Hawk's Nest: The problem with Pinehurst No. 2

By John HawkinsJune 16, 2014, 1:40 pm

Forget the scrub, the so-called vegetation, the waste areas, the environmentally conscious regions brought back to Pinehurst No. 2 by course architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. They were fine. There were few complaints about those no-fly zones from the men who competed in the 114th U.S. Open, and for the most part, that is a triumph in itself.

Nine under won in a rout. Three guys finished the tournament under par. From a scoring perspective, things were very U.S. Open-like, especially when you consider the utter lack of breeze – a factor that can impart more havoc on a scorecard than any other.

Donald Trump has a problem with the new No. 2, however, and hopped on Twitter to voice those objections over the weekend. Trump decried the “horrible look” of the wasteland, as if to confuse a major championship with one of his beauty pageants, and used the opportunity to declare several of his courses better, all while luring a few golf Tweetists into a catfight.

Blather + Intent = Marketing mechanism. Nobody works the math with less grace than the Trumpster.

Amid the Donald’s transparent motive, everyone seemed to miss the real issue. Pinehurst’s domed greens are too severe for today’s well-into-the-teens green speeds. Too many well-struck iron shots landed harmlessly on a putting surface but wound up in punitive spots, victimized by the severe runoff that sent some balls beyond the vast “chipping areas.”

Hit it thin? You deserve what you get. Common sense must prevail, however, and the fact of the matter is, original designer Donald Ross never woke up one morning to find his precious babies rolling at 15 on the Stimp, or even 11. Crenshaw and Coore were reluctant to mess with Ross’ fabled greens, a decision that proved long on respect and short on logic.

“Yes, the speeds are too much for the contours,” confirms course-architect maestro Geoff Shackelford. “They need to be lowered and deflated in some cases. Resort wants no part of that. Shame.”

Sure, the ball runs off at Augusta National, but 20-footers become 50-footers, not full-blown sand blasts from 40 yards. There are some clearly defined false fronts at the home of the Masters, at Shinnecock Hills and other major sites, for that matter, but those are strategic components with a rational purpose.

I have never seen more good shots end up in bad places than I did last week. Did it harm the competitive element? Not really, but it certainly could have. It’s hard to measure fairness, especially at a U.S. Open, where the line between tough and silly becomes unintelligible. In effect, that probably becomes a much bigger story than it should.

As for the waste areas, Martin Kaymer’s ability to hit highly functional approaches from the stuff was a huge key to his, uh, runaway victory – and a ringing endorsement for the Crenshaw/Coore restoration. The return of the recovery shot became a lovable upside to this U.S. Open. Pot luck on the lies? Obviously, but poor tee balls that miss ample fairways deserve no better.

The 6-iron that landed in the center of the green and ended up in downtown Rockingham – that’s what bothered me. It will be very interesting to see how many concessions are made to the setup when the U.S. Women’s Open moves onto the grounds this week.

AS WEIRD A year as this has been, a nice little Player of the Year race is shaping up between the season’s first two major champions. Kaymer, with his Players/U.S. Open double, is obviously a lead candidate, but Masters champ Bubba Watson also won at Riviera and, from head to toe (or hip, given that it’s June), has produced the more consistent 2014 overall.

We’ve got a zillion holes of golf left, of course, but here are some vitals on how Kaymer and Watson stack up to this point:

  Martin Kaymer Bubba Watson
Starts 12 12
Wins 2 2
Additional top-5s 0 4
Additional top-10s 1 2
Missed cuts 2 1
Average finish 25th 11th
Earnings per start $328,217 $414,890
World ranking climb 39th to 11th 28th to third

I don’t think Kaymer’s going wire to wire at both The Players and U.S. Open will have any value when his PGA Tour brethren vote on the POY this fall. The margin of his victory at Pinehurst (eight strokes) might pack a little bit of punch, but not much. Hey, the guy was ranked 61st in the world heading into The Players, meaning he was barely Match Play material, so to speak.

The German also finished T-12 at the European Tour’s PGA Championship two weeks ago, but that does nothing to aid his POY cause in America. Advantage: Watson, for now. Bubba finished poorly at the Memorial and talked himself into missing the cut at Pinehurst, but T-2s at Phoenix and Doral (a WGC), plus the solo third at Jack’s House, are the difference in their bodies of work.

BLOWOUTS ARE A funny thing. From 1971-99, the largest margin of victory at a U.S. Open was three strokes, and it happened just twice – Nicklaus in 1972; David Graham in 1981. In the 15 U.S. Opens since, we’ve had two margins of eight shots (Kaymer and Rory McIlroy in 2011) and Tiger Woods by 15 in 2000.

Red Shirt also won comfortably (by three) in 2002; Jim Furyk finished with the same cushion a year later. You could attribute these wider margins to a simple law of averages, figuring that at some point, more separation had to occur, but I think there’s more to it.

Woods was the most dominant player of all-time. His giant margins became statements – an attempt to sap all potential predators of their competitive spirit. He played crazy-hard all the way in at the 1997 Masters, and he did the same at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in ’00. No letup. Even if you heard the last few neckbones cracking Saturday afternoon.

McIlroy certainly has the most complete, high-level skill set of any player since Woods, and when he’s on, he can be way better than everyone else – his two major titles by eight apiece are proof. Which takes us to Kaymer, a talented player who has gotten a lot done before his 30th birthday despite a couple of dry spells and an ill-fated stint as the game’s top-ranked player.

“It’s nearly more impressive than what I did at Congressional,” McIlmarvel said Sunday.

I’ll be the first to admit that ranking blowouts is kind of silly – it’s kind of like ranking Beatles songs – but that won’t prevent me from doing it. Kaymer’s eight-shot waltz was “clearly more impressive” than McIlroy’s three years earlier, for one very distinct reason.

He did it on a much harder course, with danger lurking around every corner. You surely recall that McIlroy won on a spongy Congressional compromised greatly by rain – it played a lot more like a Tour event than a major championship. Not that McIlrampage’s triumph was chopped liver, but mentally, it’s a much easier to protect a lead on soft and slow than first and fast.

It’s interesting to note than both occurred without Woods in the field – a knee injury sidelined him in ’11, a back ailment this time. A more relevant similarity between the Irish Lad and the German? Neither did a very good job of holding onto the top spot in the world ranking.

KAYMER REACHED NUMERO uno after losing to Luke Donald in the finals of the WGC-Match Play in February 2011. He would arrive at the Masters six weeks later seemingly spooked by his brief, ineffective history at the tournament – three missed cuts in three starts – which some found odd. Not many high-ball hitters with dependable putters show up at Augusta National thinking they have no chance.

At that point, Kaymer basically disappeared from the American radar for the better part of three years. Despite winning the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits, he remained loyal to the European Tour, where he played most of the time in ’11 and ’12. Still, he wasn’t nearly the player he’d been in 2008-09.

Like a lot of guys, Kaymer took on swing changes in an attempt to work the ball both ways, which further cluttered an already crowded mind. There were whispers that he didn’t even want to participate in the 2012 Ryder Cup – captain Jose Maria Olazabal wound up playing Kaymer in just one of the four partnered sessions.

So he holes the clinching putt in his singles match against Steve Stricker, then decides to play full-time in the United States in 2013, then manages three top-10s and finishes 103rd in the FedEx Cup standings. And for the first four months of 2014, it was much of the same.

Too talented to be awful, not tough enough to be really good. The book on Kaymer was short and not so sweet.

“I knew I would struggle a little bit for a while,” he said of the mechanical alterations. “But the combination of both – you’re getting so much attention [for being No. 1] and you’re not winning. Why is that? So why do you change? You don’t want to answer those questions all the time. You answer them once or twice, and that should be enough, but people keep going and I keep answering and answering.”

Watching Kaymer’s post-victory interview from Pinehurst, I couldn’t help but see and hear a guy conflicted by it all. Earlier in the Q&A session, he’d deflected an inquiry regarding his swing changes. Ten minutes later, he was offering a full confessional on why he struggled. We’re talking about a nice guy, very introspective and a bit more sensitive than most of the alpha males he’s been beating lately.

It adds up to a man trying to stay out of his own way. Mickelson could miss eight straight cuts and show up at a Ryder Cup thinking he was going to win five points.

“I don’t want to be rude to people,” Kaymer added, “so that’s why I kept answering.”

I’ve told this story before and I’ll tell it again, given its relevance. Woods had just finished his pre-tournament news conference in Dallas one year and was on the putting green. I approached him and made a rather daring comment – one that might have gotten stuffed down my throat at another time.

“Man, you just spent 45 minutes in there with the media and you said absolutely nothing,” I said with a smile. “You’re better at giving us nothing than you are at playing golf.”

Tiger chuckled. It was rather clear he was pleased with himself over my observation. That dude has 14 majors, this one has two. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”