGA and R&A should be applauded for its monumental overhaul of the Rules of Golf, a rules modernization going into effect next year. It’s a welcomed simplification of the rules that required an exhaustive review.
This week’s complications show the unrelenting challenges they continue to tackle.
We leave this U.S. Open with history being made, with Koepka joining Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange as just the third players since World War II to win the title in back-to-back years.
We also leave hoping the USGA can deliver four days of next year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as free of controversy as it delivered the first two days at Shinnecock Hills, because this year’s championship felt half baked.
Will Gray contributed to this report.
Brandel rips USGA: 'There's no obvious leadership'
The 2018 U.S. Open will certainly be remembered for Brooks Koepka's successful title defense.
But there's no doubt that it will also be remembered for Phil Mickelson's decision to hit a moving golf ball on Saturday, for the USGA's decision not to disqualify him, and for the governing body once again losing control of Shinnecock Hills over the weekend.
Speaking on "Live From the U.S. Open" on Sunday night, analyst Brandel Chamblee took the USGA and its leadership to task for more than just the inconsistent playing conditions this week.
His comments - edited and condensed for clarity - appear below:
"Something was amiss in a big, big way [at Shinnecock Hills]. I think the USGA has lost a lot of the trust of the golf world. They've done it for numerous reasons.
"On their watch, they missed COR – the rebound effect in drivers. They missed the rebound effect and the combination of the rebound effect [with] the ball. They missed it, on their watch. And now, the feeling is that they’re crying foul, even though it was on their watch. And so, essentially, the equipment companies got it done, by [the USGA’s] standards, legally.
"On their watch, there have been huge mistakes in major championships. … We well know this one (Shinnecock in 2018) – a colossal mistake all the way across the board. The golf course was bumpy the first day; they didn’t quite get that right. It was awful the third day. And today, in a different kind of way, it was far too easy.
"And then there’s penalties that they levy that make absolutely no sense, penalties that they don’t levy – not disqualifying Phil Mickelson yesterday. …
"There seems to be no obvious leadership, you know, to me. No obvious leadership heading in the right direction."