Players ease into the U.S. Open in Round 1

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2015, 3:49 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – A U.S. Open with so many unknowns felt strangely familiar Thursday.

What played out here at Chambers Bay basically followed the first few pages of the USGA’s setup manual: Start out playable for the opener, crank up the intensity for Round 2, and then push the course to the breaking point over the weekend.

“I think they’ve got it down pretty well at this point,” Matt Kuchar said.

And so it was Thursday that two of the game’s best ball-strikers posted 65s, 25 players broke par (the most since 1992) and the first-round scoring average was a gentle 72.72 (lowest since 2003).

Said Michael Putnam, the local product who has logged more rounds here than any player in the field: “It’s about as easy it can play right now.”

Which means it’s only going to get harder, much harder, and that’s when many of the players’ fears about setup and firmness may be realized.

Some have already seen the course at its scariest. Kuchar was among those who heeded Mike Davis’ advice and headed to the Evergreen State early. He played the course last weekend, when it was tan and crusty.

“It was about as firm as I’ve seen a golf course,” he said.

Not the best first impression.

During the practice rounds here several players wondered whether Chambers was already teetering on the edge. The 16th was so concrete-hard, amateur Lee McCoy dribbled his ball down the fairway.

The course is always the biggest early-week story at the U.S. Open, but this year it seemed like it was the only topic of discussion. Players fret over anything new, of course, but Chambers forced those creatures of habit to expand their golfing minds and embrace the differences in elevation change (200 feet) and grass (fescue) and style (linksy).

And then they eased into this Open. Players made birdies, lots of them (372!), and by the end of the day there were 41 scores of par or better.

Overcast skies helped keep some moisture in the severe (and heavily criticized) greens, and the wind only picked up late in the afternoon.

Henrik Stenson, one of the co-leaders, said that he was able to “attack” and fire at a few flags, words rarely spoken in this championship.

Patrick Reed shot 66 and lamented the fact that he also left six birdies “dead in the center, short.”

“I told my brother earlier in the week someone might shoot 6 under in the first round,” said Putnam, who wasn’t far off. “That will give the USGA some oomph to get it back to even par.”

The course played firmer and more difficult in the afternoon, not surprisingly, but those off late also had the added benefit of watching the coverage, like they would overseas for the Open Championship. Jordan Spieth saw a few 9-irons and wedge shots take a hop and stop and realized it’d be the most scorable round of the week. 

“It’s going to get more challenging from here,” he said.

Indeed, there’s an unmistakable wariness about what lies ahead.

It’s no coincidence that six of the past 10 years the winning score has been even par or higher. Throw out the rain-softened 2011 Open, and only 10 players have finished 72 holes in red numbers during that span.

“It’s only going to get tougher as the week goes on,” Jason Day said. “It’s all about attitude.”

Said Kuchar: “There’s still something about a U.S. Open that you’re always a little nervous on the course. You know that things can get away quickly if you’re not dialed in just right. If you’re not hitting crisp, good, quality shots, then you’re going to go in places that you don’t want to be.”

More and more players will find those hellish places soon.

They won’t get two cracks at a vulnerable Chambers Bay.

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has died, his family said 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 on Wednesday morning.

Born on Aug, 23, 1929, Thomson was two months short of his 89th birthday.

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

On the American senior circuit he won nine times in 1985.

Thomson also served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years, designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.

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.

Funeral arrangements were to be announced over the next few days.

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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.