Hawk's Nest: Top 5 U.S. Open venues

By John HawkinsJune 10, 2013, 2:02 pm

Some of the best memories during my 14 years at Golf World originated during our coverage of the major championships. Five or six of us would live in a rented house for the week, which required some personal adjustments, especially at the British Open. I slept on some kid’s waterbed for 10 years at the Masters. By the time I’d figure out how to use the coffee machine anywhere, the tournament would be over.

So I’m no genius and I’m definitely not a handyman, but as my longtime colleague, Bob Verdi, once cracked, “Scotland will be a great country when it’s finished.” When you fly a half-dozen writers overseas and put them in someone’s home with no adult supervision, stuff happens. Rental cars get banged up, guys eventually start wearing each other out, but 90 percent of the time, those experiences were an absolute blast.

Having spent about one-third of my career rotting away in hotels, even the big house we had for the 2004 U.S. Open – the one that came without any sheets or towels – was kind of fun. Especially now that it’s in the rear-view mirror.

AS FOR THE reason we gathered on Long Island that week, Shinnecock Hills was a staggering example of how a great venue can be taken to undue extremes when the USGA loses sight of its mission. The same thing happened a year later at Pinehurst, which was the last time a U.S. Open course setup was overseen by Tom Meeks.

My take was that Meeks was a nice guy who got in a little over his head – especially when dealing with pressure from longtime bluecoats and other high-ranking USGA officials. The tournament has been a lot more consistent under Mike Davis, who is now the executive director. Davis was an outstanding junior golfer who seems in touch with the tough-but-fair premise as it relates to the world’s best players.

Hawkins video: Merion Golf Club | Open favorites | Mickelson's rise

In May 2008, Davis was kind enough to let me play three rounds at Torrey Pines a month before it hosted the event. The rough was beyond diabolical – we failed to find my ball after drives at the ninth and 18th settled just a yard or two off the fairway. I’m not going to tell you Davis cut the rough because of those two shots, but it definitely was less penal when the big boys got to town.

Consider that a long-winded introduction to my list of the best U.S. Open venues – some of which were set up well, some of which were not:

1. Shinnecock (pictured above). Having played it for the fifth time last summer, I think it’s the finest course in America, period. Spectacular terrain, a relatively simple but brilliant design – and relentless in terms of making skill requisite. Shinnecock’s tilted greens are susceptible to situations like ’04, when the surfaces received no water and several eventually became unputtable, particularly the par-3 seventh.

“It was absolutely perfect on Wednesday,” Ernie Els chagrined. “Such a shame, how they let it get away.”

2. Oakmont. Looking back, Davis told me he wished he’d trimmed the rough a bit in ’07, when Angel Cabrera beat Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. Veteran tour pro John Cook had a more fascinating idea, however, saying, “If you turned the entire place into one giant fairway, cut down all the rough and let the ball roll into some crazy places, you’d have the coolest tournament ever.”

You’ve gotta love a thinker. Oakmont was built on a seemingly endless stretch of tilted earth, right at the intersection of Common Sense and Gravity. Its reputation as the home of golf’s slickest greens might have something to do with the USGA playing it safe in 1994, then again in ’07. If you’re looking to reward precision amid the perdition, this is the spot.

3. Pebble Beach. Maybe I’ve ranked it a bit too high, but aesthetics have to count for something, and besides, the small greens make for tough targets even when you’ve driven it nicely. Pebble’s entire back nine is vastly underrated – the postcard holes get all the love. Davis let the 13th green get a little silly in 2010, a mistake he admitted, but it’s not his fault that tournament drowned in boredom.

4. Pinehurst. Its debut in 1999 remains the best U.S. Open I’ve covered: Payne Stewart over Phil Mickelson at the buzzer after Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh faded late. An all-star cast and a spectacular finish is hard to beat – unseasonably cool temperatures and clouds/rain allowed the No. 2 course to remain navigable. The return six years later was a mess by Sunday; neither guy in the final group (Olin Browne, Retief Goosen) failed to break 80.

This is another site where we don’t need a bunch of USGA chefs over the broth. Pinehurst’s domed greens were designed for speeds much slower than are played today. The meaty par 4s and exquisite bunkering are among the many wonderful characteristics, but if you want to turn the place into a bogey farm, you’re missing the point.

5. Bethpage. Both U.S. Opens there (2002, ’09) were basically ruined by rain, which hurt the atmosphere and removed the fangs from the vaunted Black course. Again, this is unbelievable golf terrain, so stacked in vivid contours that all you have to do is grow a little grass on the sides and let the tour pros have at it.

Meeks made mistakes with the tees in ’02, particularly at the 10th, where some guys couldn’t carry it over the fescue in the downpour. Last year’s FedEx Cup playoff event offered a pretty good example of how good Bethpage can be. This place deserves another shot.

IT WAS A weak field and he finished two strokes behind first-time winner Harris English, but there was a lot to like about Phil Mickelson’s body of work at the Fedex St. Jude Classic. For much of the weekend, Lefty struck his irons better than I’ve seen in a long time. He made enough putts to stay in the hunt and drove the ball adequately, all things considered.

More than all that stuff, Mickelson exhibited a level of competitive energy not always prevalent in recent months. You can do worse than to head to a U.S. Open with a bucket full of enthusiasm. Especially when you’ve finished second five times.

I’VE NEVER BEEN much of a weatherman when it comes to forecasting golf tournaments, but this week, I feel like an Irish meteorologist. Total guesswork on a venue that will host its first U.S. Open in 32 years – you’d be better off entering a raffle.

Tiger Woods (10-1): Forget the nine-hole 44 at Memorial. Ancient history. Still the best grinder on earth.

Matt Kuchar (15-1): Great mix of course-management skills and composure. Most likely to hang around deep into Sunday.

Luke Donald (18-1): Hasn’t missed a cut in eight U.S. starts, has two top-fives. Out of the spotlight, might he finally be ready?

Steve Stricker (22-1): Another majorless guy who makes putts and has amassed a nice portfolio. What does that mean this week? Maybe nothing.

Phil Mickelson (24-1): When mentally engaged, he’s still a handful. Short game always travels to the national championship.

Justin Rose (25-1): I expected more at this point in the season, but he’s going to win a major someday. Great iron players will prosper on small greens.

Boo Weekley (25-1): I worry about him standing over a 4-footer with the game on the line, but it almost certainly will be for a birdie.

Lee Westwood (28-1): Recently turned 40, time is running out, but couldn’t we have said the same of Darren Clarke?

Dustin Johnson (30-1): You never know with this guy. Course may not suit him, but T-10 in Memphis doesn’t hurt chances.

Rory McIlroy (35-1): Just haven’t seen it this year. Between the tennis-playing girlfriend and the new clubs, he’s looked like any other 24-year-old.

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Putting prepared Park's path back to No. 1

By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 12:13 am

Inbee Park brings more than her unshakably tranquil demeanor back to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week.

She brings more than her Olympic gold medal and seven major championships to the Mediheal Championship on the outskirts of San Francisco.

She brings a jarring combination of gentleness and ruthlessness back to the top of the rankings.

Park may look as if she could play the role of Mother Teresa on some goodwill tour, but that isn’t what her opponents see when she’s wielding her Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet.

She’s like Mother Teresa with Lizzy Borden’s axe.

When Park gets on one of her rolls with the putter, she scares the hell out of the rest of the tour.

At her best, Park is the most intimidating player in women’s golf today.

“Inbee makes more 20- and 30-footers on a regular basis than anyone I know,” seven-time major championship winner Karrie Webb said.

All those long putts Park can hole give her an aura more formidable than any power player in the women’s game.

“A good putter is more intimidating than someone who knocks it out there 280 yards,” Webb said “Even if Inbee misses a green, you know she can hole a putt from anywhere. It puts more pressure on your putter knowing you’re playing with someone who is probably going to make them all.”

Park, by the way, said Webb and Ai Miyazato were huge influences on her putting. She studied them when she was coming up on tour.

Webb, though, believes there’s something internal separating Park. It isn’t just Park’s ability to hole putts that makes her so intimidating. It’s the way she carries herself on the greens.

“She never gets ruffled,” Webb said. “She says she gets nervous, but you never see a change in her. If you’re going toe to toe with her, that’s what is intimidating. Even if you’re rolling in putts on top of her, it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s definitely a player you have to try not to pay attention to when you’re paired with her, because you can get caught up in that.”

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

Park has led the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation five of the last 10 years.

Brad Beecher has been on Park’s bag for more than a decade, back before she won her first major, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. He has witnessed the effect Park can have on players when she starts rolling in one long putt after another.

“You have those times when she’ll hole a couple long putts early, and you just know, it’s going to be one of those days,” Beecher said. “Players look at me like, `Does she ever miss?’ or `How am I going to beat this?’ You see players in awe of it sometimes.”

Park, 29, won in her second start of 2018, after taking seven months off with a back injury. In six starts this year, she has a victory, two ties for second-place and a tie for third. She ended Shanshan Feng’s 23-week run at No. 1 with a tie for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open last weekend.

What ought to disturb fellow tour pros is that Park believes her ball striking has been carrying her this year. She’s still waiting for her putter to heat up. She is frustrated with her flat stick, even though she ranks second in putts per greens in regulation this season.

“Inbee Park is one of the best putters ever,” said LPGA Hall of Famer Sandra Haynie, a 42-time LPGA winner. “She’s dangerous on the greens.”

Haynie said she would rank Park with Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez as the best putters she ever saw.

Hall of Famer Joanne Carner says Park is the best putter she has seen since Lopez.

“I thought Nancy was a great putter,” Carner said. “Inbee is even better.”

Park uses a left-hand low grip, with a mostly shoulder move and quiet hands.

Lopez used a conventional grip, interlocking, with her right index finger down the shaft. She had a more handsy stroke than Park.

Like Lopez, Park prefers a mallet-style putter, and she doesn’t switch putters much. She is currently playing with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter. She won the gold medal with it two years ago. She used an Oddysey White Ice Sabertooth winged mallet when she won three majors in a row in 2013.

Lopez hit the LPGA as a rookie in 1978 with a Ray Cook M1 mallet putter and used it for 20 years. It’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame today.

“I watch Inbee, and I think, `Wow, that’s how I used to putt,’” Lopez said. “You can see she’s not mechanical at all. So many players today are mechanical. They forget if you just look at the hole and stroke it, you’re going to make more putts.”

Notably, Park has never had a putting coach, not really. Her husband and swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, will look at her stroke when she asks for help.

“When I’m putting, I’m concentrating on the read and mostly my speed,” Park said. “I don’t think mechanically about my stroke at all, unless I think there’s something wrong with it, and then I’ll have my husband take a look. But, really, I rely on my feel. I don’t think about my stroke when I’m out there playing.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin says Park’s remarkably consistent speed is a key to her putting.

“Inbee is definitely a feel putter, and her speed is so consistent, all the time,” Rankin said. “You have to assume she’s a great green reader.”

Beecher says Park’s ability to read greens is a gift. She doesn’t rely on him for that. She reads greens herself.

“I think what impresses me most is Inbee has a natural stroke,” Beecher said. “There’s nothing too technical. It’s more straight through and straight back, but I think the key element of the stroke is that she keeps the putter so close to the ground, all the time, on the takeaway and the follow-through. It helps with the roll and with consistency.”

Park said that’s one of her fundamentals.

“I keep it low, almost like I’m hitting the ground,” Park said. “When I don’t do that, I miss more putts.”

Beecher believes the real reason Park putts so well is that the putter brought her into the game. It’s how she got started, with her father, Gun Gyu Park, putting the club in her hands as a child. She loved putting on her own.

“That’s how she fell in love with the game,” Beecher said. “Getting started that way, it’s played a huge role in her career.”

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Teams announced for NCAA DI women's regionals

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:50 pm

Seventy-two teams and an additional 24 individuals were announced Wednesday as being selected to compete in the NCAA Division I women's regionals, May 7-9.

Each of the four regional sites will consist of 18 teams and an extra six individual players, whose teams were not selected. The low six teams and low three individuals will advance to the NCAA Championship, May 18-23, hosted by Oklahoma State at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

The four regional sites include Don Veller Seminole Golf Course & Club in Tallahassee, Fla., hosted by Florida State; UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas, hosted by the University of Texas; University Ridge Golf Course in Madison, Wis., hosted by the University of Wisconsin; TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Calif., hosted by Stanford University.

Arkansas, Duke, UCLA and Alabama are the top seeds in their respective regionals. Arizona State, the third seed in the Madison regional, is the women's defending champion. Here's a look at the regional breakdown, along with teams and players:

Austin Regional Madison Regional San Francisco Regional Tallahassee Regional
Arkansas Duke UCLA Alabama
Texas USC Stanford Furman
Michigan State Arizona State South Carolina Arizona
Florida Northwestern Kent State Washington
Auburn Illinois Oklahoma State Wake Forest
Oklahoma Purdue North Carolina Vanderbilt
Houston Iowa State Colorado Florida State
Miami (Fla.) Virginia Louisville Clemson
Baylor Wisconsin N.C. State Georgia
Texas A&M Campbell Mississippi Tennessee
BYU Ohio State Cal UNLV
East Carolina Notre Dame San Diego State Kennesaw State
Texas Tech Old Dominion Pepperdine Denver
Virginia Tech Oregon State Oregon Coastal Carolina
UTSA Idaho Long Beach State Missouri
Georgetown Murray State Grand Canyon Charleston
Houston Baptist North Dakota State Princeton Richmond
Missouri State IUPUI Farleigh Dickinson Albany
Brigitte Dunne (SMU) Connie Jaffrey (Kansas State) Alivia Brown (Washington State) Hee Ying Loy (E. Tennessee State)
Xiaolin Tian (Maryland) Pinyada Kuvanun (Toledo) Samantha Hutchinson (Cal-Davis) Claudia De Antonio (LSU)
Greta Bruner (TCU) Pun Chanachai (New Mexico State) Ingrid Gutierrez (New Mexico) Fernanda Lira (Central Arkansas)
Katrina Prendergast (Colorado State) Elsa Moberly (Eastern Kentucky) Abegail Arevalo (San Jose State) Emma Svensson (Central Arkansas)
Ellen Secor (Colorado State) Erin Harper (Indiana) Darian Zachek (New Mexico) Valentina Giraldo (Jacksonville State)
Faith Summers (SMU) Cara Basso (Penn State) Christine Danielsson (Cal-Davis) Kaeli Jones (UCF)
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Leach on grizzlies, walk-up music and hating golf

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:47 pm

He's one of college football's deepest thinkers, and he has no time to waste on a golf course.

Washington State head football coach Mike Leach created headlines last week when he shared his view that golf is "boring" and should be reserved for those who, unlike him, need practice swearing. The author and coach joined host Will Gray on the latest episode of the Golf Channel podcast to expand on those views - and veer into some unexpected territory.

Leach shared how his father and brother both got bitten by the golf bug as he grew up, but he steered clear in part because the sport boasts an overly thick rule book:

"First of all, the other thing I don't like is it's pretentious. There's a lot of rules. Don't do it this way, don't do it that way. You walked between my ball and the hole. This guy has to go first, then you go after he does. I mean, all these rules, I just don't understand."

Leach also shared his perspective about what fuels the vibrant fashion choices seen on many courses:

"You can tell there's a subtle, internal rebellion going on with golf, and where that subtle, internal rebellion manifests itself is they really liven up the clothes. I mean, they're beaten down by all the little subtle rules, so they really liven up the clothes. Maybe have knickers, maybe they'll have a floppy hat or something like that."

Leach on the advice he would sometimes offer when friends explained their rationale for hitting the links: 

"They say, 'Well I don't go there to golf or go to take it seriously. When I go golf, I just like to have some beers.' And I'm thinking, 'You know there's bars for that? There's bars for that, and at those bars they have, often times, attractive women and music going on?'"

Leach is heading into his seventh season at Washington State, and he also described a unique hazard that can sometimes pop up at the on-campus course in Pullman, Wash.:

"In the spring the grizzlies come out, and the grizzly preserve is right across the street from the golf course. So they’ll be out, you’ll see them running around on the hills inside the preserve there. But there is this visual where, all of a sudden you drive up this hill on your golf cart, and you’re at the tee box and you’re getting ready to hit, and on the hill just opposite of you it’s covered with grizzly bears. And as you’re getting ready to hit your ball, it occurs to you that the grizzly bears are going to beat you to your ball."

Other topics in the wide-ranging discussion included Leach's proposal for a 64-team playoff in NCAA Division I football, his chance encounter with Tiger Woods before a game between the Cougars and Woods' Stanford Cardinal, his preferred walk-up music and plans for "full contact golf."

Listen to the entire podcast below:

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Post-Masters blitz 'exhausting' but Reed ready for return

By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2018, 8:24 pm

AVONDALE, La. – After briefly suffering from First-Time Major Winner Fatigue, Patrick Reed is eager to get back inside the ropes this week at the Zurich Classic.

The media blitz is an eye-opening experience for every new major champ. Reed had been told to expect not to get any sleep for about a week after his win, and sure enough he jetted off to New York City for some sightseeing, photo shoots, baseball games, late-night talk shows, phone calls and basketball games, sitting courtside in the green jacket at Madison Square Garden next to comedian Chris Rock, personality Michael Strahan and rapper 2 Chainz. Then he returned home to Houston, where the members at Carlton Woods hosted a reception in his honor.

With Reed’s head still spinning, his wife, Justine, spent the better part of the past two weeks responding to each of the 880 emails she received from fans and well-wishers.

“It’s been a lot more exhausting than I thought it’d be,” he said Wednesday at TPC Louisiana, where he’ll make his first start since the Masters.

It’s a good problem to have, of course.

Reed was already planning a family vacation to the Bahamas the week after Augusta, so the media tour just took its place. As many directions as he was pulled, as little sleep as he got, Reed said, “We still had a blast with it.”

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

There are few places better to ease into his new world than at the Zurich, where he’ll partner with Patrick Cantlay for the second year in a row.

Reed wants to play well, not only for himself but also his teammate. After all, it could be an important week for Cantlay, who is on U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk’s radar after a victory last fall. That didn’t earn him any Ryder Cup points, however – he sits 38th in the standings – so performing well here in fourballs and foursomes could go a long way toward impressing the captain.

“There’s maybe a little extra if we play well,” Cantlay said, “but I’m just trying to play well every week.” 

Reed got back to work on his game last Tuesday. He said that he’s prepared, ready to play and looking forward to building off his breakthrough major.

“A lot of guys have told me to just be careful with your time,” he said. “There will be a lot of things you didn’t have to do or didn’t have in the past that are going to come up.

“But first things first, you’ve got to go out and grind and play some good golf and focus on golf, because the time you stay and not focus on golf will be the time you go backward. That’s nothing any of us want. We all want to improve and get better.”