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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.

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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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Snedeker joins 59 club at Wyndham

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 4:19 pm

Brandt Snedeker opened the Wyndham Championship with an 11-under 59, becoming just the ninth player in PGA Tour history to card a sub-60 score in a tournament round.

Snedeker offered an excited fist pump after rolling in a 20-footer for birdie on the ninth hole at Sedgefield Country Club, his 18th hole of the day. It was Snedeker's 10th birdie on the round to go along with a hole-out eagle from 176 yards on No. 6 and gave him the first 59 on Tour since Adam Hadwin at last year's CareerBuilder Challenge.

Snedeker's round eclipsed the tournament and course record of 60 at Sedgefield, most recently shot by Si Woo Kim en route to victory two years ago. Amazingly, the round could have been even better: he opened with a bogey on No. 10 and missed a 6-footer for birdie on his 17th hole of the day.

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Snedeker was still 1 over on the round before reeling off four straight birdies on Nos. 13-16, but he truly caught fire on the front nine where he shot an 8-under 27 that included five birdie putts from inside 6 feet.

Jim Furyk, who also shot 59, holds the 18-hole scoring record on Tour with a 58 in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship.

Snedeker told reporters this week that he was suffering from "kind of paralysis by analysis" at last week's PGA Championship, but he began to simplify things over the weekend when he shot 69-69 at Bellerive to tie for 42nd. Those changes paid off even moreso Thursday in Greensboro, where Snedeker earned his first career Tour win back in 2007 at nearby Forest Oaks.

"Felt like I kind of found something there for a few days and was able to put the ball where I wanted to and make some putts," Snedeker said. "And all of a sudden everything starts feeling a little bit better. So excited about that this week because the greens are so good."

Snedeker was hampered by injury at the end of 2017 and got off to a slow start this season. But his form has started to pick up over the summer, as he has recorded three top-10 finishes over his last seven starts highlighted by a T-3 finish last month at The Greenbrier. He entered the week 80th in the season-long points race and is in search of his first win since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.

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Woods' caddie paid heckler $25 to go away

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 4:05 pm

Tiger Woods is known for his ability to tune out hecklers while in the midst of a competitive round, but every now and then a fan is able to get under his skin - or, at least, his caddie's.

Joe LaCava has been on the bag for Woods since 2011, and on a recent appearance on ESPN's "Golic and Wingo" he shared a story of personally dispatching of an especially persistent heckler after dipping into his wallet earlier this month at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

According to LaCava, the fan was vocal throughout Woods' final round at Firestone Country Club, where he eventually tied for 31st. On the 14th hole, LaCava asked him to go watch another group, and the man agreed - under the condition that LaCava pony up with some cash.

"So he calls me a couple of names, and I go back and forth with the guy. And I said, 'Why don't you just leave?'" LaCava said. "And he goes, 'Well, if you give me $25 for the ticket that I bought today, I'll leave.' And I said, 'Here you go, here's $25.'"

But the apparent resolution was brief, as the heckler pocketed the cash but remained near the rope line. At that point, the exchange between LaCava and the fan became a bit more heated.

"I said, 'Look, pal, $25 is $25. You've got to head the other way,'" LaCava said. "So he starts to head the other way, goes 20 yards down the line, and he calls me a certain other swear word. So I run 20 yards back the other way. We’re going face-to-face with this guy and all of a sudden Tiger is looking for a yardage and I’m in it with this guy 20 yards down the line.”

Eventually an on-course police officer intervened, and the cash-grabbing fan was ultimately ejected. According to LaCava, Woods remained unaffected by the situation that played out a few yards away from him.

"He didn't have a problem," LaCava said. "And actually, I got a standing ovation for kicking the guy out of there."

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Highlights: Snedeker's closing blitz to 59

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

Brandt Snedeker's first round at the Wyndham Championship began with a bogey and ended with a birdie for an 11-under 59.

Snedeker made four consecutive birdies on his opening nine holes and then raced home in 27 strokes to become the ninth different player in PGA Tour history to break the 60 barrier.

A very good round turned historic beginning when he holed a 7-iron from 176 yards, on the fly, for an eagle-2 at the par-4 sixth. Playing his 15th hole of the day, Snedeker vaulted to 9 under par for the tournament.

With Sedgefield being a par 70, Snedeker needed two birdies over his final three holes to shoot 59 and he got one of them at the par-3 seventh, where he hit his tee shot on the 224-yard hole to 2 feet.

Snedeker actually had 58 in his crosshairs, but missed an 6-foot slider for birdie at the par-4 eighth.

Still, 59 was on the table and he needed this 20-foot putt to shoot it.

At 11 under par, Snedeker led the tournament by five strokes.

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Rosaforte Report: A tale of two comebacks

By Tim RosaforteAugust 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Comeback (noun): A return by a well-known person, especially an entertainer or sports player, to the activity in which they have formerly been successful.

Even by definition, the word comeback is subjective.

There is no question that Brooks Koepka has completed his comeback. With two major championship victories that encompassed wins over Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods, Player of the Year honors have all but been locked up for the 2017-18 season.

But knowing Koepka, he wants more. A No. 1 ranking, topping his boy D.J., is a possibility and a goal. A Ryder Cup is awaiting. By all rights, Koepka could be Comeback Player of the Year and Player of the Year all in one, except the PGA Tour discontinued its Comeback honor in 2012. Even without an official award, the conversation comes down to the two athletes that hugged it out after finishing 1-2 at Bellerive.

What Woods has recovered from is remarkable, but not complete. He hasn’t won yet. With triumphs in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, Koepka has completed his comeback from a pair of wrist injuries that could have been equally as career-ending as the physical issues that Woods had to overcome just to contend in the last two majors.

“There was a question on whether or not I’d ever be the same,” Koepka said Sunday night in the media center at Bellerive, following his third major championship victory in six tries. “Whether I could do it pain-free, we had no idea.”

The wrist traumas occured five months apart, with the initial issue, which occured at the Hero World Challenge in December (in which he finished last in the limited field), putting him in a soft cast with a partially torn tendon. That cost the reigning U.S. Open champion 15 weeks on the shelf (and couch), including a start in the Masters.

His treatment included injecting bone marrow and platelet-rich plasma. When he returned at the Zurich Classic in April, Koepka revealed the ligaments that hold the tendon in place were gone – thus a dislocation – and that every time he went to his doctor, “it seemed like it got worse and worse.”

Koepka’s second wrist injury of the season occurred on the practice grounds at The Players, when a cart pulled in front of Koepka just as he was accelerating into the ball with his 120-plus mph club-head speed. Abruptly stopping his swing, Koepka’s left wrist popped out. His physio, Marc Wahl, relayed a story to PGA Tour radio in which he advised Koepka before he reset the wrist: “Sit on your hand and bite this towel, otherwise you’re going to punch me.”

Koepka admitted that he never dreamed such a scenario would threaten his career. He called it, “probably the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through, setting that bone back.” But, testament to Koepka's fortitude, four days later he made an albatross and tied a TPC Sawgrass course record, shooting 63.

Woods’ physical – and mental – recovery from back surgery and prescription drug abuse was painful and career threatening in its own way. As he said in his return to Augusta, “Those are some really, really dark times. I’m a walking miracle.”

As miraculous as it has been, Woods, by definition, still hasn’t fully completed his comeback. While he’s threatened four times in 2018, he hasn’t won a tournament.

Yes, it’s a miracle that he’s gotten this far, swinging the club that fast, without any relapse in his back. As electric and high-energy as his second-place finish to Koepka was at the PGA, Woods has made this winning moment something to anticipate. As story lines go, it may be better this way.

Coming off a flat weekend at the WGC-Bridgestone, Woods was starting to sound like an old 42-year-old. But instead of ice baths and recovery time, the conversation was charged by what he did on Saturday and Sunday in the 100th PGA.

A day later, there was more good news. With Woods committing to three straight weeks of FedExCup Playoff golf, potentially followed by a week off and then the Tour Championship, that moment of victory may not be far away.

Scheduling – and certainly anticipating – four tournaments in five weeks, potentially followed by a playing role at the Ryder Cup, would indicate that Woods has returned to the activity in which he was formally successful.

There were times post-scandal and post-back issues, that Woods stuck by the lines made famous by LL Cool J:

Don’t call it a comeback
I’ve been here for years
I’m rocking my peers

Not this time. As he said Sunday before his walk-off 64 in St, Louis, “Oh, God. I didn’t even know if I was going to play again.”