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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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.