The long and short of golf courses

By John HawkinsApril 17, 2012, 7:34 pm

For reasons I’m still not sure of, I continue to hold memberships at two private establishments in southern Connecticut. One was founded in 1895 and features a course designed by A.W. Tillinghast, paddleball courts and a stately clubhouse erected at the highest point on the property. It is usually in immaculate shape and has hosted several U.S. Golf Association events over the years, most notably the 1987 U.S. Senior Open.

My other club is a 5,800-yard mousetrap we call the Little Brown Dog. In addition to a lack of space, the course has drainage problems and two or three holes that make no sense from an architectural standpoint. Speaking of which, I have no idea who is responsible for the layout at LBD.

Some would consider it a waste of four hours, others would call it quirky, but I call it home. I play a vast majority of my golf at the Little Brown Dog, which is about 1,000 yards shorter than the Tillinghast but every bit as difficult, especially if you’ve played it no more than 20 or 30 times. When it comes to local knowledge, LBD is basically Harvard with a little more mud.

I’m enlightening you with all this useless information because professional golf, at least in recent years, has gravitated toward venues with gigantic greens, lots of room to miss off the tee and a collection of 500-yard par 4s. Now more than ever, the game is rewarding faulty distance, blithely catering to players without anything close to a full skill set.

Not to pick on TPC San Antonio, site of this week’s Valero Texas Open, but after back-to-back stops at Augusta National and Harbour Town, two of the most ingeniously designed courses to host a golf tournament, we’re looking at a 7,500-yard behemoth with all the sign-of-the-times components requisite to befriending the PGA Tour. The posh, on-site hotel and spa. No par 5 shorter than 567 yards, which might be why TPC San Antonio’s par-5 scoring average (4.94) was the Tour’s highest in 2011. The outrageous green complexes and oversized putting surfaces, surely as competitive compensation for the sheer length of the course itself.

Add it all up and you’ve got a 21st-century shrine to modern golf. A place where Greg Norman, a renowned and very talented architect, had all kinds of room and all kinds of budget, then went out and waged his own little war with equipment technology.

Take a good look at the field. It is one of the weakest all year, which is not the fault of the tournament, which is happy to be part of the regular-season schedule after time spent in the Fall Series. The turnout is simply a function of the dates – smack in the middle of what Tim Rosaforte, my longtime colleague, has referred to as the “dead zone.”

Harbour Town, however, has done pretty well despite batting right after the Masters, in part because a good number of Tour pros – perhaps a dozen I’ve talked to over the years – consider it one of their favorite courses. It is very tight in spots, somewhat spacious in others, but without fail, Harbour Town requires precision. The targets are small (or narrow), the penalty for errant play unyielding. It is a test in every sense of the word, and players definitely like challenges that are unique, not silly.

I find it interesting that a majority of pros, at least in my estimation, would prefer Harbour Town over TPC Sawgrass – both Pete Dye products with strikingly similar aesthetic characteristics. Perhaps it’s just the relaxed atmosphere of Hilton Head and the exhale of post-Masters steam. Or maybe it’s the tiny greens and miniaturized margin for error they find so appealing, the notion that just reward is best gleaned from proper execution.

For all the talk in recent years about the sensibility and lovability of short par 4s, it’s a trend that simply hasn’t caught on. The few that made it such an endearing premise are still the common standard. When Sergio Garcia refers to TPC San Antonio’s 410-yard 12th hole as “short but dangerous” in his online description of the venue, I beg his pardon, albeit with a smile.

My Little Brown Dog has one par 4 in excess of 410 yards. And when the state’s best club pros gather for our charity pro-am, very rarely do more than a couple of them shoot par or better. As Jeff Sluman told me years ago when former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson began lengthening Augusta National, “If you really want to Tiger-proof the place, if you really want to give everyone a chance, you don’t make it longer. You make it shorter.” Amen.

Getty Images

Watch: On 59 watch, Sneds dunks approach for eagle

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

Brandt Snedeker was having a good day in Round 1 of the Wyndham Championship. And then he reached the green a the par-4 sixth at Sedgefield Country Club and his day got even better.

Snedeker holed a 7-iron from 176 yards, on the fly, for an eagle-2. Playing his 15th hole of the day, Snedeker vaulted to 9 under par for the tournament.

With Sedgefield being a par 70, Snedeker needed two birdies over his final three holes to shoot 59 and he got one of them at the par-3 seventh, where he hit his tee shot on the 224-yard hole to 2 feet.

Getty Images

Rosaforte Report: A tale of two comebacks

By Tim RosaforteAugust 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Comeback (noun): A return by a well-known person, especially an entertainer or sports player, to the activity in which they have formerly been successful.

Even by definition, the word comeback is subjective.

There is no question that Brooks Koepka has completed his comeback. With two major championship victories that encompassed wins over Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods, Player of the Year honors have already been locked up for the 2017-18 season.

But knowing Koepka, he wants more. A No. 1 ranking, topping his boy D.J., is a possibility and a goal. A Ryder Cup is awaiting. By all rights, Koepka could be Comeback Player of the Year and Player of the Year all in one, except the PGA Tour discontinued its Comeback honor in 2012. Even without an official award, it’s fun to compare the cases of Koepka and Woods.

What Woods has recovered from is remarkable, but not complete. He hasn’t won yet. With triumphs in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, Koepka has completed his comeback from a pair of wrist injuries that could have been equally as career-ending as the physical issues that Woods had to overcome just to contend in the last two majors.

“There was a question on whether or not I’d ever be the same,” Koepka said Sunday night in the media center at Bellerive, following his third major championship victory in six tries. “Whether I could do it pain-free, we had no idea.”

The wrist traumas occured five months apart, with the initial issue, which occured at the Hero World Challenge in December (in which he finished last in the limited field), putting him in a soft cast with a partially torn tendon. That cost the reigning U.S. Open champion 15 weeks on the shelf (and couch), including a start in the Masters.

His treatment included injecting bone marrow and platelet-rich plasma. When he returned at the Zurich Classic in April, Koepka revealed the ligaments that hold the tendon in place were gone – thus a dislocation – and that every time he went to his doctor, “it seemed like it got worse and worse.”

Koepka’s second wrist injury of the season occurred on the practice grounds at The Players, when a cart pulled in front of Koepka just as he was accelerating into the ball with his 120-plus mph club-head speed. Abruptly stopping his swing, Koepka’s left wrist popped out. His physio relayed a story to PGA Tour radio in which he advised Koepka before he reset the wrist: “Sit on your hand and bite this towel, otherwise you’re going to punch me.”

Koepka admitted that he never dreamed such a scenario would threaten his career. He called it, “probably the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through, setting that bone back.” But, testament to Koepka's fortitude, four days later he made an albatross and tied a TPC Sawgrass course record, shooting 63.

Woods’ physical – and mental – recovery from back surgery and prescription drug abuse was painful and career threatening in its own way. As he said in his return to Augusta, “Those are some really, really dark times. I’m a walking miracle.”

As amazing as it has been, Woods, by definition, still hasn’t fully completed his comeback. While he’s threatened four times in 2018, he hasn’t won a tournament.

Yes, it’s a miracle that he’s gotten this far, swinging the club that fast, without any relapse in his back. As electric and high-energy as his second-place finish to Koepka was at the PGA, Woods has made this winning moment something to anticipate. As story lines go, it may be better this way.

Coming off a flat weekend at the WGC-Bridgestone, Woods was starting to sound like an old 42-year-old. But instead of ice baths and recovery time, the conversation was charged by what he did on Saturday and Sunday in the 100th PGA.

A day later, there was more good news. With Woods committing to three straight weeks of FedExCup Playoff golf, potentially followed by a week off and then the Tour Championship, that moment of victory may not be far away.

Scheduling – and certainly anticipating – four tournaments in five weeks, potentially followed by a playing role at the Ryder Cup, would indicate that Woods has returned to the activity in which he was formally successful.

There were times post-scandal and post-back issues, that Woods stuck by the lines made famous by LL Cool J:

Don’t call it a comeback
I’ve been here for years
I’m rocking my peers

Not this time. As he said Sunday before his walk-off 64 in St, Louis, “Oh, God. I didn’t even know if I was going to play again.”

Getty Images

Actor/Comedian Kevin Nealon Joins "Feherty," Monday, Aug. 20 at 9 p.m. ET

By Golf Channel Public RelationsAugust 16, 2018, 1:15 pm

Actor/comedian Kevin Nealon (Saturday Night Live) will join David Feherty on his self-titled, Emmy-nominated series Feherty presented by Farmers Insurance®, Monday at 9 p.m. ET on Golf Channel.

Filmed at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles last month, the episode will focus on numerous topics, including:

  • Nealon discussing his start in comedy in Los Angeles, where he worked as a bartender and filled in for comics who failed to show up for their act.
  • Reminiscing about his appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1984.
  • Reflecting on his nine-year run as a cast member on Saturday Night Live.
  • Recounting the time when his golf ball struck Adam Sandler during a round they were playing with filming Happy Gilmore.
  • Recalling time spent with Arnold Palmer during the filming of a commercial a few years ago.

The following Monday (Aug. 27), Feherty will be joined by 20-time LPGA Tour winner Cristie Kerr at 9 p.m. ET, and then on Monday, Sept. 3 (9 p.m. ET), major champion Jimmy Walker will join as a guest for the series’ season finale.

A two-time Emmy-nominated host (Outstanding Sports Personality – Studio Host) Feherty has been described as “golf’s iconoclast,” by Rolling Stone, and “the last unscripted man on TV,” by Men’s Journal. His all-star lineup of golf-enthused and culturally relevant guests feature celebrities from across entertainment, sports and politics. To date, Feherty has sat down with four U.S. Presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump); sports legends Charles Barkley, Nick Saban, Stephen Curry and Bobby Knight; Hollywood icons Matthew McConaughey, Larry David and Samuel L. Jackson; World Golf of Fame members Nancy Lopez, Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson; and a host of current golf superstars including Paula Creamer, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Michelle Wie. Feherty is produced by Golf Channel’s original productions group, which also oversees production for Driver vs. Driver, Golf Films as well as the network’s instruction platforms.

Getty Images

Thomas talks Tiger, plays 'Facebreakers' on 'Tonight Show'

By Grill Room TeamAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 pm

Justin Thomas didn't successfully defend his title at last week's PGA Championship, but he did get a guest spot on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."

Thomas appeared on the talk show Wednesday night and, of course, a primary topic was Tiger Woods' run at the Wanamaker Trophy.

Thomas also played a game of "Facebreakers" with host Fallon, in which both men tried to break panes of glass emblazoned with the other's face with golf shots. Thomas nearly took out the real Fallon on his first shot, and after several uncessful attempts by both men, massive cheating ensued.