Bethpage Black and Blue
I've played a number of U.S. Open venues, and figured this linksy layout would be tough, but not outrageous. To tune up, I played Shinnecock Hills G.C. A similar feel and a USGA pedigree to boot. I played well, shot mid-70s and was certain that my game was ready for the Black.
I stood on the first tee feeling a bit sorry for golfers who would be dissuaded, rightfully so, from a shot at the Black Course. Sometimes a layout is just too challenging for a particular golfer, as I was about to find out. Jack Nicklaus says that the U.S. Open is a complete examination of a player's golf game. If that's the case, Bethpage Black is a graduate course in distance with an emphasis on humility.
Take a hole-by-hole look at Bethpage Black
The first tee has a dramatic elevation, and with the USGA mow pattern in effect, the landing area seems impossibly small. The hole doglegs to the right and is not overly stressful to play. I nailed my drive, as long and straight as I can hit it, and was at the dogleg in the middle of the fairway. A short iron and two putts and I was on my way.
I didn't realize it would end up being my best drive of the day and the easiest hole by far. I like a course that allows you to play your way into your game. One that starts off with a moderate hole and gets progressively more difficult. Bethpage does just that.
The USGA preparations, my unfamiliarity with the course and blustery conditions conspired to yield a couple of bogeys, but when I turned from the third green to make my way to the fourth tee I caught a beautiful, elevated view of the course's signature hole. A beautiful par-5 with a split level fairway dominated by bunkers possessing that classic Tillinghast look, the fourth is a sight to behold. I hit two good shots and had a sand wedge in, but gave it a little too much. I thought I'd successfully negotiated all of the trouble on the hole, but my ball had caught the slope just behind the hole and had run almost all the way to the fifth fairway.
As my score rapidly inflated, the course just seemed to get longer and longer. The wind was rarely an ally, and on some holes I hit good drives that barely reached the fairway. I've been technologically impaired for some time now. I prefer the karmic power of my dad's old Wilson blades to the forged/cavity back forgiveness of modern day equipment. I have decided I'm old-school (read 'cheap'). My one nod to the advancements made is my original Callaway Warbird driver. I can keep it straight, but don't hit it more than 280, ever.
The characteristics of the course were very pleasant: native fescue grasses, ever-present wind and the yawning thick-fingered bunkers of A.W. Tillinghast. The parallel fairways of 10 and 11 had an ancient links feel to them, but treachery lay just off the short grass. The rough has been groomed, not only to choke the fairways into slivers of their former selves, but to be the thick brutish tangle which is only seen at a U.S. Open. While not yet at championship length when I played, the density was staggering. Any drive that wandered off the fairway would settle down into the rough. Usually the best play was to just advance the ball however possible, and play for a bogey.
The problem with this strategy was the havoc the thick grass would play with the clubface. Being twisted to awkward angles made finding the fairway from the rough an uncertain proposition and an interesting adventure.
By the time I'd reached 15, with its awesome blind green elevated five stories above the fairway, I was a beaten man. Rough, bunkers and sheer length had humbled me. If this was an examination, I needed to ask the teacher for a mulligan. The closing three holes were as challenging and varied as the 15 that preceded them. The elevated tee shot of 16, the infinite number of hole locations on the wide, but shallow par-3 17th and the elevated tee and green of the home hole are characteristics I'm looking forward to watching on NBC's telecasts.
I walked away wondering how the world's best would fare this June. It's the longest U.S. Open course in history, with some huge par-4s. Today's professionals hit the ball so much farther than good amateurs, I'm not sure they'll struggle with the length. U.S. Open rough is always penal. Players will have to be accurate with their length. The USGA also likes to get that stimpmeter running a little, so look for hard and fast greens. Even speedy greens will be defenseless, however. Nicely sized and pretty much devoid of undulation, there will be a ton of long putts made this year.
In the final analysis, a player who is long and straight off of the tee and can hit high approaches to stop on hard greens, should have the advantage. If it rains early in the week and the greens are soft for competition, the scores should be pretty low. But, look out if it's dry and windy. The USGA would love those conditions. In the wind, players will have trouble judging distances and will also struggle to keep the ball in the fairway. Dry greens will remain hard and fast, and would have an added element of intrigue as wind gusts affect balls on the putting surface.
A championship set-up, the vagaries of Mother Nature, a classic design, the top players in the world, a course too long and demanding for 99 percent of the world's golfers, the 102nd United States Open is upon us. Will the world's best players hit it a mile and feast on the flattest greens of any national championship in recent memory? Or will Mother Nature throw in her two cents and help A.W. Tillinghast leave the cream of the crop bruised, just like yours truly. We will soon have our answer.
Full coverage of the 102nd U.S. Open
Third-round tee times for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.
Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.
Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.
Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.
4:15AM ET: Gavin Green
4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed
4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose
4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton
4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley
5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner
5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson
5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)
5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood
5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello
6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford
6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma
6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele
6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood
6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na
6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin
7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim
7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira
7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters
7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li
7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker
7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink
8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook
8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris
8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim
8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari
8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson
8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell
9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka
9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott
9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren
9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone
9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett
10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler
10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell
10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau
10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen
10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele
10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood
11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson
Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.
He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.
“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.
At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.
Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.
“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”
Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?
Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.
Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.
“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”
Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.
Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.
“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.
More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.
“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”
After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood
With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.
While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.
Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.
Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2
Zach Johnson: 13/2
Rory McIlroy: 7/1
Jordan Spieth: 8/1
Rickie Fowler: 9/1
Kevin Kisner: 12/1
Xander Schauffele: 16/1
Tony Finau: 16/1
Matt Kuchar: 18/1
Pat Perez: 25/1
Brooks Koepka: 25/1
Erik van Rooyen: 50/1
Alex Noren: 50/1
Tiger Woods: 50/1
Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1
Danny Willett: 60/1
Francesco Molinari: 60/1