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Mike Davis' Shinnecock Hills balancing act

By Randall MellJune 12, 2018, 9:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Mike Davis was 15 when his father drove him up from their home in Chambersburg, Pa., to see the U.S. Open at Baltusrol.

It was an eventful trip, with Jack Nicklaus winning the 16th of his 18 major championship titles, but even back then, long before Davis would reimagine the U.S. Open in his role as executive director and CEO, seeds of change were being planted.

Davis didn’t just notice how penal the setup was. He noticed how arbitrarily penal it could be.

“I watched Keith Fergus hit a drive at the fifth hole and miss the fairway by about a foot,” Davis said.

After Fergus found his ball, Davis watched him take a mighty lash with his next shot, barely advancing it 3 feet. He can’t remember who Fergus was playing with, but the guy hit his drive wildly to the right, outside the gallery ropes, where he caught a better lie. The player took advantage, knocking his second shot to 4 feet.

“I remember scratching my head over that,” Davis said. “I turned to my father and said, `I know golf can be random, but it seems funny a guy who just missed the fairway can be so much worse off than a guy who hit it way off line.’ It got me thinking about things like graduated rough.”

Working his way through the USGA ranks, Davis gathered a lot of ideas, which would lead to his reimagining the U.S. Open and the test it will offer this week at Shinnecock Hills.

Once unofficially the “toughest test” in golf, it’s now reimagined as the “ultimate test.”

Instead of forcing the old U.S. Open formula on every golf course that hosts the championship, with penal rough crowding every narrow fairway and every green, the setup is adapted to honor the great architects who built the famed courses that host it, putting their intended defenses into play.

The “ultimate test” is meant to examine a player’s complete game, all the way through the bag, and that has meant creating wider fairways, to entice players to hit more drivers. It has meant sometimes shaving the grass around greens, to create collection areas that give players more short-game options. It has meant variable teeing grounds and drivable short par 4s, to make players think more under pressure.

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Davis’ ideas are soundly defended, but they have been met with resistance, with some of the game’s great players, like Johnny Miller, wondering if the championship has lost its identity.

The old guard pines for the old formula, for the more severe and rigid setup to restore the U.S. Open’s identity. That’s what makes this championship’s return to Shinnecock Hills so monumental this week.

This iconic venue, one of the USGA’s five founding-member clubs, will present the “ultimate test” of whether Davis’ vision for the championship can work in a way that will appease the old guard.

For the purists, the U.S. Open has always been about “protecting par” or “making par a good score.” Davis can change the formula, but when that concept fails, this championship fails.

Brooks Koepka didn’t thrill the old guard equaling the U.S. Open record at 16 under at Erin Hills last year, and neither did Justin Thomas putting up a record 9-under-par 63 in the third round.

Davis believes Shinnecock Hills is the perfect venue to present the ultimate test in a way that upholds the U.S. Open’s noblest traditions while honoring William Flynn and the other great architects who combined to create this revered venue.

“There’s going to be a balance [of the old and new formulas], because we don’t want to lose that heritage, that kind of brand,” Davis said. “While we didn’t necessarily brand the U.S. Open as the toughest test, people thought of it that way. The fans have come to expect it, past players have come to expect it and today’s players expect it. I think at Shinnecock this week, you’re going to see tough hole locations, hopefully firm and definitely fast greens and fescue rough that’s going to be penal.”

Phil Mickelson believes Shinnecock Hills gives the USGA a chance to get this U.S. Open exactly right after botched executions left players and fans unsatisfied over the last three years.

“This is certainly one of my favorite courses,” Mickelson said. “It's the best setup, in my opinion, that we've seen, and the reason I say that is all areas of your game are being tested.”

The challenge, of course, is avoiding pushing the envelope the way the USGA setup team did in 2004, when play was briefly suspended in the final round after the seventh green became unplayably firm and fast.

Davis has vowed that won’t happen again.

Still, Shinnecock Hills will only play about 450 yards longer than it did in ’04, with fairways 40 and 45 yards wide this week, almost twice the width some were in 2004. With players mashing drivers so much longer than they did 14 years ago, it won’t be easy to protect par without pushing the envelope.

“It's a very difficult job to find the line, of testing the best players, to the greatest degree, and not making it carnival golf,” Mickelson said. “I think it's a very fine line, and it's not a job I would want.”

This U.S. Open may offer an ultimate test, but the final score will matter, and that’s the problem Davis faces. With the growing athleticism of players, with high-tech coaching, with space-age technology in balls, drivers and shafts, protecting par is more difficult than it’s ever been. It may take goofy golf, 8,000 yard courses or 20-yard wide fairways guarded by barbed wire to do that nowadays.

Davis believes great golf course architecture brings out great theater and great champions, and he’s confident Shinnecock Hills will do that this week.

“I’m hugely excited to get back to one of our most historic U.S. Open sites,” Davis said. “This golf course, in some ways, really did shape golf in the United States.”

And Davis hopes it will do so again this week.

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Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''

Full-field scores from the Sanford International

Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

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Glover (64) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

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Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

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McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”