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John Shippen: Shinnecock's barrier breaker

By Matt AdamsJune 13, 2018, 12:50 pm

This week, the U.S. Open is being played for the fifth time at Shinnecock Hills. As one of the five original clubs that formed the United States Golf Association in 1894, the Long Island, N.Y. club has a rightful claim as one of golf’s most historic venues. But one piece of its history is often forgotten, and dates back to the first time it hosted the USGA’s most high-profile event, in 1896.

In the field of that championship, just the second U.S. Open ever contested, was a 16-year-old African American golfer. Not only did John Matthew Shippen Jr. compete, but he came within one disastrous hole of having a chance to win.

Shippen’s presence in the field offers a fascinating look at the racial attitudes of the day, including both prejudice that threatened to bar him and enlightenment that allowed him to compete. That his entry took place at Shinnecock was appropriate, as it was the first club in the country to allow full membership to women.

Shippen was one of nine children of John Shippen Sr. and Eliza Spotswood Shippen. The elder Shippen was a Presbyterian minister who served on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, located near the golf club. John Jr. began working as a caddie at the club shortly after it opened. Shinnecock’s head professional, Scotsman Willie Dunn Jr., recognized that Shippen had a knack for the game and began coaching him. Eventually he hired Shippen to be one of his assistants, helping to give lessons to the membership, repair clubs and work on the course. Shippen thus became the first African American golf professional.

It must be remembered that in post-Industrial Revolution America, golf professionals were little more than servants to the wealthy, caretakers to their enjoyment of the game. The job description carried no prestige (and wouldn’t until the time of Walter Hagen).

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A day before the championship was scheduled to begin, several of the other professionals in the field approached USGA president Theodore Havemeyer  and threatened to withdraw if Shippen and his friend, Oscar Bunn, a Shinnecock Native American who had worked on the crew that built the golf course, were allowed to compete.  Havemeyer, co-founder of Newport (R.I.) Country Club, told them that even if every other competitor decided to walk away, the U.S. Open would be conducted with only Shippen and Bunn in the field.  Havemeyer and other tournament officials spent a nervous night and the following morning waiting to see who – if anyone - would show up for their assigned tee times.  To their relief, everyone did.

In the first round, Shippen was paired with Charles Blair Macdonald, one of the greatest characters the game has ever known. In 1894 he had finished second in tournaments at Newport Country Club and St. Andrew’s Golf Club, both claiming to be the “national championship.” Unhappy with the way the tournaments had been conducted, he fumed and complained so severely that both were declared unofficial. That led to a meeting of delegates from the Chicago Golf Club, Shinnecock Hills, St. Andrew’s, The Country Club and Newport Country Club, out of which came the formation of the United States Golf Association. Macdonald was named vice president. When the first U.S. Amateur Championship was held at Newport in 1895, he won.

At Shinnecock, Shippen played a solid first round, posting a score of 78, two strokes off the lead and tied with four others for second place.  Macdonald shot an 83 and was so enraged at his performance he refused to play in the second round (the competition was 36 holes in those days).  However, he was very impressed with Shippen, and walked the course and kept score for him in the afternoon. 

Shippen was cruising along nicely in the final round, making the turn with a legitimate shot at winning, until he reached the the par-4 13th hole.  “It was a little, simple hole,” he said in an interview with Tuesday Magazine many years later.  Shippen knew that his drive had to be played to the right side of the fairway to give the best angle for the approach shot.  However, he overcompensated, and his drive landed on a sandy dirt road that ran adjacent to the hole.  In the days before a sand wedge, Shippen could not extract the ball from the sandy trail and after playing shot after shot down the road, he finally posted a devastating score of 11.

Had Shippen merely made par on the hole, he would have tied eventual winner James Foulis, forcing a playoff. “You know, I’ve wished a hundred times I could have played that little par-4 again,” he said in the same interview.  “It sure would have been something to win that day.”

Shippen’s final score was 81, good for a fifth-place tie and $25.

Two years later, Shippen’s father completed his tenure as pastor on the Shinnecock reservation and he moved his family back to Washington, D. C. John, now 18, stayed on, however, continuing his career as a golf professional. He wound up working at a number of golf clubs over the years, eventually settling at the Shady Rest Golf Course in New Jersey in 1924, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1960.  In the interview with Tuesday Magazine, Shippen wondered aloud if he had made the right decision to forgo a more formal education by going into golf fulltime.  “I wonder until I look out the window and see that golf course,” he said. “Then I realize how much enjoyment I’ve gotten out of the game, and I don’t wonder anymore.”

Shippen would compete in four more U.S. Opens, in 1899, 1900, 1902 and 1913, with his best finish being a fifth place in 1902.  His last Open, in 1913 at The Country Club, was distinctive because it was won by Francis Ouimet, a former caddie who had to overcome restrictions of social status to triumph. 

After 1913, the next time an African American would play in a U.S. Open would be Ted Rhodes in 1948.

John Shippen died in 1968 at the age of 88.

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This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:39 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.

His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.

“This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”

The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.

There was also one other similarity.

“Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.

“It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”

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Sunday drama won't overshadow USGA's issues

By Randall MellJune 18, 2018, 1:30 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It looked like a British Open.

It was playing like a U.S. Open.

Through two rounds, Shinnecock Hills was double trouble in the best kind of way.

It was a hybrid in the most appealing sense of golf course architecture’s ancient allure and its modern defenses.

Halfway through, the USGA was nailing the setup, with Dustin Johnson the only player under par in one of the toughest but fairest tests in recent U.S. Open memory.

This looked like it was going to be remembered as USGA CEO Mike Davis’ masterpiece, but even a Sunday to remember couldn’t trump a Saturday to forget.

Sunday’s drama - with the history Brooks Koepka made becoming the first player in three decades to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, with Tommy Fleetwood’s 63 equaling Johnny Miller’s final round record - could not restore faith being lost in the USGA’s ability to set up and manage this championship.

This U.S. Open ended with footnotes the size of headlines.

The issues arising Saturday with the USGA losing control of the course raised even more troubling questions about why this organization’s heavy hand can’t seem to avoid becoming as much a part of the story as the competition.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

The controversy that was ignited Saturday when Phil Mickelson intentionally incurred a two-shot penalty by making a putting stroke on a moving ball also raised questions about the organization’s ability to fairly administer its own rules.

It’s a shame, because Davis has some good ideas.

His reimagined vision of this championship as the “ultimate test” makes sense as a better and more complete event.

His ideas are designed to identify the game’s most complete player on America’s best courses better than any other major.

It’s just not working.

This year’s failure in the wake of the ’04 debacle at Shinnecock Hills is especially worrisome. Davis vowed it wouldn’t happen again. Somehow, some way, he let it happen again.

Maybe the old standards we’ve come to judge the U.S. Open upon are too high, impossible to meet with today’s more athletic player, high-tech coaching and space-age drivers, shafts and balls.

Nobody ever protected par better than the USGA, but maybe par can’t be properly protected anymore, without tricking up a course.

Because if USGA officials can’t make its exacting formula work at an architectural treasure like Shinnecock Hills, where they had it absolutely perfect for two days, you wonder if they can make it work at all.

The testament to how the USGA was nailing its formula wasn’t in what we heard the first two days. It was in what we weren’t hearing. Only one player was under par through Friday, but there wasn’t a complaint to be heard in the locker room or on the range.

They were wiping the smiles off players’ faces without infuriating them.

In that regard, the USGA was delivering a miracle.

The wonderful appeal Shinnecock Hills held as a U.S. Open/British Open hybrid at week’s start ended up being twisted into something else by week’s end. It stood as a symbol of the championship’s confusion over its proper identity.

Even with Sunday’s compelling storylines unfolding, players were still frustrated over setup.

Saturday was over the edge, with Davis admitting “there were parts of this, simply put, that were too tough.” He said winds were stronger than expected, but the winds weren’t that much different than were forecast.

So USGA officials softened the course for Sunday, with more overnight watering and more friendly hole locations.

That turned Shinnecock Hills into Jekyl and Hyde on the weekend.

Scoring told the story.

Rickie Fowler shot 84 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday.

Fleetwood shot 78 and 63.

They weren’t alone, even though the weather wasn’t as dramatically different as the scores would indicate.

This wasn’t about the weather.

It was about the course being manipulated in ways that frustrated players.

“They soaked the hell out of it,” Pat Perez said after tying for 36th. “They’ve got all the pins in the middle.

“It is supposed to gradually get to where it was Saturday afternoon. You don’t lose it on Saturday and then try to make up for it, soak the course and make it totally different.”

Brandt Snedeker was equally befuddled playing drastically different conditions in weather that wasn’t so drastically different.

“The thing that is unfortunate is that the guys that were playing the best golf this week took the brunt of it yesterday, when it should have been vice versa,” Snedeker said. “Some guys got robbed of a really good chance to win a golf tournament yesterday afternoon, which is not fair.”

There were other issues that continued to challenge faith in the USGA.

Despite later acknowledging it set up the course too tough in spots on Saturday, the USGA put players on the clock for slow play.

The Mickelson penalty also raised issues.

He got a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5 (playing moving ball) when there was some outcry over whether he should have been penalized under Rule 1-2 (exerting influence), which would have opened the door to disqualification for a serious breach.

The USGA rigorously defended 14-5 (playing moving ball) as the proper call.

John Daly wasn’t disqualified for striking a moving ball in a similar instance at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. He also got a two-shot penalty, but there was a difference in the situations that might have justified Mickelson’s disqualification.

Daly said he intentionally hit a moving ball out of frustration, as protest over the USGA’s unfair hole locations.

Mickelson said he intentionally hit a moving ball on the 13th green Saturday at Shinnecock Hills to try prevent his ball from rolling off the green. He said he knew the rules and was intentionally breaking them to gain an advantage. He compared it to using the rules to get a better lie with a drop, but there’s a difference between using the rules to your advantage and breaking them to gain an advantage.

The difference in those motivations, as Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee pointed out, opened the interpretation of the violation as a serious breach worthy of disqualification.

The question of whether Mickelson’s manipulation of the rules was serious enough to invoke disqualification as a breach of etiquette under Rule 33-7 was dismissed by the USGA as inappropriate.

It should be noted here that the USGA and R&A should be applauded for its monumental overhaul of the Rules of Golf, a rules modernization going into effect next year. It’s a welcomed simplification of the rules that required an exhaustive review.

This week’s complications show the unrelenting challenges they continue to tackle.

We leave this U.S. Open with history being made, with Koepka joining Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange as just the third players since World War II to win the title in back-to-back years.

We also leave hoping the USGA can deliver four days of next year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as free of controversy as it delivered the first two days at Shinnecock Hills, because this year’s championship felt half baked.

Will Gray contributed to this report.

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Brandel rips USGA: 'There's no obvious leadership'

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 18, 2018, 1:29 am

The 2018 U.S. Open will certainly be remembered for Brooks Koepka's successful title defense.

But there's no doubt that it will also be remembered for Phil Mickelson's decision to hit a moving golf ball on Saturday, for the USGA's decision not to disqualify him, and for the governing body once again losing control of Shinnecock Hills over the weekend.

Speaking on "Live From the U.S. Open" on Sunday night, analyst Brandel Chamblee took the USGA and its leadership to task for more than just the inconsistent playing conditions this week.

His comments - edited and condensed for clarity - appear below:

"Something was amiss in a big, big way [at Shinnecock Hills]. I think the USGA has lost a lot of the trust of the golf world. They've done it for numerous reasons.

"On their watch, they missed COR – the rebound effect in drivers. They missed the rebound effect and the combination of the rebound effect [with] the ball. They missed it, on their watch. And now, the feeling is that they’re crying foul, even though it was on their watch. And so, essentially, the equipment companies got it done, by [the USGA’s] standards, legally.

"On their watch, there have been huge mistakes in major championships. … We well know this one (Shinnecock in 2018) – a colossal mistake all the way across the board. The golf course was bumpy the first day; they didn’t quite get that right. It was awful the third day. And today, in a different kind of way, it was far too easy.

"And then there’s penalties that they levy that make absolutely no sense, penalties that they don’t levy – not disqualifying Phil Mickelson yesterday. …

"There seems to be no obvious leadership, you know, to me. No obvious leadership heading in the right direction."

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Koepka reveals he injured his ribs last week

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:19 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – There was a time when Brooks Koepka didn’t even know if he was going to be able to play this week’s U.S. Open as he recovered from a wrist injury that had sidelined him for 3 ½ months.

He didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, which he missed, and returned to the PGA Tour in late April at the Zurich Classic. His return to competitive form accelerated from there with a runner-up finish last month at the Forth Worth Invitational.

But if Sunday’s victory at Shinnecock Hills, where he became the first player to win back-to-back U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange in 1989, appeared to be an official return to full strength, it wasn’t exactly that seamless.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka, who closed with a 68 for a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood, revealed that he suffered a rib injury last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

“My rib kind of came out last week. It bugged me a little bit,” he said. “Right when we got here, [Koepka’s trainer] worked on it, knew what it was. It was pretty sore, but I had no problems since then.”

In 2015, Koepka withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a similar rib injury.