Merion again? Yes, but without the severe setup

By Rex HoggardJune 19, 2013, 9:04 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson, who became the standard-bearer of player discontent when he criticized the USGA for how they set up Merion, didn’t blink when asked on Tuesday if the U.S. Open should return to the East Course.

“Oh, I hope so,” he said.

During an extended conversation with three prominent PGA Tour players in the TPC River Highlands locker room later on Tuesday, that sentiment was echoed.

“Yeah,” Lucas Glover said, “they should (go back).”

That’s not to say the field for last week’s championship was enamored with how the East Course was set up. In the years leading up to this year’s championship, the classic layout was altered, some would say dramatically, with fairways (like the second and 11th) shifted some 30 yards or more toward either out of bounds or water hazards, rough was grown to pre-Mike Davis heights and pins tucked in insanely difficult spots.


113th U.S. Open: Articles, videos and photos


The best example of that came on Sunday. In 1981, the last year the Open was played at Merion, there was just a single hole cut four paces or fewer from an edge and according to various sources the greens were rolling at 10 on the Stimpmeter when David Graham won that year.

For Sunday’s final turn, there were nine holes cut four paces or fewer from the edges and the greens were “stimping” at a fiery 13 ½ feet.

“I met a guy in the airport on Saturday when I was flying home, he was 91 (years old),” Glover said. “He had been to every Open since 1950 at Merion. I asked how fast the greens were in ’81, he said, ‘10 (on the Stimpmeter).’ I said how long was the rough, ‘3 inches.’ I asked if that was the same golf course and he said, ‘Absolutely not,’ . . . he said it was atrocious.”

Lost in last week’s reintroduction of Merion after a 32-year hiatus from the U.S. Open rotation was the fact that this was not the same course where Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam in 1930 by winning the U.S. Amateur or where Ben Hogan made emotional history at the 1950 U.S. Open.

Davis, the USGA executive director who took over for Tom Meeks as the Open’s top setup man in 2004, has proven himself adept at setting up fair, but difficult golf courses. This time, however, he may have blazed through a few stop signs on his way to Sunday’s trophy presentation.

Normally one of the calmest heads in the room, Davis – like many of us (your scribe included) – may have gotten caught up in the hype.

Conventional wisdom was that at just 6,996 yards, Merion would not withstand the power of the modern game and estimates varied between 8 and 16 under for a winning total. Essentially, if last week’s field picked poor Merion apart it would be the USGA’s tacit acknowledgment that the game had passed the venerable venue by, and that just wouldn’t do.

Davis told anyone who would listen last week that score never enters the conversation during the setup process, yet watching the world’s best battle their way to over-par totals (winner Justin Rose finished at 1 over) during a relatively benign week scoring-wise makes one think that when they say it’s not about protecting par, it’s always about protecting par.

“They’re trying to protect par,” Tiger Woods said flatly on Friday.

The rub for most players, however, is that the USGA didn’t have to fly so close to the setup sun to protect Merion. Had officials maintained traditional fairway corridors and used slightly more accessible hole locations the winning score may have dipped to 8 under, but is that really a bad thing?

It’s worth noting that Merion superintendent Matt Shaffer told Golf Channel in May that the club will put the East Course’s fairway corridors back to where they were originally after the Open.

Merion proved to be the timeless maid we all thought she would be without the preemptive nip/tucks, so much so it should be a case study for any golf course architect who is tempted to build a 7,600-yard behemoth. Length and difficulty can be very much mutually exclusive when it comes to golf course architecture.

Thanks to creative planning, and an extremely accommodating membership and surrounding neighborhood, Merion also proved to be up to the logistical challenges of a major championship.

“Logistically, it was incredibly difficult,” Rose said. “They must have faced so many challenges. I think it would be fantastic to see it with better weather earlier in the week, to see it with a little bit of a bounce in the ball, to see how that would change the way it played.”

Should the U.S. Open return to Merion? Of course (may we suggest 2030, the 100-year anniversary of Jones’ historic win). Should the USGA tread a little more lightly with its setup when/if that happens? Absolutely.

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Davies wins Senior LPGA Championship

By Associated PressOctober 17, 2018, 10:45 pm

FRENCH LICK, Ind. -- Laura Davies won the Senior LPGA Championship on Wednesday at chilly and windy French Lick Resort to sweep the two senior major events of the year.

Davies birdied the final hole for a 2-under 70 and a four-stroke victory over Helen Alfredsson and Silvia Cavalleri. The 55-year-old Englishwoman won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open in July at Chicago Golf Club. In March in Phoenix, she tied for second in the LPGA's Founders Cup.


Full-field scores from the Senior LPGA Championship


Davies led wire to wire, finishing at 8-under 208 on The Pete Dye Course.

Alfredsson also shot 70, and Cavalleri had a 71. Michele Redman was fourth at 1 under after a 73. Brandie Burton, two strokes behind Davies after a second-round 66, shot 77 to finish fifth at 1 over.

Juli Inkster followed an 80 with a 73 to tie for 12th at 6 over.

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Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

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Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”