Favorites haven't fared well at Olympic

By Randall MellJune 11, 2012, 12:40 pm

David would have felt at home against Goliath on the rolling terrain of The Olympic Club.

Giants don’t fare well there. They fall.

Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart were U.S. Open favorites who looked more like the fallen Philistine when the championship was over. They all got beat in upsets there on the outskirts of San Francisco.

Underdogs ought to be emboldened when the U.S. Open makes its fifth visit to Olympic June 14-17. History favors them.

Jack Fleck (pictured above with Hogan) knows better than anyone. He got it all started in 1955 when he improbably caught Hogan in the final round there and then beat Hogan head-to-head in an 18-hole playoff.

Fleck is 90 years old today, the oldest living U.S. Open champion, but he’s still going strong. He will return to Olympic to spend the week watching the U.S. Open. The U.S. Golf Association has a number of functions lined up for him.

“I’m as excited as I could possibly be,” Fleck told GolfChannel.com as he packed to make the trip from his home in Arkansas. “As you can imagine, I love that place.”

Fleck did not please a lot of golf fans when he denied Hogan his fifth U.S. Open title, but Fleck started a most unusual tradition making Olympic golf’s home for the underdog.

Hall of Fame writer Dan Jenkins dubbed it “The Graveyard of Champions.”

Jenkins didn’t like his beloved Hogan losing there.

“Of all the traditions in golf, the one at Olympic Club in San Francisco is the most annoying,” Jenkins once opined. “Hold a U.S. Open at Olympic, and the wrong guy will win it every time.”

While Billy Casper was hardly a David in 1966, but he upset a giant when he took down Palmer in an 18-hole playoff.

Scott Simpson fit the slingshotter’s role beating Watson by a stroke in ’87.

Lee Janzen came from behind to beat the favored Stewart down the stretch in ’98.

Fleck said he fell in love with Olympic while preparing so thoroughly on it in the days before the ’55 U.S. Open.

“Out on Tour, everybody in the locker rooms was telling me I shouldn’t play more than one practice round there,” Fleck said. “They told me it would make me gun-shy, because the fairways were so narrow, and the rough was so thick.”

Fleck didn’t listen. He arrived five days before the U.S. Open to scout and play.

He played at least 18 holes every day leading into the start and 36 holes the day before the championship began.

“I got to love that golf course,” Fleck said. “I could drive it on the carpet all day, and I liked that you had to think all the way around. I could drive the ball straight; I wasn’t a good putter, but I putted good for me at the U.S. Open.”

Not many fans knew who Fleck was back in ’55. He was an unproven former caddie from Iowa who had never won a PGA Tour event. Hogan knew him, though, and Hogan liked him. Fleck had written a letter to Hogan asking if he could have a set of Hogan Clubs made for him. To fellow pros’ surprise, Hogan answered back, and he delivered the clubs for free. Hogan was Fleck’s idol growing up, and they would become friends before facing off in San Francisco.

“Ben could be tough with people, but he always treated me well,” Fleck said.

Fleck would win just two more PGA Tour titles after the U.S. Open, claiming the Phoenix Open in 1960 and the Bakersfield Open in 1961.

“Winning at the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, it was the outstanding time of my life,” Fleck said.

Underdogs everywhere should revel in the championship’s return to Olympic.

Here’s a summary of how all those upsets played out.

1955: Fleck stuns the world

As NBC signed off early in the final round, Gene Sarazen told viewers that Hogan had won his unprecedented fifth U.S. Open title.

Fleck, though, was still on the course. Trailing Hogan by just a shot going to the 18th hole, Fleck carved a 7-iron to 8 feet and made the birdie putt, improbably forcing an 18-hole playoff. Fleck stunned the golf world shooting 69 in the playoff to Hogan’s 72.

It was quite the comeback for Fleck, who stumbled to a 76 in the first round and found himself nine shots off the lead. Fleck, however, had some special inspiration as he worked his way back into contention. He loved the singing of Mario Lanza so much, he packed his record player for the trip to San Francisco so he could listen to Lanza’s records. Fleck said Lanza’s singing soothed him.

While shaving in the morning before the final round, Fleck was listening to Lanza sing one of Fleck’s favorite songs, “I’ll Walk with God.” Fleck says he heard a voice come out of the mirror that day. He heard: “Jack, you are going to win the U.S. Open.”

Fleck didn’t doubt it.

Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer

1966: Casper’s comeback

Moving to the back nine in the final round, Casper trailed Arnold Palmer by seven shots.

That’s where Palmer started to collapse and Casper began his charge.

With a par at the 17th, Casper caught Palmer, who made bogey there. They both made par at the 18th to force an 18-hole playoff. Palmer had stumbled home with a 39 on the back nine while Casper rallied with a 32.

The script stayed on its theme in the playoff, with Palmer taking a two-shot lead on the front nine only to be outplayed on the back nine. Casper won the playoff with a 69 while Palmer shot 73.

Casper winning wasn’t a shocker, but Palmer’s collapse was. It was Casper’s second U.S. Open title. He also won the ’59 U.S. Open, and he would add the Masters in ’70 as his third and final major among his 51 PGA Tour titles.

Scott Simpson

1987: Simpson denies Watson

Tom Watson arrived for the U.S. Open winless in three years, without a major championship title in four, but some great vibes returned at Olympic. Watson played collegiately just down the road at Stanford. The stage seemed set for Watson as he grabbed sole possession of the 54-hole lead.

Simpson, a classic U.S. Open grinder who could follow the fairways-and-greens formula, spoiled Watson’s bid.

A shot behind going into Sunday, Simpson closed with a 68, beating Watson by a shot when Watson failed to birdie the 18th hole.

“There sure are some great names on here,” Simpson said, looking at the U.S. Open Trophy that Sunday. “It’s kind of hard to believe my name is going to be on there, too.”

Lee Janzen

1998: Janzen upsets his friend

Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open in ’91. He won the PGA Championship two years before that. With his stellar iron play, he seemed built to win majors at tight tracks like Olympic and that’s just what he looked like he was going to do after building a four-shot lead going into the final round.

Janzen wasn’t Jack Fleck. Janzen won the U.S. Open at Baltusrol in ’93, topping the runner-up Stewart by two shots. Still, nobody was expecting Janzen to win at Olympic after he fell seven shots behind Stewart early in the final round.

At the fifth hole, Janzen looked like he had shot himself out of the championship with a tee shot into the cypress trees. His ball never came down, but this is where fate would blow his way. Walking back to the tee box to hit another drive, Janzen gained a reprieve when a gust of wind knocked his ball free, albeit in a terrible lie. Still, after chopping out and then missing the green with his approach, Janzen made a terrific par, chipping in from 30 feet. Momentum turned his way.

Janzen put his head down and began charging with birdies and pars. He intentionally avoided looking at leaderboards until he putted out for a 68 at the 72nd hole. That’s where he saw he was a shot ahead of Stewart, who still had two holes to play. Stewart, a neighbor to Janzen in Orlando, couldn’t make up the ground, though he would outplay Phil Mickelson to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst a year later. Stewart died in a plane crash four months after that.

Janzen joined Fleck, Casper and Simpson with his improbable victory.

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.