After what it took to get here, Landry isn't done

By Ryan LavnerJune 21, 2016, 6:30 pm

OAKMONT, Pa. – The underdog story of the 116th U.S. Open ended abruptly, just like they all do in the game’s most unforgiving major.

By the end of the grueling final rounds, there are no warm, fuzzy feelings, no feel-good long-shots still beaming. It’s why “The Greatest Game Every Played,” the story of amateur Francis Ouimet’s stunning U.S. Open victory, was based on events from 1913 – or before there were claustrophobic fairways, shoe-swallowing rough and pool-table greens. The U.S. Open, and Oakmont in particular, is cruel that way.

Andrew Landry understands that now, of course. Playing in the final group, trying to become the first since Ouimet to win the U.S. Open in his major debut, the 28-year-old Texan closed with a birdie-less 78. It was the second-worst score of any player in the top 58.

Still, Landry said in the locker room later, “It’s obviously one of the greatest moments of my life right now, but I deserve to be here. I feel like I will be here multiple times for the rest of my career, and I feel like I’ll contend again.”

No player in the field epitomized the blue-collar attitude of this city and tournament like Landry, the 624th-ranked player in the world who grew up in Groves, Texas, a small, middle-class suburb of Beaumont. He learned the game at a shoddy nine-hole track four houses down called The Pea Patch, the second-oldest course in the state, described by friends as a goat track with a bar. There was long, gnarly St. Augustine grass and piles of dirt just off the green. Every Tuesday and Saturday, in a game similar to Oakmont’s famed SWAT competition, locals headed out for five holes, scribbled down their scores on a chalkboard, played the last four holes and waited to see how they stacked up. Those games are just memories now: The Pea Patch was shuttered in 2015 and, according to a local news report, will soon be converted into a gated community.

“When you grow up like that, without that country-club lifestyle,” Landry’s college coach, Brad McMakin, said by phone, “he’s had to fight and work and scratch for everything he’s gotten.”

Landry’s father, Dwain, was a courier for FedEx for 30 years, while his mother, Patricia, was a schoolteacher in town. Traveling the country on the AJGA circuit wasn’t an option, so Landry cobbled together a schedule full of junior events within driving distance.

“When his parents showed up, I knew he’d play well,” McMakin said. “They put him first. Their vacations were to go watch him play. They made a commitment to him and his game. It means a lot to Andrew, because he knows everybody has put their life on hold for him.”

And yet, Landry received zero recruiting letters coming out of high school. The only reason he signed with McMakin at Lamar was because Chris Stroud, now a fellow PGA Tour player, knew of him from some of the local tournaments and thought his gritty game would be a good fit.

After one year at Lamar, Landry followed McMakin to Arkansas, where he helped spark a stagnant program. In three seasons in Fayetteville, Landry earned the most top-10s in school history while practicing every day at Blessings Golf Club, a big, brawny track that is widely regarded as one of the most difficult college courses in the country.

“He always played tough courses great,” said PGA Tour winner David Lingmerth, who was teammates with Landry from 2008-10. “Very straight, pure ball-striker. He’s got a lot of game.”

By the end of his senior season, Landry was ranked inside the top 50 in the country. “He was no superstar at all,” McMakin said, “but his golf game caught up to his mindset and attitude. When that happens, you get a complete player.”

Landry and Lingmerth were part of the Razorbacks team that reached the finals of the 2009 NCAA Championship at Inverness. Landry was getting smoked in the anchor match against Texas A&M’s Bronson Burgoon, 4 down with six to play, but he squared the match heading to 18. On the home hole, he could only watch as Burgoon stuffed his approach shot within a foot – one of the most dramatic shots in college golf history – to seal the title for the Aggies.

“There were no tears,” McMakin said. “He told me: ‘That’s part of golf, Coach.’”

Like many college All-Americans, Landry struggled to find his footing in the professional ranks, bouncing around the mini-tours before landing on the circuit.

Said his older brother, Adam: “I always wanted to call up the tournament directors and say, ‘I know you don’t know who he is, but if you let him in the field, he’ll make a name for himself.’”

Last spring, before Landry headed to Cartagena, Columbia, he had only $1,500 in his checking account. He put down $500 on an engagement ring for his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth, and then won for the first time to clinch his PGA Tour card.

Landry’s first season in the big leagues has been a struggle. Forget about top-10s – he didn’t even have a finish inside the top 40 in 11 starts. With only nine regular-season events remaining, he was in jeopardy of losing his playing privileges; at No. 203 in FedEx Cup points, he was only a few spots higher than 58-year-old Bernhard Langer.

“A lot of people think that if you’re not 22 years old on Tour, you’re nobody,” McMakin said. “But he’s gone the path of a normal kid. He’s on a pretty good pace. A lot of times, it takes time.”

Landry finally arrived at Oakmont, opening with a 4-under 66, the lowest first-round score in an Open here. He followed it up with rounds of 71-70 and showed plenty of perseverance, reversing course after an outward 39 in the second round, then rallying with back-to-back birdies after a slow open following an early-morning restart in the third round. Entering the final round he was in a tie for second, four shots behind Shane Lowry, but Open Sundays tend to chew up and spit out those who aren’t ready.

Jason Gore in 2005.

Aaron Baddeley here in 2007.

Even Dustin Johnson in 2010.

Add Landry’s name to the list, after his swing and body got out of sync, he went out in 42 and he crashed to a tie for 15th.

Walking down the 18th fairway, with Dustin Johnson holing the winning putt up ahead, Landry allowed himself to take in the scene.

“I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could just take a picture of this,’ because it’s the coolest view for a player,” he said. “It was pretty awesome to watch, to be there first-hand be in the moment.”

And though it was, by far, the best finish of his young career – the $152,234 paycheck representing 69 percent of his total earnings this season – it was a costly few hours. He is still ranked 182nd in FedEx Cup points, still well outside the top-125 cut line, still in danger of being sent back to the minor leagues.

Afterward, as he removed his sunglasses, bounded down the steps of the clubhouse and loudly exhaled, it was clear that the U.S. Open and Oakmont hadn’t broken the underdog.

“It’s just been awesome,” Landry said. “I’m taking this as a positive. I’ve been in this situation now, so I’m going to learn from it.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”