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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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U.S. Amateur playoff: 24 players for 1 spot in match play

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2018, 1:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer and Daniel Hillier were tied at the top after two rounds of the U.S. Amateur, but the more compelling action on Tuesday was further down the leaderboard.

Two dozen players were tied for 64th place after two rounds of stroke play at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. With the top 64 advancing to match play, that means all 24 will compete in a sudden-death playoff Wednesday morning for the last spot in the knockout rounds.

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They'll be divided into six foursomes and start the playoff at 7:30 a.m. on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach, where Tom Watson chipped in during the 1982 U.S. Open and went on to win.

The survivor of the playoff will face the 19-year-old Hillier in match play. The New Zealander shot a 2-under 70 at Spyglass Hill to share medalist honors with the 18-year-old Hammer at 6 under. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas who played in the 2015 U.S. Open at age 15, shot 68 at Spyglass Hill.

Stewart Hagestad had the low round of the day, a 5-under 66 at Pebble Beach, to move into a tie for 10th after opening with a 76 at Spyglass Hill. The 27-year-old Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and earned low amateur honors at the 2017 Masters.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

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On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."