For better or worse, Chambers memories will linger

By Rex HoggardJune 23, 2015, 11:47 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Memories fade, but this may take some time.

Regardless of which side of the dusty divide one finds themself when it comes to Chambers Bay and the USGA’s Pacific Northwest experiment, an expansive void that ranges from outright repugnance to lukewarm respect, the post-U.S. Open narrative is littered with warning signs of a championship gone awry.

The rule of thumb when it comes to a U.S. Open venue, particularly an unproven first-time stop like Chambers Bay, is that the course can be the story in the pre-championship build up, but if the conversation hasn’t changed by the time Sunday’s final putt drops – or in Dustin Johnson’s case slides painfully by the left edge of the cup – then something went terribly wrong.

It only compounds the after-action reporting that the litany of problems that plagued Chambers Bay spans the sprawling property – from some greens that were an unsightly combination of dead and dying fescue, poa annua and dirt to an alarming number of “obstructed views” for the area’s ravenous and record crowds.

“They are putting better now. They are basically not living anymore,” Ernie Els said of the greens on Sunday. “The greens are gone. It’s when they had that green growth [poa] coming out of the turf. That’s gone now.”

Billy Horschel was not nearly as subdued in his assessment of the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, stepping to the microphone on Sunday poised to pounce. “I’ve been waiting for this moment all week,” he smiled.

Although most players offered begrudging respect for the layout from tee to green, the agronomic collision of fescue, poa and unusually high temperatures coalesced to create the worst putting surfaces in a major championship since Shinnecock Hills at the 2004 U.S. Open.

“I’m not going to criticize the design. I was talking about wine last night and some guys like certain types of wine and some people don’t. It’s the same for golf course design,” Els said.

What is certain, Chambers Bay was not most players’ glass of merlot.

“The U.S. Open is a great tournament with incredible history. The USGA should be ashamed of what they did to it this week,” tweeted Chris Kirk. “The course wasn’t overly difficult, just tricked up.”

There was no sugar coating this for most players, the condition of some greens, specifically Nos. 4 and 12, was enough to dislodge players from what has become a politically correct desire to avoid overt criticism.

To be fair, the elevated level of vitriol wasn’t universal. Geoff Ogilvy, normally one of the calmer heads in the locker room particularly when it comes to golf course architecture, took the long view when asked his thoughts following the final round.

“I told someone earlier in the week, whoever wins is going to be a quality player,” said Ogilvy, a nod to a leaderboard that included Spieth, runner-up Johnson and even Rory McIlroy with a late Sunday cameo. “You have to move the ball both ways, you have to use your brain, which is a rare thing in modern golf and something we're not very good at.”

The truth is it wasn’t the dead and dying greens or USGA executive director Mike Davis’ increasingly creative use of wildly varying teeing grounds that prompted the greatest amount of push back from players.

Despite record crowds and stunning views, Chambers Bay proved to be a particularly demanding venue for fans. The rolling layout was such a difficult and dangerous walk that the USGA advised those attending this year’s championship it was best to find a seat in a grandstand, and some holes, like the par-5 eighth, were virtually void of any gallery.

“From the fans’ point of view it’s been a strange atmosphere out there this year, because they can’t get close to the action and on some holes there aren’t any [fans],” Lee Westwood said. “From a fan’s point of view it must have been an even harder trek than it was for us players.”

With the U.S. Open booked out to 2021 and little interest, at least from the players’ perspective, in returning to Chambers Bay, it would be easy to write off the USGA’s first trip to the Pacific Northwest as the wrong execution of the right idea.

Late Sunday, however, an impromptu moment stood out amid all the course criticism and competitive chaos.

Midway through the leaders’ closing nine Davis was asked about the issue with the 12th green when Steve Lesnik – the chairman of KemperSports, which manages Chambers Bay – assured the executive they would remedy all of Chambers Bay’s agronomic woes.

While the USGA and Davis, who marked his 10th U.S. Open as the association’s top setup man last week, remained non-committal regarding Chambers Bay’s future status as a U.S. Open course it seems a publically-owned Pacific Northwest venue is a powerful draw to powerful people in the USGA.

For most players still stinging from a long and dusty week along the shores of Puget Sound it was too soon to consider a return engagement.

“I think a lot of players, and I'm one of them, have lost some respect for the USGA and this championship this year for the greens,” said Horschel, echoing a familiar locker room theme from the week.

Despite the cascade of criticism, it’s seems too soon to label Chambers Bay as a one-and-done venue.

Again Ogilvy with the long view: “It's obviously a fantastic city. Along with New York and Chicago, it seems like one of the best sports town in the U.S. It's logistically got issues, but there's nothing that in 15 or 20 years they can’t work that out, I'm sure. I'm sure they'll come back. I don't know when, but I'm sure they'll come back.”

Ultimately, Chambers Bay’s future will depend on how players and the public remember the 2015 Open, either as a misguided and mistake-riddled championship or the site of one of the most memorable major finishes in recent memory.

Only time will tell.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”