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Ready for the big reveal at Shinnecock

By Rex HoggardJune 13, 2018, 6:07 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It’s a bomber’s golf course. It’s a second-shot layout. The fairways are wide, greens firm. There’s a short list of would-be winners; parity has made this a wide-open Open.

This Shinnecock Hills Open, the fifth played on the east-end jewel, is a litany of questions without answers.

If history is any indication, the 118th edition will be something closer to what we expect from America’s national championship. This has all the markings of being your father’s Open – tough pars, tall rough and attrition.

In 2004, the last time the U.S. Open made it this far up the Long Island Expressway, the winning score was 4 under par, and in ’95 Corey Pavin played in a perfect U.S. Open manner on his way to an even-par victory.

This week’s championship may promise to be something more familiar – something more punitive – than the last few experiments, but it doesn’t clearly identify a favorite.

Fresh off his dominant performance last week in Memphis, Dustin Johnson has gotten the nod from Las Vegas, starting the week as the betting favorite for all the right reasons. But that nod ignores the current competitive landscape.

According to world ranking math, six players could be ranked No. 1 on Monday – Johnson (the current No. 1), Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy – depending on how things play out over the next four days.


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To put that in context, when the U.S. Open was last played at Shinnecock Hills in ’04, Tiger Woods was No. 1 and would remain there, unchallenged for the next four months.

In ’04, the gap between the first- and second-ranked players (Woods and Ernie Els, respectively) was 1.91 average ranking points; and the gulf between Woods and the sixth-ranked player (Mike Weir) was 6.24 average ranking points.

Johnson’s current lead over No. 2 Thomas is a razor-thin .29 average ranking points; and DJ’s advantage over No. 6 McIlroy is just 2.22 points.

Rarely in golf can parity be so clearly quantified, and rarely has the competitive congestion led to a collective confidence.

“The only reason I'm here is to win. If I wasn't, I wouldn't have signed up,” said Brooks Koepka, last year’s champion. “I think everyone here is trying to win. Everyone thinks they're going to win, and they should. When you come to a golf tournament, you're preparing to win. You're not going to be satisfied with second place. I don't think I've ever heard anybody say, ‘Man, I'm glad I finished second.’”

The list of potential champions goes as deep into the tee sheet as one’s imagination. But what kind of test awaits this week’s field?

The 2004 championship at Shinnecock Hills is widely considered a bust in terms of set up for the USGA. A golf course that was already on the edge tumbled into the unplayable abyss on Sunday when even well-played tee shots on the par-3 seventh hole began bounding hopelessly into one bad spot after another.

“It's a very difficult job to find the line of testing the best players to the greatest degree and then making it carnival golf,” said Phil Mickelson, runner-up at Shinnecock Hills in ’04 who might be the week’s most compelling story line with the career Grand Slam hanging in the balance. “It's a very fine line, and it's not a job I would want. And I know that the USGA is doing the best they can to find that line, and a lot of times they do, and sometimes they cross over it.”

Following what some considered Open Light last year at Erin Hills – where Koepka won at 16 under – and in 2015 at Chambers Bay, many envisioned this championship a perfect pathway back to something more familiar. Golf’s toughest test, as the U.S. Open is considered in most circles, had become a bit too user friendly.

Shinnecock Hills is a classic design with all the central elements of a demanding test, from aches of knee-high fescue rough to wildly pitched greens that leave little, if any, room for error.

“I'm obviously not that old, but when I watched U.S. Opens on TV and saw these long, narrow corridors of narrow fairways and thick rough, that's what I was used to at a U.S. Open,” McIlroy said. “If you look at the venues that are coming up, they're very traditional venues, venues like Oakmont, Winged Foot, Pebble Beach. Maybe you'll see more of what we perceive as a traditional U.S. Open setup.”

Shinnecock Hills certainly fits into the notion that the USGA is gravitating back toward something closer to the association’s original DNA, but if this week’s championship is a chance to put some teeth back into the game’s toughest test the appetite for that kind of pendulum swing seems to be lacking.

Mike Davis, the association’s executive director, has been outspoken on this front. There will not be a sequel to the fiasco that defined the ’04 U.S. Open this week. Technology will help, with the USGA no longer relying on the inexact science of a Stimpmeter to measure firmness, and the USGA’s modus operandi under Davis has been to err on the side of the player, not protecting par.

 “I've never, since I've been at the USGA and it's been almost 30 years, heard anybody say we're shooting for even par. Never heard it. I know people think we talk about it, but it's never happened,” Davis said. “But we talk about incessantly how do we get the course to be really a great test of golf? As we say, get all 14 clubs dirty.”

What that means for this week’s field is anyone’s guess, but then that seems to be the status quo at a U.S. Open with more questions than answers.

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

Hailed as a hero to some and as golf royalty to others, Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of The Open and the only player in the 20th century to win the championship for three straight years, died Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members, Golf Australia said.

The first Australian to win The Open, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by American Tom Watson.

The Australian's wins came in 1954, '55, '56, again in 1958 and lastly in 1965 against a field that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Only Harry Vardon, with six titles between 1896 and 1914, won more.

Thomson also tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and placed fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played the PGA Championship.

In 1998, he captained the International side to its only win over the United States at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

Asked by The Associated Press in 2011 how he'd like to be remembered, Thomson replied: ''A guy who always said what he thought.''

Veteran Australian golfer Karrie Webb was among the first to tweet her condolences, saying she was ''saddened to hear of the passing of our Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game .... so honored to have been able to call Peter my friend. RIP Peter.''

Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Thomson was ''a champion in every sense of the word, both on the course and in life.''

''Many know him as a five-time champion golfer of the year or as a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team.'' Finchem added. ''But he was also a great friend, father, grandfather and husband. He was golfing royalty, and our sport is a better one because of his presence.''



Former golfer and now broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, called Thomson his ''hero'' - ''Peter - my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence and valuable guidance over the years.''

From Britain, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers praised Thomson's plans for the game's future.

''Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going, which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf,'' Slumbers said. ''He was one of the most decorated and celebrated champion golfers in the history of The Open.''

Born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Brunswick on Aug. 23, 1929, Thomson was a promising cricketer. He scored an unbeaten 150 runs for the Carlton club against a men's side as a 15-year-old.

But golf became his passion, and he turned professional in 1947.

He won the national championships of 10 countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times and Australian Open three times. He first played on the PGA Tour in the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, finishing 44th and 25th on the money list, respectively. He won the Texas International in 1956.

Thomson won nine times on the Senior PGA tour in the U.S. in 1985, topping the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Overall, he won 26 European Tour events, 34 times on the Australasian PGA tour and 11 on the seniors tour in the U.S, as well as once in Japan.

In later years, Thomson wrote articles for many publications and daily newspapers, was club professional at Royal Melbourne and designed more than 100 golf courses. In the 2011 Presidents Cup program, Thomson provided an insightful hole-by-hole analysis of the composite course at Royal Melbourne.

Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else's.

''All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,'' Thomson told golf historian and author Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.

''The circumstances change so much, and so do the players' attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income.

''When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,'' he said. ''So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.''

Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn't afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.

That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer's prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.

''Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,'' blared the headline of a story he wrote. ''Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.''

But he was always happy on the golf course.

''I've had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,'' Thomson said. ''I don't think I did a real day's work in the whole of my life.''

Thomson served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years and worked behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

In 1979, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf, and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.


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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.