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The day the USGA lost Shinnecock Hills

By Rex HoggardJune 11, 2018, 3:09 pm

Kevin Stadler’s version of major championship trauma struck on Saturday, well before the USGA broke out the hoses on Sunday in a desperate attempt to save the 2004 U.S. Open.

At the time, Stadler was a 23-year-old journeyman trying to make his way in the professional ranks by playing mini-tour events and hoping to avoid the full rigors of Q-School. Qualifying and making the cut at the ’04 championship was his express ticket to the final stage of Q-School, so when he secured himself a weekend tee time at Shinnecock Hills it was as if a weight had been lifted from his round shoulders.

He had no idea what was waiting for him.

The first sign that things would be different on the weekend came when he pulled into the player parking lot on Saturday and watched a group of caddies on the practice putting green.

“There were caddies throwing balls down on the green that were bouncing over their head,” recalled Stadler, who was playing his first U.S. Open in ’04. “To see that so firm I couldn’t comprehend it.”

Later that afternoon, J.J. Henry was practicing on the same green as a warm, dry wind whistled across the iconic course.

“We were pouring bottles of water on the putting green and it’s just not going into the grass. We’re all like, ‘This is crazy,’” Henry said.

The real madness wouldn’t rear its crusty head until Sunday morning, when Stadler and Henry, playing in the day’s first group off, arrived at the seventh tee.

The par-3 seventh was playing 189 yards that Sunday, 14 years ago. The seventh green had been on the “edge” all week, according to numerous players who participated, with officials using back (top) right hole locations for most of the week to avoid the most severe slopes. On Sunday, however, the pin was placed on the front right section of a green that is shaped to feed tee shots to the back left portion of the putting surface.

U.S. Open: Tee times | Full coverage

Stadler was first to hit at the seventh, a wedge that thumped hard onto the parched putting surface and bounded into a bunker behind the green. Henry’s tee shot suffered the same fate.

By the time the dust – literally – settled for the twosome on the seventh, they’d taken a dozen shots between them to finish the hole and alarms all across Shinnecock Hills began to sound.

“We made a 6 [triple bogey] and a 6, and we didn’t hit a bad shot – that’s what’s crazy,” Henry remembers, the dismay of the moment still vivid even a decade and half removed.

From the back bunker, Stadler nearly holed his second shot with the ball rolling past the hole about 3 feet. Henry chipped about 12 feet past the hole. Henry’s next shot, a putt, would trundle back into the bunker behind the green.

“I’m waiting while J.J. was playing,” Stadler explained. “I was thinking I had a tap-in par and that [3]-footer looked like a 20-footer by the time J.J. was done.”

Stadler’s par attempt was straightforward, the line just outside the right edge, and for a moment he’d thought he made it. But as his ball inched its way past the hole it began to pick up speed and wouldn’t stop until it rolled back into the bunker.

“The ball was moving in slow motion,” Stadler said.

Stadler’s father, 13-time PGA Tour winner Craig, was walking with his son that day. Craig Stadler had a reputation of showing emotion on the golf course and if ever there was a time for the younger Stadler to follow in his father’s footsteps it was now.

“We all know that Kevin is a lot like his dad, and I just remember saying to myself please make this putt, I can only imagine where this putt is going to end up if he misses it,” Henry said. “Sure enough he misses and he’s playing from the bunker with his next shot.”

Things didn’t get much better for either player after the seventh. Stadler, who opened the week with a 68 and was tied for fifth place after Round 1, signed for a 15-over 85. Henry shot 76, which turned out to be one of the day’s better rounds.

Although the entire course – which had been sent over the line by a dry wind that siphoned every drop of moisture from the layout – would essentially become unplayable, it is the seventh hole that remains the modern USGA’s darkest hour.

After Stadler and Henry made a mess of the seventh, officials scrambled in an attempt to keep things from truly getting out of hand. Crews began to syringe greens between groups, an unprecedented move in the middle of a round, but the alternative was not an option.

“It would have been 100 percent unplayable if they hadn’t started watering,” Stadle said. “It would have been impossible.”

Although the watering helped, there was an element of uncertainty to the process that caused a new set of problems.

“They decided they were going to water between groups,” recalled Steve Flesch, who finished tied for seventh in ’04 for his best finish at the U.S. Open. “We get to the seventh tee and the group in front putts out and they aren’t syringing the green.

“They are like, go ahead and hit, and we’re like, no we’re waiting. The official said, ‘We’re [watering] between every other group.’ Chris [DiMarco] said he wasn’t going to hit until they syringe and the official said we’re going to penalize you for slow play if you don’t tee off.”

Flesch and DiMarco both made bogeys at No. 7.

Phil Mickelson, who would finish two strokes behind eventual champion Retief Goosen, had a similar experience.

“I know that their basis was once somebody four- or five-putted, they watered the green. And so it was really important that the group in front of you four- or five-putted and then you had a chance, but that didn't happen,” Mickelson said. “We were the group that four- or five-putted and then they watered for the guys behind us. That was nice.”

When Stadler and Henry completed their round, Tom Meeks, who was the USGA’s director of rules and competition at the time, was waiting for them in the scoring area.

“I can remember Tom Meeks coming up to us in the scoring trailer and saying how sorry he was, saying, ‘Unfortunately we lost the golf course,’” Henry recalled. “Basically, really sorry you guys had to play through some of those conditions.”

Meeks declined to comment about the ’04 championship, telling, “I have nothing but fond memories of Shinnecock Hills and wish them nothing but the best.”

Mike Davis, who succeeded Meeks as the association’s director of rules and competition and is now the executive director, has been more forthcoming, telling a group of reporters at last year’s U.S. Open, “That [what happened in ’04] will not happen again. If it does, I’m retiring,” he said.

Many players have noted that the seventh green hasn’t been changed since the ’04 championship, prompting some to wonder if the USGA could find itself in a similar situation at this week’s U.S. Open, but Davis has assured anyone who would listen that this time will be different.

“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief [Goosen] and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”

For those who actually did make double bogeys (or worse) during that final round in ’04, they hope Davis is right.

“It went from honest perfection, best course I’ve ever played, before the weekend, to the hardest thing I’d ever seen. The greens were dead,” Stadler said. “Seriously, I played 27 holes on Wednesday because I couldn’t get enough.”

By Sunday, Stadler and Co. couldn’t get away from Shinnecock Hills fast enough.

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This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:39 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.

His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.

“This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”

The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.

There was also one other similarity.

“Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.

“It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”

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Brandel rips USGA: 'There's no obvious leadership'

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 18, 2018, 1:29 am

The 2018 U.S. Open will certainly be remembered for Brooks Koepka's successful title defense.

But there's no doubt that it will also be remembered for Phil Mickelson's decision to hit a moving golf ball on Saturday, for the USGA's decision not to disqualify him, and for the governing body once again losing control of Shinnecock Hills over the weekend.

Speaking on "Live From the U.S. Open" on Sunday night, analyst Brandel Chamblee took the USGA and its leadership to task for more than just the inconsistent playing conditions this week.

His comments - edited and condensed for clarity - appear below:

"Something was amiss in a big, big way [at Shinnecock Hills]. I think the USGA has lost a lot of the trust of the golf world. They've done it for numerous reasons.

"On their watch, they missed COR – the rebound effect in drivers. They missed the rebound effect and the combination of the rebound effect [with] the ball. They missed it, on their watch. And now, the feeling is that they’re crying foul, even though it was on their watch. And so, essentially, the equipment companies got it done, by [the USGA’s] standards, legally.

"On their watch, there have been huge mistakes in major championships. … We well know this one (Shinnecock in 2018) – a colossal mistake all the way across the board. The golf course was bumpy the first day; they didn’t quite get that right. It was awful the third day. And today, in a different kind of way, it was far too easy.

"And then there’s penalties that they levy that make absolutely no sense, penalties that they don’t levy – not disqualifying Phil Mickelson yesterday. …

"There seems to be no obvious leadership, you know, to me. No obvious leadership heading in the right direction."

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Koepka reveals he injured his ribs last week

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:19 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – There was a time when Brooks Koepka didn’t even know if he was going to be able to play this week’s U.S. Open as he recovered from a wrist injury that had sidelined him for 3 ½ months.

He didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, which he missed, and returned to the PGA Tour in late April at the Zurich Classic. His return to competitive form accelerated from there with a runner-up finish last month at the Forth Worth Invitational.

But if Sunday’s victory at Shinnecock Hills, where he became the first player to win back-to-back U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange in 1989, appeared to be an official return to full strength, it wasn’t exactly that seamless.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka, who closed with a 68 for a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood, revealed that he suffered a rib injury last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

“My rib kind of came out last week. It bugged me a little bit,” he said. “Right when we got here, [Koepka’s trainer] worked on it, knew what it was. It was pretty sore, but I had no problems since then.”

In 2015, Koepka withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a similar rib injury.

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In the battle of bros, Koepka 1-ups DJ

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:12 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It’s a scene that occurs on a regular basis at the Joey D Golf Training Center, frenzied workouts driven by an intense combination of competition and desire.

Under the watchful eye of longtime PGA Tour trainer Joey Diovisalvi, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson will turn even the most mundane elements of their workouts into winner-take-all contests – from the duo’s warmup on stationary bikes to the various exercises that have turned the twosome into a pair of the game’s most imposing figures.

It was during one of these hyper-fueled sessions a few months ago when Koepka suggested he could become No. 1 world.

“I think Brooks was 11th in the world at the time, and Dustin said, ‘Yeah, if you add a ‘1’ to that,’” Diovisalvi recalled. “Brooks said, ‘You wait and see; you want to come to my party and put the banner up?’ Dustin just laughed, ‘Not while I’m alive, it’s not happening.’”

That rivalry, which is a friendly as it is genuine, was taken to a new level on Sunday at the U.S. Open when the duo set out for the final lap in the day’s penultimate group. Golf’s undisputed Bash Brothers going head-to-head after having traded titles at the last two U.S. Opens, the prototype of the modern professional playing on golf’s most demanding stage.

To the New York masses, the twosome must have looked like the guy most likely to ask how long you’re going to be using the bench press at your local gym, a pair of golfing unicorns who have combined unrelenting power with wildly under-rated precision.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

With apologies to all those who set out for the final round at Shinnecock Hills with the greatest expectations, this was always going to come down to either Koepka or Johnson.

Koepka won his first U.S. Open in dominant fashion last year at Erin Hills and Johnson got on the board in 2016 at Oakmont, so it should have been no surprise that, as the duo went through their normal “game day” workout early Sunday together, there was the unspoken realization that the day’s competition was just beginning.

“[Koepka] likes to beat DJ,” said Claude Harmon III, the swing coach for both men. “We’re in an era now where it’s a great time in golf that all the guys are friends and there are great friendships, but trust me – all these guys want to win. Brooks wants to beat everybody, including DJ who is his closest friend out here. He wants to beat him in the gym, in everything they do.”

Even in the Official World Golf Ranking, which currently features Johnson atop the pack?

“Absolutely, he tells him all the time,” Harmon said.

Koepka won’t climb to No. 1 in world on Monday, but he did one-up his South Florida stablemate by becoming the first player since Curtis Strange, in 1989, to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

It was a perfectly Koepka performance.

A day that began with a no small measure of apprehension following Saturday’s inexplicable setup snafu – that prompted some players to contend that the USGA had “lost” the golf course for the second consecutive championship at Shinnecock Hills – quickly settled into the kind of competitive grind for which the U.S. Open is known.

Koepka broke out of a four-way tie for first place with a 20-footer for birdie at the second, added another at the third to go two strokes clear and appeared to be on cruise control. But then U.S. Opens, real U.S. Opens where par is a good score and the USGA dances dangerously close to the edge, are never that easy.

The first crack came at the par-3 11th hole when Koepka airmailed the green and needed to convert a 12-footer for bogey. He scrambled again at the 12th with a 6-footer for par and salvaged his advantage at the 14th hole after finding the fescue with his drive.

With Tommy Fleetwood – who became the sixth player to shoot 63 in a U.S. Open to settle into the clubhouse lead at 2 over par – watching from the range, Koepka walked to the 72nd tee with a two-stroke advantage. There was no suspense, no moments of anxiety, no reason to think he would allow this opportunity to slip away.

For all the complaints about Saturday’s setup, which even USGA CEO Mike Davis said were justified, this was the kind of U.S. Open Koepka relishes.

“This week is just back to a typical U.S. Open, where 1 over par wins the golf tournament,” said Koepka, who closed with a 68. “It's just a lot of grinding. But I couldn't be happier with the way I played.”

Picking your favorite major is often like picking your favorite child – they are all special in their unique way – but Koepka had no problem giving his second turn as U.S. Open champion its proper place.

This was special. Special because he outplayed Johnson, who closed with a 70 to finish in third place at 3 over. Special because of the workmanlike performance Shinnecock Hills demanded. And special because the last year hasn’t exactly been a celebration.

Toward the end of 2017, Koepka began to feel pain in his left wrist. He would miss the Masters with a partially torn tendon and spend 3 ½ maddening months on his couch recovering.

“We were worried that he wasn’t even going to be able to come here and defend,” said Koepka’s father, Bob. “I’m just thankful that he’s been able to recover. It’s been a long three months for him.”

Although he didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, his return to competitive form was nothing short of meteoric, even by modern standards. And when he finished runner-up at last month’s Fort Worth Invitational, just his fourth event back, his confidence quickly returned.

“He’d never really been a golf nerd and I think he fell in love with golf again,” Harmon said. “When he came back there was something I hadn’t seen with him wanting to play again. He watched the Masters. He never watches the Masters.”

He also was back in the gym, alongside Johnson, rekindling the duo’s ongoing bout of one-upmanship. Early Sunday during their pre-round workout it was the status quo for Koepka and Johnson, friendly banter that both lightens the mood and inspires excellence.

But it was different once the two set out for the final round. There were no jokes, no trash talking, no talking of any kind, in fact.

“I love Dustin. He's one of my best friends,” Koepka said. “To play alongside him, it was fun today. I was excited about it. I figured he would be the guy to beat. But I didn't talk to him today. Maybe I said something on [No.] 3, and that was about it.”

There will be plenty to talk about next week when they renew what is one of the game’s most unique friendships and rivalries. Koepka won’t ascend to No. 1 in the world just yet, but he will hang a banner in Diovisalvi’s gym – 2018 U.S. Open champion – and Johnson wouldn’t miss that moment.