Pieces of the Puzzle

By Rex HoggardJune 11, 2011, 4:30 am

BETHESDA, Md. – On a cold, rainy May morning Mike Davis and entourage slowly make their way around Congressional’s Blue Course. It is not so much a dry-run for next week’s U.S. Open as it is a familiarization course, not so much an oligarchy as it is a democracy of one.

“Before we leave, everybody good with keeping these bunkers (shaved)?” the U.S. Golf Association’s executive director asks the inner circle as they mull about the teardrop-shaped fourth green. “These bunkers have a lot of slope. There’s no way balls are going to stay on that (edge between bunker and green).”

If Joe Dey, the quintessential USGA executive director from 1934 to ’69, ruled the organization with an iron fist, count Davis’ management style as consensus building with a clear mission.

Although Davis would never admit it, when he followed David Fay into the executive director’s office he did so with the stipulation that he’d be allowed to continue his work as the association’s top set-up man for its most-important event.

“We would be idiots if we extracted Mike from his U.S. Open activities,” USGA president Jim Hyler conceded in March.

And why not continue the status quo? Simply put, Davis has avoided the high-profile set-up gaffes that plagued the organization in recent years at venues like the Olympic Club and Shinnecock Hills, so much so word is the membership at the exclusive Southhampton, N.Y., club is considering a return to the Open rota, possibly as early as 2018.

Besides, it’s not as though Davis seems overwhelmed with the additional duties. “I would almost pay the USGA money to allow me to do this. I love putting this puzzle together,” he says.

At Congressional that puzzle started falling into place not long after Ernie Els emerged as the last man standing at the 1997 U.S. Open, the last time the national championship was played in the shadow of the nation’s capital.

Routing and congestion issues plagued the ’97 championship and the par-3 closing hole offered little by way of excitement, particularly when compared with the 18th hole fireworks at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach in recent years.

Architect Rees Jones calls his handiwork on Congressional’s Blue a “brand new golf course.” Davis is a tad more subdued in his assessment, but then hyperbole is not within the man’s DNA. What is certain is that the layout that awaits this year’s Open field will be vastly different than what Els played in ’97.

The 17th hole, which was parred by just one contender (Els) on Sunday in ’97, has been lengthened (490 yards) and made the 18th hole, while the former par-3 finisher has been reversed and dubbed the 10th hole.

But the most dramatic difference, at least for Davis, will be the sixth hole, which in ’97 and when the AT&T National was played at Congressional from 2007-’09 was played as a par 4. For the first time in 110 attempts the USGA will add to par at a U.S. Open venue (71), playing Congressional’s sixth as a risk/reward par 5.

As Davis scribbles notes and wipes rain from the bill of his hat, he’s asked exactly what distance defines a “risk/reward” par 5.

“Whatever it takes,” he says simply. “I’m going to keep moving up the tee until the majority of the field tries to reach the green in two (shots). We had the back tees at Torrey Pines’ par-5 18th (for the 2008 U.S. Open) but we never used them.”

Perhaps it’s an utter lack of ego, an aversion to numbers, be it a perceived fascination with par or the 500-yard par 4, or a single-digit handicap that gives Davis a player’s perspective; whatever the “why,” the “what” has been a collection of U.S. Open venues that have largely been filed in the “tough but fair” folder.

On a spring day that felt more like fall just outside the “Inner Loop,” the thought occurs that it may be a management style, not the man, that has so deftly traversed the razor’s edge between solid test and simply unplayable.

With nothing but well-worn Gore-Tex standing between himself and the elements, Davis, Hyler and USGA executive committee member Tom O’Toole cover Congressional’s front nine. The mission on this day is to tentatively earmark five pin positions on each green (one for each round and a possible 18-hole playoff), check grass heights and, on rare occasions, suggest more intense maintenance, like at the par-4 fourth hole.

“We’re going to use this back tee for three days, but for on one day I thought about using the far right portion of (a forward) tee to really force them to make a choice,” Davis says. “They can hit it beyond the bend but there’s not a lot of fairway so they have to make a choice. Can you take off a little part of this limb so we can keep the tee markers as far right as we can?”

The U.S. Open has long been considered the street brawl of the Grand Slam game, a triathlon that rewards stamina almost as much as skill. Davis, however, seems more interested in multiple-choice exams.

Shaved banks promise to bring the Blue’s litany of bunkers more into play, a common theme during May’s walk-through and likely to be a hot topic among players during championship week.

“In ’97 you almost had to hit it in one on the fly to get in there. Now if you’re not careful your ball will roll in there which is what we want,” Davis says.

With green speeds expected to approach 14 ½ on the Stimpmeter during the championship, Davis’ best, and most demanding, work may come on Congressional’s putting surfaces.

The club, at the USGA’s suggestion, had Jones soften some of the slopes like on the fourth green to accommodate such speeds and Davis examines each possible location with the eye of a player, as well as an administrator.

Yet for all his success as set-up man, Davis knows the blue blazer comes with a bull's-eye. One bad weather forecast or a single pin position too close to the edge can mean the difference between a successful Open and something less than that.

“You get a green 14 ½ (on the Stimpmeter) trying to lag to that, you’re going 6-7 feet past,” Davis says as he studies a potential hole location on the fourth green. “That’s pretty good.”

If Davis has been predictable during his tenure as set-up man it has been with his desire to err, if at all, on the side of the player. Since taking over for Tom Meeks in 2006, Open champions have finished at 5 over, 5 over, 1 under, 4 under and even par, an eclectic collection of totals that perhaps best defines Davis.

“When you set up a golf course, or at least when I do, I'm not even thinking about a total yardage,” he reasons. “I'm really looking at each hole for what it is, and you really start with the putting green and its complex and work backwards. Is this a green that was designed to have a 3-iron come into it or is it better with a pitching wedge or 9-iron?”

For Davis, a big picture guy shrouded in an accountant’s body, it’s not about par or length so much as it is results. Scorecards don’t make good championships, players do.

As he eyes a final pin position on the sixth green, rain still falling and darkness closing in, Davis finally gives into the elements, “Perfect,” he allows. The hole location, and so far the set-up man.

Getty Images

Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead

By Will GrayMay 25, 2018, 1:29 am

Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.

Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.

"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."

Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.

While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.

"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."

Marc Dull (Florida State Golf Association)

Golden: Dull rude, caddie 'inebriated' at Florida Mid-Am

By Ryan LavnerMay 25, 2018, 1:03 am

Jeff Golden has offered more detail on what transpired at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship, writing in a long statement on Twitter that Marc Dull’s caddie was “inebriated” before he allegedly sucker-punched Golden in the face.

In a story first reported by GolfChannel.com, Charlotte County Police responded to a call May 13 after Golden claimed that he’d been assaulted by his opponent’s caddie in the parking lot of Coral Creek Club, where he was competing in the Mid-Am finals. Golden told police that the caddie, Brandon Hibbs, struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

Golden posted a 910-word statement on the alleged incident on his Twitter account on Thursday night. He said that he wanted to provide more detail because “others have posed some valid questions about the series of events that led to me withdrawing” from what was an all-square match with two holes to play.

Golden wrote that both Dull and Hibbs were rude and disruptive during the match, and that “alcohol appeared to be influencing [Hibbs’] behavior.”

Dull, who caddies at Streamsong Resort in Florida, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’ve never seen an opposing caddie engage in so much conversation with a competitor,” Golden wrote. “On the eighth hole I had become extremely frustrated when my opponent and caddie were talking and moving. I expressed my disappointment with their etiquette to the rules official in our group.”

On the ninth hole, Golden informed the official that he believed Hibbs had broken the rules by offering advice on his putt. Golden won the hole by concession to move 2 up at the turn, and Hibbs removed himself from the match and returned to the clubhouse.

Golden wrote that after the penalty, the match “turned even nastier, with more negative comments from my opponent on the 10th tee.” He added that he conceded Dull’s 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 because he was “sick of the abuse from my opponent, and I wanted the match to resemble what you would expect of a FSGA final.”

Though there were no witnesses to the alleged attack and police found little evidence, save for “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip,” Golden wrote that the inside of his mouth was bleeding, his face was “throbbing” and his hand was also injured from bracing his fall. X-rays and CT scans over the past week all came back negative, he said.

Golden reiterated that he was disappointed with the FSGA’s decision to accept his concession in the final match. He had recommended that they suspend the event and resume it “at a later time.”

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Asked last week about his organization’s alcohol policy during events, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that excessive consumption is “highly discouraged, but it falls more broadly under the rules of etiquette and player behavior.”

Dull, 32, was back in the news Wednesday, after he and partner Chip Brooke reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. They lost to high schoolers Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber, 4 and 3.

Getty Images

D. Kang, M. Jutanugarn in four-way tie at Volvik

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:50 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Amy Olson crossed paths with her coach, Ron Stockton, on her walk to the 18th tee at the Volvik Championship.

''Make it another even $20,'' Stockton said.

The coach was already prepared to give his client $35 for making seven birdies - $5 each - and wanted to take her mind off the bogey she just had at 17.

Olson closed the first round with a 6-under 66, putting her into the lead she ended up sharing later Thursday with Moriya Jutanugarn , Caroline Masson and Danielle Kang.

Do small, cash incentives really help a professional golfer?

''Absolutely,'' said Olson, who graduated from North Dakota State with an accounting degree. ''He'll tell you I'm a little bit of a hustler there.''

Olson will have to keep making birdies - and petty cash - to hold her position at Travis Pointe Country Club.

Jessica Korda, Minjee Lee, Nasa Hataoka, Lindy Duncan, Morgan Pressel, Megan Khang and Jodi Ewart Shadoff were a stroke back at 67 and six others were to shots back.

Ariya Jutanugarn, the Kingsmill Championship winner last week in Virginia, opened with a 69.

The Jutanugarn sisters are Korda are among six players with a chance to become the LPGA Tour's first two-time winner this year.

Moriya Jutanugarn won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles.

''What I feel is more relaxed now,'' she said. ''And, of course I like looking forward for my next one.''

Olson, meanwhile, is hoping to extend the LPGA Tour's streak of having a new winner in each of its 12 tournaments this year.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

She knows how to win. It just has been a while since it has happened.

Olson set an NCAA record with 20 wins, breaking the mark set by LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, but has struggled to have much success since turning pro in 2013.

She has not finished best finish was a tie for seventh and that was four years ago. She was in contention to win the ANA Inspiration two months ago, but an even-par 72 dropped her into a tie for ninth place.

If the North Dakota player wins the Volvik Championship, she will earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama. If Olson finishes second or lower in the 144-player field, she will enjoy an off week with her husband, Grant, who coaches linebackers at Indiana State.

''I'll make the best of it either way,'' she said.

Olson was at her best in the opening round on the front nine, closing it with four birdies in a six-hole stretch. Her ball rolled just enough to slowly drop in the cup for birdie on the par-3, 184-yard 13th. She had three birdies in five-hole stretch on the back, nearly making her second hole-in-one of the year at the par-3, 180-yard 16th. A short putt gave her a two-stroke lead, but it was cut to one after pulling and misreading a 6-foot putt to bogey the 17th.

Even if she doesn't hold on to win the tournament, Olson is on pace to have her best year on the LPGA Tour. She is No. 39 on the money list after finishing 97th, 119th, 81st and 80th in her first four years.

''Two years ago, I started working with Ron Stockton and whenever you make a change, it doesn't show up right away,'' Olson said. ''That first year was tough, but we've turned a corner and I've just found a lot of consistency in the last year. And, it's a lot of fun to go out there and play golf a little more stress free.''

Stockton helped her stay relaxed, walking along the ropes during her morning round.

''Maybe some people feel a little more pressure when their coach is there,'' she said. ''I'm like, 'Great. If he sees the mistake, he knows what can go wrong and we can go fix it.' So, I like having his eyes on me.''

Getty Images

Club pro part of 6-way tie atop Sr. PGA

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:04 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Nevada club professional Stuart Smith shot a 5-under 66 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead in the Senior PGA Championship.

Smith closed his morning round with a double bogey on the par-4 18th, and Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Wes Short Jr., Barry Lane and Peter Lonard matched the 66 in the afternoon.

One of 41 club pros in the field at Harbor Shores for the senior major, Smith is the director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

McCarron won the Senior Players Championship last year for his first senior major.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer is skipping the event to attend son Jason's high school graduation, and Steve Stricker is playing the PGA Tour event in Texas.