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Rosaforte Report: Recalling an epic Presidents Cup

By Tim RosaforteMarch 12, 2018, 7:17 pm

In this week's Rosaforte Report, the reported selection of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els as Presidents Cup captains for 2019 evokes memories of their putting duel in South Africa in 2003; Peter Kostis talks about Paul Casey and the virtue of aggressiveness; Patrick Reed justifies his sartorial homage to Tiger Woods and Liezl Els reflects on a decade of raising money for autism research.

There were no pretenses to Ernie Els being in the team room for the International side in last year’s Presidents Cup. Els told me at Liberty National last fall that he would like to follow in Nick Price’s footsteps and become the next International captain.

“I’m up for it,” Els said. “It would be a dream job.”

Making it even more of a dream is that Els gets to match strategies with Tiger Woods, his opponent in the all-time greatest moment in Presidents Cup history – their epic putting duel at Fancourt, South Africa, in 2003. The score was tied, 17-17, when Woods and Els began a sudden-death playoff. They halved the first two holes, and daylight was fading when Woods sank a 15-footer and Els dropped a 6-footer on top of him for another halve. Captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player decided to let the competition end in a tie.

While Els, who brings mojo with three victories and a course record (60) to Royal Melbourne. was a lock for his captainship, there is some second-guessing over Woods' selection. With a second-place finish on Sunday at the Valspar Championship in only his fourth tournament after back fusion surgery, it is foreseeable that Woods could make the 2019 team. Potentially, that could make Woods the first playing captain since Hale Irwin went 2-1 in a 20-12 victory over the Internationals at Robert Trent Jones GC in 1994.

As Nick Price’s protégé, Els brings cachet as a hall of famer and experience in eight Presidents Cups. Like Price, he’s extremely popular among his peers.

“Like Pricey, he’s a players guy. He mixes with all of us,” said fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen. “I think he will be an amazing captain.”

Els told me that remaining current with players is important, and to that end he will be playing more of an international schedule over the next two years as part of the education process with new players. As Els said about last year’s Presidents Cup, spending time “with the boys,” looking at the competition more as a captain than a competitor for the first time, “was quite an education.”

CASEY GOES FOR IT: Analytics have become a way that teachers teach and players play in this era of hitting shots and plotting strategy by the numbers. When Peter Kostis sat down with Paul Casey in the offseason, the conversation wasn’t so much about proximity to the hole as it was proximity to victory.

“You could even call it stupid aggressive,” Kostis said. “Confidence can paper over mistakes.”

It says something that Casey is the current leader in consecutive cuts made on the PGA Tour with 27. It also says something that Casey went 150 starts without a win on the PGA Tour until Sunday’s victory in the Valspar Championship.

The point Kostis made is that it’s more difficult to win in 2018 than it was in 2010 or even 2000, the sweet spots in Tiger Woods’ career. And as Woods was shown on Sunday at Innisbrook, playing to the fat part of the green will produce second-place finishes, but not victories like the one that Casey pulled off with a final-round 65.

As Kostis told me on Sunday, playing this type of golf required the highest levels of short game and putting, but it pays off. Casey was third in the field in strokes gained around the green.

“It’s a different game now in order to get in the winner’s circle,” Kostis said. “Somebody is going to play all out, hit the shots they need, posting the low score and they get the W.”

RED SUITS REED: There’s been some social media banter about Patrick Reed wearing Tiger colors and his Nike logo in the final round of the Valspar, as if it were sacrilegious. It turned out more than coincidental when they finished on the same number (275) and the same place (T-2).

Reed has been wearing Tiger colors since junior golf; he always thought it was cool to wear black pants and a red shirt on Sunday.

There’s also some karma in it. The first time he wore the red and black in a Tiger pairing was in the second round of the 2014 Hero World Challenge, when he shot 63. That performance and the way he played in Tiger’s pod at the 2016 Ryder Cup, were enough to justify the homage to Woods.

Reed was also justifying the Nike contract that pays him enough that he can afford to be a free agent in the golf equipment marketplace.

Reed has struggled since his epic battle with Rory McIlroy at Hazeltine. Before that, he won five times from 2013-2016, rising to No. 7 in the world – the closest he’s come to the days of comparing himself to a top-five player in the world after winning at Doral in 2014. It’s now been 24 starts without a win, but he worked on his game hard in the offseason and could emerge as one of Tiger’s partners for the Ryder Cup in Paris if he keeps trending.

“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” Reed said Sunday after his best finish since a second in last year’s PGA Championship. “But at the end of the day, back in contention, having a chance to win a golf tournament is always fun.”

TEN YEARS OF AUTISM FUNDRAISING: Els was busy on Monday, working on a passion of his, and it wasn’t related to his new role as Presidents Cup captain. Ten years ago at the Valspar Championship, Els told the world that his son, Ben, had autism. He’s been working ever since raising money for the Els Center for Autism in Jupiter.

“Ernie was more than ready to have that discussion,” said his wife, Liezl. “He was the one sharing that. He knew it was time to share.”

Luminaries such as McIlroy, Price and Nicklaus were in attendance, pushing the fundraising to over $10 million in the decade since going public.

“For us it’s been such an unbelievable journey the last 10 years,” Liezl said. “It was such a struggle in the beginning to convince people, without land or a building, what we had in mind.”

What stands today is a 26-acre campus that features a fully staffed upper and lower school. And they wouldn’t have built the upper school unless Rickie Fowler made a $1 million hole-in-one in 2016 that kept the project going.

“It’s been a fulfilling and rewarding 10 years,” Liezl said. “The parents, the kids, the progress, and how grateful they are to have a facility like this that the kids can attend. We’re very proud of it and happy for all the happy faces we see.”

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Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 1:00 pm

Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.

The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.

Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.

Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.

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No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2018, 12:25 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.

While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022.

“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted The Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.

Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.

Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.

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Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.

Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.

“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.

Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.

Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”

There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.

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Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:07 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.

Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.

As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.

Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.

Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.

“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.

Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.

“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”

That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.

“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.

Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.

In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.

“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”

That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.

Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.

Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.

One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”

Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.

In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.

Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.