Confidence man: Harrington willed '08 win at Birkdale

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2017, 11:00 am

When The Open gets underway on Thursday at Royal Birkdale there will be no shortage of lessons to be gleaned from the last time the game’s oldest major was played on the English links.

After winning the claret jug in 2007, Padraig Harrington arrived early the next year to fulfill his duties as reigning Champion Golfer of the Year, but didn’t hit a full shot until he set out on Thursday because of an injury. He endured a brutal start in even worse conditions and, like most of the field, was a competitive afterthought until late on Sunday.

It may have been a magical 5-wood that sealed the victory for Harrington in ’08, but it was his mind that made that shot possible.

“I felt I was favored,” Harrington said. “The media wanted a fairytale story with Greg [Norman]; I was aware of that and I’d recently played with Greg, knew what a great player he was, but I felt like this was my tournament.”

Although Harrington’s confidence was understandable – he was the defending champion, after all – his week at the ’08 championship didn’t exactly get off to a fairytale start.

He was nursing a right-wrist injury when he arrived at Birkdale, hadn’t seriously contended since his major breakthrough a year earlier at Carnoustie and could only chip and putt to prepare right up until his Day 1 tee time. But in his signature idiosyncratic way, the Irishman never doubted his ability or his chances.

“I’m a great believer a lot of times with injuries you’re better off playing with them. A lot of times the adrenaline of a tournament can get you through,” he said. “I just didn’t know anything that would happen. It took a lot of stress off me and a lot of pressure off me.”

He maintained that outlook even when he set out on Thursday in what some still consider the worst conditions in recent Open memory.

Harrington, playing in the early wave, started his title defense with a bogey at his first hole and closed his round with back-to-back bogeys for a 4-over 74, which normally would be a reason to start planning for a short week.

“I don’t watch the golf, but I was walking by the TV room and Adam Scott was knocking it onto the 15th in two [shots] and it had taken three woods when I played it in the morning so I nearly put my foot through the TV,” he said.

Just six players managed rounds at or under par on Day 1 in ’08 – with Robert Allenby, Graeme McDowell and Rocco Mediate leading the way with 69s – and the scoring average on Thursday was 75.87. Birkdale would rank as the toughest course on the PGA Tour by more than a half stroke that season.

“I shanked it out of bounds on the first,” recalled Paul Casey, who tied for seventh. “It was awful. I thought how can we be playing in this, when is the horn going to blow? It never happened.”

Harrington endured, however, and when Sunday arrived he was tied for second place, two strokes behind Norman, who at 53 was the oldest player to hold at least a share of the 54-hole lead at The Open.

The nostalgia of Norman’s run didn’t last long, with the Australian opening with three consecutive bogeys on his way to a 77 and a tie for third.

Ian Poulter, who teed off nearly an hour before Harrington on Sunday, quickly set the new mark with a closing 69, one of just six under-par cards on Day 4 and a round that included the most Poulter-esque of finishes.

One stroke clear of the field playing the 72nd hole, the Englishman followed a poor tee shot with a mediocre recovery and chipped to 8 feet for par.

“We all think, and so does Ian, [the par putt] is to win The Open,” Casey said. “So he looks at his putt and he goes to [caddie Terry Mundy], ‘Terry, come here.’ Terry is like, he hasn’t called me in all week to read a putt and now he’s calling me in so when I read this putt and he misses it he’s going to blame me.'

“So Terry goes over and bends down to read the putt, and Poulter’s like, no, no I’ve got the putt. You remember when you’re a kid at your home club and say to yourself this putt to win the Open? Well, this is my putt, now watch this.”

Poulter made the putt to finish at 7 over for the week, but it wasn’t to win The Open.

Following three consecutive bogeys before the turn, Harrington rebounded with birdies at Nos. 13 and 15 to move to 5 over before hitting what may be the most memorable shot of his career on the par-5 17th hole to seal his second major championship.

From 272 yards, Harrington rifled a 5-wood to 3 feet for what was essentially a walk-off eagle.

“It was a hell of a long way back in the day. A cold, windy day with the wind whipping off the left, but it was my favorite club and I was feeling good. You can never underestimate someone feeling good about their game, feeling confident with the shot they are hitting,” Harrington said. “It was one of the few times I’ve heard my caddie tell me it was a good shot when it was in the air.”

At the time, Harrington called his victory at the ’08 Open the most satisfying of his career, which is surprising considering how emotional he was following his victory a year earlier in Scotland. Asked recently where his Birkdale victory ranks the 45-year-old had a more reasoned take.

“Everything I did the week of Birkdale went exactly how you would dream of winning a major when you’re 15 years of age,” he said. “I played great, swung the club well, hit some spectacular shots, I was favorite. When you were a kid this is the scenario you would have had.”

Despite poor health and a poor draw, for Harrington it was the perfect ending.

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Norman to pose in ESPN's 'Body Issue'

By Grill Room TeamJune 19, 2018, 2:05 pm

Professional golfers have, from time to time, appeared in ESPN's "Body Issue," which features athletes strategically posed in the nude. The list includes: Belen Mozo, Carly Booth, Gary Player, Camilo Villegas, Sandra Gal, Christina Kim, Anna Grzebien, Suzann Pettersen and Sadena Parks.

And now, Greg Norman.

Modesty has never been an issue for Norman, who has an affinity for posing without a shirt (and sometimes without pants) on his Instagram account.

He joins a list of athletes, in this year's edition, ranging from professional wrestlers (Charlotte Flair) to Olympians (Adam Rippon) to WNBA stars (Sue Bird). Click here for a full list of the athletes to appear.

 

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DJ listed as betting favorite for The Open

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 2:00 pm

With the U.S. Open officially in the books, oddsmakers quickly turned their attention to the season's third major.

Minutes after Brooks Koepka holed the winning putt to successfully defend his title at Shinnecock Hills, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook published its first set of odds for The Open. Jordan Spieth, who opened at 14/1, will defend his title as the tournament shifts to Carnoustie in Scotland for the first time since 2007, when Padraig Harrington defeated Sergio Garcia in a playoff.

Joining Spieth at 14/1 is 2014 Open champion Rory McIlroy, but they're both listed behind world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Johnson, who was a runner-up at the 2011 Open at Royal St. George's and just finished third at the U.S. Open, opened as a 12/1 betting favorite. Koepka, now a two-time major winner, is listed at 20/1 alongside U.S. Open runner-up Tommy Fleetwood.

Here's a look at the first edition of odds, with The Open just five weeks away:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

14/1: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy

16/1: Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas

20/1: Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Phil Mickelson, Branden Grace, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Marc Leishman

50/1: Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Tyrrell Hatton

60/1: Matt Kuchar, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Ian Poulter, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick

80/1: Tony Finau, Zach Johnson, Thomas Pieters, Daniel Berger, Xander Schauffele, Bubba Watson, Shane Lowry

100/1: Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker

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Golf Channel, Loch Lomond Partner on Claret Jug Tour Ahead of 147TH Open

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJune 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

Award-Winning Independent Scotcb Whisky Sponsoring Tour to Select U.S. Cities; Will Include Special Tastings and Opportunities for Fans to Engage with Golf’s Most Storied Trophy

Golf Channel and Loch Lomond Group are partnering on a promotional tour with the Claret Jug – golf’s most iconic trophy, first awarded in 1873 to the winner of The Open – to select U.S. cities in advance of the 147TH Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Loch Lomond Whisky’s sponsorship of the tour further enhances the brand’s existing five-year partnership with the R&A as the official spirit of The Open, initially announced in February.

“We are proud to partner with Golf Channel to support this tour of golf’s most iconic trophy,” said Colin Matthews, CEO of Loch Lomond Group. “Whisky and golf are two of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, and following the news of our recent partnership with the R&A for The Open, being a part of the Claret Jug tour was a perfect fit for Loch Lomond Group to further showcase our commitment to the game.”

“The Loch Lomond Group could not be a more natural fit to sponsor the Claret Jug tour,” said Tom Knapp, senior vice president of golf sponsorship, NBC Sports Group. “Much like the storied history that accompanies the Claret Jug, Loch Lomond’s Scottish roots trace back centuries ago, and their aspirations to align with golf’s most celebrated traditions will resonate with a broad range of consumers in addition to golf fans and whisky enthusiasts.”

The tour kicks off today in Austin, Texas, and will culminate on Wednesday, July 11 at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe one week prior to The Open. Those wishing to engage with the Claret Jug will have an opportunity at one of several tour stops being staged at Topgolf locations in select cities. The tour will feature a custom, authentic Scottish pub where consumers (of age) can sample Loch Lomond’s portfolio of whiskies in the spirit of golf’s original championship and the Claret Jug. The Claret Jug also will make special pop-up visits to select GolfNow course partners located within some of the designated tour markets.

(All Times Local)

Monday, June 18                    Austin, Texas              (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, June 19                    Houston                      (Topgolf, 5-8 p.m.)

Wednesday, June 20               Jacksonville, Fla.        (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Monday, June 25                    Orlando, Fla.               (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 4                 Washington D.C.        (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Ashburn, Va.)

Monday, July 9                       Edison, N.J.                (Topgolf, Time TBA)

Wednesday, July 11               Lake Tahoe, Nev.       American Century Championship (On Course)

Fans interacting with the Claret Jug and Loch Lomond during the course of the tour are encouraged to share their experience using the hashtag, #ClaretJug on social media, and tag @TheOpen and @LochLomondMalts on Twitter and Instagram.

NBC Sports Group is the exclusive U.S. television home of the 147TH Open from Carnoustie, with nearly 50 live hours of tournament coverage, Thursday-Sunday, July 19-22. The Claret Jug is presented each July to the winner of The Open, with the winner also being given the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year” until the following year’s event is staged. The Claret Jug is one of the most storied trophies in all of sports; first presented to the 1873 winner of The Open, Tom Kidd. Each year, the winner’s name is engraved on to the trophy, forever etched into the history of golf’s original championship. It is customary for the Champion Golfer of the Year to drink a favorite alcoholic beverage from the Claret Jug in celebration of the victory.

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.



After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”



By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”



But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”



But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.