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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.

U.S. Open: Tee times | Full coverage

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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Haas nearly shoots age in taking Champions playoff opener lead

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 10:05 pm

RICHMOND, Va.  -- Jay Haas shot a 7-under 65 - missing his age by a stroke - to take a two-shot lead Saturday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Trying to become the oldest winner in tour history, the 64-year-old Haas birdied the par-5 16th and 18th holes to get to 11-under 133 on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''I've been out here too long to know that I can learn to expect anything,'' Haas said. ''While I'm hopeful every day and I've been playing OK, the last couple weeks have not been very good, but this week has been much better. I love this golf course and it looks good to my eye. Most of the holes look like I'm going to hit a good shot, so I enjoy playing here.''

Mike Fetchick set the age record of 63 years to the day in the 1985 Hilton Head event. Haas is second on the list, taking the 2016 Toshiba Classic at 62 years, 10 months, 7 days for his 18th senior title.

''That's a good way to say I'm old, 'experience,''' Haas said. ''I think I'm very nervous most of the time when I play and today was no exception, but I continued to hit good shots and, hopefully, I can put one foot in front of the other, one shot at a time, do what I tell my son to do every time, you know? See if I can put some of those adages to work tomorrow.''

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Stephen Ames and Scott Dunlap were tied for second after the round that started in light rain. Ames had a 67, and Dunlap shot 68.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer had a 66 to join Billy Mayfair (67) and Woody Austin (68) at 9 under. Langer won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the season points lead. The 61-year-old German star has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, was tied for 23rd at 4 under after a 71.

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Sergio leads by 4 entering final round at Valderrama

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 20, 2018, 9:26 pm

Sergio Garcia closed with three straight birdies to shoot a 7-under 64 on Saturday, taking a four-shot lead into the third and final round of the Andalusia Valderrama Masters.

The tournament, which Garcia has won  twice (2017, 2011), was reduced to 54 holes because of numerous weather-related delays.

With his bogey-free round, Garcia moved to 10 under, four shots clear of Englishman Ashley Chesters, who shot a 1-under 70.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

"Hopefully we'll be able to play well tomorrow and get another win at Valderrama," Garcia said. "Hopefully I can finish it in style."

Chesters, however, is conceding nothing. "There's always a chance," he said. "There's not a lot of pressure on me."

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Ciganda is attempting to win her third LPGA title and first since the 2016 season, when she won two tournaments in a one-month span. Kim is chasing her eighth career LPGA win and second title of the 2018 season.

''I want to win because I didn't win last year,'' Ciganda said. ''I love playing in Asia. It's good for long hitters, playing quite long, so I'm quite comfortable.''

Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

Yin and Altomare have yet to break through for their first LPGA win. A win in Shanghai would make either player the ninth first-time winner of the 2018 season, which would tie 2016 for the third highest number of first-time winners in a season in LPGA history.

''I love competing,'' Yin said. ''That's why I'm playing, right? I'm excited to be in contention again going into Sunday.''

Local favorite Yu Liu was seventh after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."