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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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Kang (69) wins Buick LPGA Shanghai by two

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:11 am

SHANGHAI - Danielle Kang shot a 3-under 69 on Sunday to win the LPGA Shanghai by two strokes for her second career title.

Kang, who started the final round one stroke off the lead, offset a lone bogey on the par-5 fourth hole with four birdies after the turn to finish at 13-under 275 and hold off a late charge by Lydia Ko, who had the day's lowest score of 66.

Ko, who had seven birdies and a lone bogey, tied for second at 11 under with a group of seven players that included Brittany Altomare (71), Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and overnight co-leader Sei Young Kim (72).

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Carlota Ciganda, who also held a share of the lead after the third round, shot a 73 to fall into a tie for ninth with Bronte Law and local favorite Lu Liu.

Paula Creamer carded three birdies against a pair of bogeys for a 71 to finish in sole possession of 12th place.

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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New world No. 1 Koepka already wants more

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 8:48 am

If there is a knock on Brooks Koepka, it’s that he’s a little too cool.

Gary Woodland, who threw 11 birdies at Koepka on Sunday and still finished four shots back, inadvertently captured that exact sentiment after Saturday's third round.

“You know," he said, "Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much."

In context, Woodland meant that there was little anyone in the field could do to rattle the 54-hole leader. (He proved himself right, by the way.)

And out of context, the comment speaks to the general narrative surrounding Koepka. That he’s just detached enough for fans to have trouble attaching themselves to him. That he’s just a jock here to cash checks and collect trophies, to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

But for a few moments Sunday in South Korea, it became clear that Brooks Koepka does care. Crouched on the 72nd green with some time to stop and think as Ian Poulter lagged a bit behind, Koepka finally let a moment get to him. Cameras caught the three-time major champion appearing unusually emotional.

Of course, less than a minute later, those same cameras caught him yawning. The contrast was almost too perfect. It was as if he knew he had just been found out and needed to snap back into character – which he did.

He promptly poured in an eagle putt to cap off a final-round 64, to win the CJ Cup by four, and to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

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“To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid,” Koepka said on the 18th green, moments after closing out his fifth PGA Tour victory and third this year. “I don't think this one's going to sink in.”

What is beginning to sink in is the fact that Koepka now unequivocally belongs in the conversation, the one golf fans and analysts have been having over and over since Tiger Woods fell from his perch.

Who’s the best at their best?

In the two years between his first PGA Tour win and his first U.S. Open victory, Koepka was touted as having the kind of talent to compete with the game's elites. It took him a little while for him to get here, but Koepka has taken over as the latest player to look like he’ll never lose again. Just as it was for Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas before him, this is Koepka's moment. This is his run of dominance.

It’s a run that will have to end at some point. Every one of the guys just mentioned did cool off eventually. Koepka will, too. Maybe it will be fatigue, maybe it will be injury, and maybe it’ll just be golf. This talent pool is simply too deep for anyone to remain on top for too long.

But what Koepka has done this year – in defending his U.S. Open title, in staring down Tiger at the PGA, in claiming the Player of the Year Award, in ascending to the top of the world rankings – is put his name at the forefront of the conversation. If he was unappreciated at times before, those days are long gone. He's already accomplished too much, proven himself too good, to ever be overlooked again.

And he’s far from done.

“For me, I just need to keep winning,” he said. “I feel like to win a few more regular Tour events and then keep adding majors. I feel like my game's set up for that. I've gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where, it's incredible, every time I tee it up, I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not. It's something I'm so excited [about] right now, you have no idea. I just can't wait to go play again.”

Watch: Koepka holes out from off the green at 16

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 5:36 am

Brooks Koepka faced a stiff challenge from Gary Woodland on Sunday in South Korea, but eventually it came time to end the suspense.

Having clung to a slim lead for much of the back nine, Koepka looked as though he was going to have to scramble just to save par when he missed the green at 16. 

Instead, caddie Ricky Elliott was able to leave Koepka's putter in the bag.

That holeout combined with a bogey from Woodland at 17 put Koepka ahead by three, allowing him to walk to victory and to the top of the world rankings.

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Koepka wins CJ Cup, ascends to world No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 5:07 am

Brooks Koepka eagled the 72nd hole Sunday to cap off a final-round 64, win the CJ Cup and supplant Dustin Johnson as the new No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here's how Koepka took over the golf world Sunday in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-21), Gary Woodland (-17), Ryan Palmer (-15), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-15), Jason Day (-12), Scott Piercy (-12)

What it means: This is Koepka's fifth career PGA Tour victory but only his second in a non-major, following his maiden win back at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Up four to start the day, Koepka saw his lead evaporate as Woodland rocketed up the leaderboard and kept pace with him for much of the back nine. But every time Sunday's result appeared in doubt, Koepka reclaimed his lead in dramatic fashion. He nearly aced the par-3 13th to go ahead by two and later holed out for birdie at the par-4 16th to go up three with two to play. He finished par-eagle at 17 and 18 to shoot a back-nine 29 and close out his third victory in the last five months. With the win, Koepka ascends to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Round of the day: Ryan Palmer set a Nine Bridges course record when he birdied his final seven holes in a row en route to a bogey-free round of 10-under 62 and a solo third-place finish.

Best of the rest: Woodland played his first 16 holes in 9 under par to storm from five back and catch Koepka atop the leaderboard. But his furious Sunday charge finally came to an end when he failed to get up and down for par from the back bunker at 17. He carded his 11th birdie of the round at the 18th hole to sign for 63 and finish solo second.

Biggest disappointment: In retrospect, Woodland called it correctly on Saturday when he said: "You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can. You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number." Woodland put as much pressure on Koepka as he could. He went out and posted that number. Koepka never blinked.

Shot of the day: Koepka's holeout at the par-3 16th, which put him ahead by three, unofficially ending the proceedings:

Quote of the day: "To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid. I don't think this one is going to sink in." - Koepka