Low Down Dirty Shame

By Randall MellAugust 16, 2010, 6:41 am

2010 PGA ChampionshipSHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Has golf ever felt more dirty than it did with the sun sinking over Whistling Straits Sunday near the end of the PGA Championship?

I mean literally dirty. Because the PGA Championship was decided in the dirt Sunday at Whistling Straits.

OK, technically, it was decided in the sand, but if you were among the more than 100,000 fans who walked over and around the hillocks and bunkers on this course, you know it’s hard to tell where the dirt begins and the sand ends. There are, after all, more than 1,000 bunkers sprawling through the wispy fescue grasses there.

If you are Dustin Johnson, it probably all seems like manure now.

Dustin Johnson
Rules official David Price talks to Dustin Johnson. (Getty Images)

Because the end of this PGA Championship stunk.

It’s fitting that Johnson marched to the locker room to take a shower before coming out to speak with media after one of golf’s quirky rules cost him a shot at the championship. While Johnson cleaned up nicely, the sport’s going to have a hard time washing out the stain this leaves. Because as accustomed as we’ve become to golf’s mysteriously complex rules affecting outcomes, this was different.

This was a local rules decision that rings as a loco rule now. That’s loco, as in crazier than a golf course allowing thousands of fans to sit in and walk through “bunkers” that are IN play.

Johnson was penalized two shots at the 72nd hole of the championship for grounding his club in a bunker that he didn’t know was a bunker.

And who could blame him for not knowing? Dozens of people were sitting in that “bunker” before his ball came to rest among them.

After finding his ball on the hillside and blowing his approach left of the 18th green, Johnson missed a 6-foot putt for par that he thought could have won him his first major championship. Victory would have been a sweet remedy for the pain he felt blowing the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open last June. His final-round 82 at Pebble Beach would be remembered differently with a victory at Whistling Straits. And, still, even after missing his putt for par Sunday, Johnson believed his bogey had earned him a spot in a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

Johnson, 25, believed he still had his shot at redemption until rules official David Price stopped him as he left the green to explain that he might face a penalty for grounding his club in a bunker.

“Somebody that saw it on TV called in,” Price said after Johnson marched into the scoring office. “Hopefully, he didn’t do it.”

The scene was crazy outside the old stone clubhouse. CBS roving reporter Peter Kostis scrambled through some bushes to peer into the window to get a glimpse of Johnson and the rules officials as they reviewed the footage. A CBS cameraman was squeezed up to the window, too, beaming the images around the world. Dozens of reporters were jammed together behind Kostis trying to see what he was seeing.

And as all of this was unfolding, thousands of fans jammed along the 18th hole were chanting: “Let him play! . . . Let him play!”

Johnson, of course, wouldn’t get to play.

“I just thought I was on a piece of dirt that the crowd had trampled down,” Johnson said later. “I never thought I was in a sand trap. It never once crossed my mind that I was in a bunker. Obviously I know the Rules of Golf, and I can't ground my club in a bunker.”

This may be the most heart-wrenching application of golf’s rules since Roberto De Vicenzo lost the Masters because he signed for an incorrect scorecard.

Stumbling out of the scoring area at Augusta National in 1968, De Vicenzo uttered the famous line: “What a stupid I am.”

Johnson could have uttered a variation of that line. He could have said: “How stupid is golf?”

There will be debate about this, because players were clearly informed that all the sandy waste areas on the course were considered bunkers.

“We made it the No. 1 item on our local rules sheet, simply to explain that all of the bunkers that were designed and built as sand bunkers on this golf course would be played that way,” Mark Wilson, the co-chairman of the PGA rules committee, said. “And that might mean that many areas outside the ropes might contain many footprints, heel prints, or even tire tracks from golf cars or other vehicles.'

Wilson said a notice was also posted in the locker room cautioning players that all the sandy areas were bunkers.

“This is a unique course with unique characteristics and I think the dilemma is that it's even harder to say some of these are not bunkers and some of them are, because then how do you define those?” Wilson said. “And then a player would be essentially treading on thin ice almost every time he entered a sandy area, wondering where he was. And with 1,200 of them, there's no way to confirm with each player exactly where he lays.”

Wilson was eloquent in his explanation of the difficulty that would occur in trying to distinguish what is and isn’t a bunker on this course, but the fact of that matter is that the PGA was as confused as Johnson was when they first brought the major here in 2004. Originally, the PGA intended to differentiate between the bunkers inside the ropes and outside the ropes. The PGA considered treating those bunkers outside the ropes like waste areas. But officials changed their minds shortly before the championship.

“I don't know, if it was up to me, I wouldn't have thought I was in the bunker, but it's not up to me,” Johnson said.

That’s the whole point, though. If players can’t even tell they’re in a bunker, something’s wrong. If fans are walking and sitting in them, how can they be bunkers?

There is plenty of blame to go around for the unsatisfying ending. Johnson gets his share for admitting he did not read the local rule. For many, he loses their sympathy saying that. You wonder, though, even if he did, would he have known he was in a bunker.

Still, in a cruel way, it was fitting that this championship season should end with a deep discussion of dirt. It started that way with Tiger Woods the biggest story at the Masters and tabloids slinging dirt into the game’s biggest storyline.

This major championship starts the way it ended. It leaves you with the feeling you need a bath. 

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Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.

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Kupcho gets redemption with NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 2:54 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Driving from Chicago to Denver the night of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Championship, Mike Kupcho was worried about what the next two days might bring.

A few hours earlier, he’d watched his 20-year-old daughter, Jennifer, take a two-shot lead into the 71st hole at Rich Harvest Farms. With just 127 yards left for her approach, she hit her pitching wedge the one place she couldn’t afford to miss – short, in the pond – and then compounded the error with a three-putt. The triple bogey dropped her one shot behind Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn.

Kupcho conducted a series of teary interviews afterward, but she had no time to dwell on the heartbreaking finish. She hopped on a plane back home and competed in a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier two days later.

“We were worried about how she’d react – I didn’t know what to expect,” Mike said. “I would have been a wreck.”

But Jennifer fired a 66 in the opening round, then a 72 in the afternoon to earn medalist honors.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


“Well,” Mike said, “I guess she’s over it.”

Kupcho made it official Monday at Karsten Creek, claiming the NCAA title that should have been hers last May.

The Wake Forest junior won by two shots – the same margin she blew a year ago – for her fourth victory of the season, vaulting her into contention for the Annika Award.

“It’s just exciting to get here after everything I’ve been through,” she said.

Entering the final round in a share of the lead, Kupcho birdied the first but played Nos. 5-7 in 4 over par. It seemed like another collapse was brewing.

“I told her she’s going to have to face some adversity at some point,” said Wake Forest assistant Ryan Potter, who walked alongside her Monday. “There was a lot of golf to play, especially on a course like this.”

A birdie on 11 sent her on her way. She added a birdie on the drivable 12th, dropped another one on the par-5 14th and then canned a 60-footer for birdie on 16.

And so there she was again, two shots clear with two holes to go, when she stepped to the tee on the 17th. She piped a drive down the center, then flushed her approach directly over the flag, leading to a stress-free par. On 18, with water all the way down the left side, she nuked her second shot into the middle of the green for a two-putt birdie.

If there were any lingering questions about whether Kupcho could close, she answered them emphatically Monday. She carded five back-nine birdies for a two-shot victory over Stanford’s Andrea Lee (66) and Arizona’s Bianca Pagdaganan (72).

“Redemption,” Potter said. “She knew she could do it. It was just a matter of holding the trophy.”

After last year’s devastating finish, Potter tacked a photo on his closet wall of a victorious Arizona State team posing with the NCAA trophy. Each day was a reminder of how close they’d come.

“That sticks with you,” he said.

There were areas of Kupcho's game to shore up – namely chipping and bunker play – and she worked tirelessly to turn them into strengths. She built momentum throughout the season, culminating with a dominant regional performance in which she tied a school record by shooting 15 under, holed the winning putt to send her teammates to the NCAA Championship and became just the second player in history to win a regional in consecutive years.

“She’s interesting,” Potter said, “because the bigger the tournament, the bigger the stage, the better she plays.”

Indeed, Kupcho became the first player in a decade to finish in the top 6 in three consecutive NCAAs.

Here at Karsten Creek, she tied a women’s course record with a 7-under 65 in the opening round. And even though she backed up on Day 2, she played the last two rounds in 3 under to claim the title.

The one she kicked away a year ago.

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Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

Individual leaderboard (total scores): Jennifer Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to shoot 71 and win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.