Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.

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Stanford returns home to share Evian celebration

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2018, 5:33 pm

Angela Stanford’s eyes welled with tears when her flight touched down at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in her return from winning the Evian Championship.

When she lands from the south, as she did Monday, she always looks for the towering grain elevators in her Saginaw hometown. She also always looks for downtown Fort Worth’s skyline.

She got teary with the replica of the Evian Championship trophy in her carry-on in the luggage bin above her seat, knowing she wasn’t bringing it home just for her.

But for her mother, Nan, who’s battling a second bout with breast cancer.

For her father, Steve, who got her started in the game.

For other family and friends.

For Shady Oaks, the club Ben Hogan made famous, where she is a member.

And for TCU, her alma mater.

She realized how empty she felt in so many returns from major championships.

She’s 40 now.

She won in her 76th try in a major.

For so long, Stanford believed she had what it took to win a major, but that only made the string of disappointments harder.

“So I remembered what it felt like coming home from so many disappointments, but not this time,” Stanford said. “This time I got to bring something home for everyone to see.”



When Stanford got off the plane, her parents were among a group of family and friends waiting to greet her. So was her TCU coach, Angie Larkin, who brought along the Horned Frogs mascot, Superfrog.

Tour pros Kristy McPherson, Dori Carter, Kendall Dye and Emory University coach and former tour pro Katie Futcher were all in Fort Worth helping Stanford celebrate.

“It was pretty cool,” Stanford said. “Of course, I asked them all if they wanted to see the trophy.”

She pulled it out of her carry-on and never put it back.

“It’s a heavy trophy, but I told them I’m carrying this everywhere,” Stanford said.

There was a celebration dinner with family and friends Monday night, and another celebration with friends on Tuesday.

“I think it’s just the start of many celebrations with more friends to see,” Stanford said.

Stanford went to work with a new swing coach about a year ago, Todd Kolb, from Sioux Falls, S.D. In her flight home, she thought about how grateful she was for all the help poured into her game, not just the good work Kolb is doing, but the foundation important figures in her life helped to lay. She thought about the lessons and wisdom Amy Fox, Mike Wright and Joe Hallett passed along.

“I’m still using things I learned from my first instructor,” Stanford said. “Amy Fox is a huge reason I’m playing on tour. Mike Wright is a huge reason why I’ve won on tour. Joe Hallett helped me navigate through a tough time in my career.

“They were all important to my winning Sunday. They all gave me building blocks, and they’ve all helped lay the foundation to what I’m learning now from Todd.”

Stanford said being able to share her gratefulness made her return home special.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “It’s been everything you could imagine it would be.”

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Finau plays with 'idol' Tiger, but don't get excited

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 5:05 pm

ATLANTA – This has been a season of firsts for Tony Finau.

He played his first Masters – after severely injuring his ankle, no less – and all four of the World Golf Championship events for the first time. He also made his first Ryder Cup team.

On Tuesday at East Lake there was another first. He played a nine-hole practice round with Tiger Woods.


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“It was pretty special for me because it's the first time I ever played with him in a practice round, tournament, whatever the case may be,” Finau said. “I've been on Tour four years now, and that's the first time I ever had the chance to play with him. Again, my golfing idol. That was a special day for me yesterday to play with him, pick his brain a little bit, and just get to know him a little bit better.”

Woods and Finau played with Bryson DeChambeau, who has become the popular choice to be a potential partner for Woods at next week’s Ryder Cup. Some have speculated that Finau could partner with Phil Mickelson in Paris, but Tuesday’s practice round created the scenario of another rookie possibly playing with Woods. Finau seemed to quickly dismissed that idea.

“I don't see a lot of potential playing with Tiger,” Finau said.

Celia Barquin Arozamena Iowa State University athletics

Pros share condolences for slain Iowa State player

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 19, 2018, 5:01 pm

As details continue to emerge surrounding the murder of 22-year-old Celia Barquin Arozamena, multiple professional athletes took to Twitter to share their condolences for the former Iowa State star.

Arozamena was found dead Monday at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, Iowa, where she was playing a round of golf by herself when she was allegedly attacked by a nearby homeless man. Twenty-two-year-old Collin Daniel Richards is charged with first-degree murder after allegedly stabbing Arozamena and leaving her body in a pond on the golf course.

Arozamena was the 2018 Big XII champion and Iowa State Female Athlete of the Year, and she was a native of Spain. As the Iowa State community mourned her death, fellow Spanish athletes shared their thoughts, including former Masters champ Sergio Garcia and NBA star Pau Gasol:

Arozamena's amateur accomplishments extended beyond the collegiate setting, as she also won the European Amateur Championship in July. Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam tweeted a photo she took with Arozamena at a previous event, calling the incident "horrendous."

Iowa State is planning to honor Arozamena Saturday during their home football game against Akron, with the team wearing "CBA" decals bearing her initials.

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'It's been fun': Tiger embracing this year's moral victory

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 3:52 pm

ATLANTA – The aura of Tiger Woods has always demanded that his accomplishments, or failures, be graded on a unique scale. When your only competition is a record book and a guy named Jack, normal benchmarks just won’t cut it.

When you’ve won 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour titles, there’s no such thing as a moral victory.

Well, there didn’t used to be. But this is different.

It was a year ago next week that Woods first offered an unfiltered glimpse into the state of his body and his game following fusion surgery on his lower back in April 2017.

“The pain's gone, but I don't know what my golfing body is going to be like, because I haven't hit a golf shot yet,” he said at last September’s Presidents Cup. “So that's going to take time to figure that out and figure out what my capabilities are going forward, and there's no rush.”

As timelines go, it’s telling that it was shortly after those matches in New Jersey that Woods reached out to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to ask about the possibility of being the captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2019. With Tiger, it’s always about reading between the lines, but it’s a relatively straightforward message that less than a year ago he was contemplating life as a captain, not necessarily a player.

Tiger has spoken often this year about the uncertainty he felt entering this season, about the unknowns that awaited him during this most recent comeback. He’s even suggested that for the first time in his career, he began a season with dramatically tempered expectations.

That outlook began to change, albeit slowly at first, following a pedestrian West Coast swing that included a missed cut at the Genesis Open.

“The beginning of the year was such an unknown, I didn't know if I would be able to make it to Florida and to play the Florida Swing. Let's just start out at Torrey and see how it goes,” Woods explained on Wednesday at the Tour Championship.

He not only remained upright throughout the spring, but he also showed flashes of his former self with a runner-up showing at the Valspar Championship.

Unlike Justin Thomas, who studiously thumbs a lengthy list of goals into his cell phone each season, Woods keeps his vision board largely to himself. Nonetheless, there have been milestones throughout the season that have checked the right boxes.

For starters, Tiger will finish this season with 19 starts, the most he’s played since 2012. In fact, just once since 2000 has he played more than 19, which is as good a sign as any that his health, if not his game, is up to the task.


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His performance on the course has also steadily progressed. Although he’s not won since 2013, and that will always be the standard by which he’s judged, his world ranking tracks quite steeply in one direction. When he finished 15th at the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial, limited-field event in December, he was 650th in the world. Before the season’s first major, he cracked the top 100. Last month, his runner-up showing at the PGA Championship moved him back into the top 30.

That progression paved the way for a return to the World Golf Championship at Firestone and this week’s Tour Championship.

“Just to have that opportunity to be able to add a tournament, I thought I was going to be taking tournaments away, but to have added a couple and to have earned my way into Akron, I look at this year more as I've exceeded a lot of my expectations and goals because so much of it was an unknown,” he said.

This week’s start at East Lake is particularly rewarding considering it’s been five year’s since he played the finale. To Tiger, the Tour Championship is a straightforward meritocracy.

“What I've missed most about playing this event is that in order to get into this event, I would have earned my way being part of the top 30 most consistent players of the year and the best players of the year,” he said. “No exemptions into this event. Either you get here or you don't. It's a very hard line.”

There’s still plenty of work to do. On Wednesday, he talked of getting all of the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place at the same time, something that’s been an issue even during his best weeks.

The scale is always going to be wildly tilted when it comes to Tiger and for many that’s not going to change. It’s the price he must pay for unparalleled success. But for Woods and those around him, it’s impossible and frankly unfair to grade this season based entirely on wins and loses.

In sports, you are what your record says you are. Maybe when Woods calls it a career, 2018 will be nothing more than a bridge to bigger and better things. But as Tiger took mental inventory of his 22nd full season on Tour on Wednesday, the smile that spread across his face went well beyond the standings and statistics – “It’s been fun,” he beamed.