Tag Archives: US Open

Celebrating Golf’s Human Element

My Dad is 93 and he and I were watching the US Open yesterday.  The announcers were describing a par-3 playing 173 yards and Dad asked me what they were hitting in.   “That’s about a five iron, right?”  I told him that the pros were using eight and nine-irons and that some guys like DeChambeau were hitting pitching wedges.  He was incredulous, “A pitching wedge at 170 yards?”

My parents and my wife celebrating an early Father’s Day

The current crop of pros bomb it compared to their counterparts in the late 20th century, but the beauty of golf is that is still all about the carpenter, not the tools.  In this week’s major, the USGA set the track at 7,700 yards, grew in the rough, dried out the greens, and presto, even-par for 72 holes is a great score – just like 20 or 30 years ago.  No angle of attack, TopTracer Apex, or ball spin rates are going to save the competitors.  The players with the best vision, technique, and mental toughness are going to be successful, and I am loving it!

In today’s world, most occupations and many sports are being taken over by automation and data analytics.  How accurate is your data?  Can you automate that?  I suppose that’s the price of progress, but is removing the human element from life progress?  My job is to manage resources (people) for my company.  Whether I like it or not, we use automation to increase productivity, and it replaces humans with machines and I have to live with that.  I read a very interesting piece by Kevin Kernan at BallNine about how data analytics is ruining professional baseball and making it almost unwatchable.  It’s true, check it out.

The PGA Tour tracks gobs of player stats.  You can get analytics on every aspect of every player’s game and today’s swing gurus and equipment manufacturers are all in.  But the game is effectively the same as it has been for the last half century.  Why?  Only one stat matters; greens in regulation.  Hit more of them and you win – how refreshing.

The human element is being removed from sports and that’s sad.  Humans play and officiate the games, not machines, but thankfully, golf is holding the line.  If I want to see machines in action, I can go to work.

Enjoy the final round of the US Open today and don’t pay too much attention to the TopTracer Apex.  Play well.

Does It Pass The Nicklaus Test?

By now, you’ve seen the video of Phil Mickelson’s moving ball violation on #13 of Saturday’s U.S. Open round.

Was this a violation of the spirit of the competition or simply a smart golfer taking advantage of the rules?  You be the judge.  Phil is a very bright articulate guy.  After watching his explanation to Curtis Strange, his reasoning seemed half plausible.

We can recall numerous accounts of questionable behavior on tour from Rory McIlroy throwing a club into a lake after a bad shot, to Arnold Palmer, one of my boyhood idols, sending a putter into orbit after a three-putt (saw this in person at the Kemper Open), to Tiger Woods exhibiting less than stellar behavior with his temper tantrums and bad language, to just about everything John Daly has ever done including playing a moving ball in the 1999 U.S. Open.

These folks are human and are not perfect, and are under a constant microscope.  But the behavior of professional golfers in general has been excellent.  When I see one of these events, it’s tempting to view it through the eyes of  “the children”.  What would “the children”, with young impressionable and malleable minds be thinking of this?  Doesn’t really matter because “the children’s” idols largely reside in team sports where players have far worse behavioral issues than professional golfers.

I view this behavior through the prism of the Jack Nicklaus Integrity Test.  What would Jack do?  I’m sure he’s had his incidents, but I’ve never seen or heard of an integrity problem with the greatest who’s ever played.  How would he have behaved in such a situation?  I believe Jack would have let the putt finish and played it as it lies.  Sometimes Jack weighs in on these matters, as he did with Rory’s behavior.  Would love to hear his take.

I’m a huge Phil fan, but he was wrong to do this.  What really bugged me in his explanation that he’d been “thinking of doing this several times before.”  Really?  This time Phil outsmarted himself.  What do you think?

2017 US Open Picks

Photo from Erinhills.com

Erin Hills, site of the 2017 US Open, has been characterized as long, bouncy, devoid of trees, and with perfect greens.  No major has ever been contested here and the course otherwise remains a mystery.  A par-72 layout is rare for the US Open and may lend itself to less of the traditional fairways and greens grind and more of a birdie-fest.  You’d think that’s not in the best interest of the USGA, and I hope they set it up tough but fair.  After all, this is not La Quinta, and golf fans don’t expect to see 20-under win the tournament.

Unlike The Masters, not all the big names are in top form.  Rory McIlroy is coming off a broken rib and missed the BMW Championship in Europe in late May.  Ruled out.  Dustin Johnson, would be a natural pick and he may be fully recovered from his butt busting slip down the stairs at Augusta, but his game hasn’t recovered.  I didn’t like his form at Memorial (+8 and a missed cut).

A key statistic I like for the US Open is the little known “bogey avoidance”.  This is an excellent indicator of short game proficiency, course management, and mental toughness, all critical elements for US Open success.  DJ is ranked #2 which demonstrates the improvements he’s made to his short game.  I was considering Jason Day, but he’s way down at 129th.  Day gets into too much trouble with his driver and his putting and concentration seem off this year.  He’s out.

I like the form Justin Thomas and John Rahm are showing, but mentally they lack a bit of the even keel needed to steady themselves over the grind.  Rahm is a hot head and Thomas gets too pouty when things go wrong.  This tournament will come down to three individuals. Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, and Masters champ, Sergio Garcia.  Rose is hungry after his playoff loss at Augusta.  He’s been preparing diligently for this tournament and even skipped last week’s Memorial, which I’m not sure was a good idea, but he’s focused and I’m throwing out his final round 80 at The PLAYERS as an aberration.  Spieth has seen a remarkable resurgence in his GIR stats, going from 145th last year to 4th in 2017.  Garcia, is arguably the first or second best ball striker in the world, which ultimately won him The Masters.  Despite his first major win, I still didn’t like the way he putted at Augusta, and his putting stats are just awful.  You can’t win the US Open putting badly.

Put a great course manager and the best putter in the world on great greens, and you have a champion.  The All About Golf US Open kiss of death goes to Jordan Spieth.

Enjoy the action and play well!

Steve Williams, Out Of The Rough – Book Review

Steve Williams

Steve Williams’ account of life on tour in Out Of The Rough (2015), is a fascinating look inside the experiences of the world’s most successful caddie.  Williams covers his career starting as a youth who got a very early start in the game, and was encouraged by his father to get involved at the expense of finishing school (which he never did).  Throughout the book he returns to this theme and wishes that he’d completed his education, but is thankful that his Dad looked the other way.

Williams’ list of high profile bosses is impressive.  He was on the bag for 150 wins world wide and carried for the likes of Greg Norman (who he classifies as the toughest player he ever worked for), Ray Floyd, Ian Baker-Finch, Tiger Woods, and Adam Scott.  Williams provides many inside the ropes anecdotes, as well as passages from the aforementioned players that detail his contributions to their careers.

Most golf fans got their introduction to Williams as Tiger Woods’ caddie during the 13 years of Tiger’s pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ majors record.  What we learned is that Williams took on and ultimately mirrored Tiger’s psychic mentality and single mindedness during the chase, and he gives the reader the impression that he almost felt dual ownership of the successes and failures with Tiger, even though Woods was ultimately the one hitting the shots.  Williams is a perfectionist and readily admits that some of the boorish behavior TV fans have become familiar with was born out of this single-mindedness attitude but also due to his natural personality.  Williams has always been very business like on the course and protective of his players which has gotten him into trouble.  Like the time he took a camera off a spectator at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black and threw it in a lake.  Tiger appreciated Williams’ support and picked up the cost of his fine.

Williams notes that he maintains an active friendship with all his ex-bosses except for one; Tiger.  After their falling out at the AT&T National in 2011 the two have rarely spoken and Williams holds a lot of bitterness towards Tiger that he can’t let go of.

Williams details a few regrets.  There’s some poor advice he gave to Norman and Ray Floyd that may have cost them major titles, as well as the interview he gave after the 2011 WGC Bridgestone, after Tiger had sacked him and Adam Scott won with Williams on the bag.   The book also has several excellent passages between Williams and his ex-bosses, like the time Greg Norman confided in him during an all night beer drinking therapy session on the beach after blowing the 1996 Masters to Nick Faldo.  The details around the extraordinary effort by Tiger to win the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg were fascinating.

Williams ultimately obtained celebrity status and in the book he sometimes makes this more about himself than the professionals he worked for, but at the end of the day, most of his good fortune was due to being on the bag of Tiger.

Check this book out.  It’s fresh, it’s current, and there’s good content for golf fans at every level.

Thank You Dustin Johnson!

Dustin Johnson from theoaklandpress.com
Dustin Johnson from theoaklandpress.com

The collective golf world owes U.S. Open Champion, Dustin Johnson a huge debt of gratitude.  I have never found myself rooting as hard for a player to win decisively as I did for D.J. after  “Penaltyshotgate” reared its ugly head with two hours left in Sunday’s final round.  Fortunately, Johnson powered past the field and largely muted the issue and the accompanying social media storm.

Today, our athletic competitions exist in a culture of instant replay.  I have many issues with instant replay in my sports, and most of those revolve around removing the human element of officiating from the games.  But the goal of instant replay is to get the call right and move the game on, even if the process is sloppy.  What the USGA did on Sunday to Johnson and the field, flies in the face of common sense and reasonable decision making.  Golf is a game of personal integrity and is self-managed quite well by the players.  The rules interpretation and final decision should have been rendered on the 5th hole and the issue put to bed.  Perhaps this controversy will lead to some type of reform at the USGA, but for now, I’m very happy for Johnson for upholding the integrity of the competition.  How do you think this should have played out?

Congrats D.J. you are a worthy champion!

Sunday US Open – Why Not Andrew Landry???

Andrew Landry, photo from The Sporting News
Andrew Landry, photo from The Sporting News

This is going to be an awesome final round at The US Open.  On Saturday, the cream started rising to the top and I look for more of the same as we conclude round three and begin the final act.  As they currently sit, the BPTNWAM group at T-3 has the most intrigue.  Oakmont still hasn’t showed its teeth, but that could change today with drying conditions, and that’s the last thing the T-3 group wants.  Of those three, probably Dustin Johnson would last the longest.  The commonality with DJ, Sergio, and Weswtood is amazing.  They can all stripe it but have never putted well enough to close the deal in a major.  Regarding our overnight leader, Shane Lowery; I think he crumbles early under the Sunday pressure.

Jason Day has one image in his mind; “Johnny Miller – 63.”  Day’s got a great advantage because he doesn’t have to finish his 3rd round in the morning and can watch some coverage and get an early feel for things.  Look for a big move from the world’s best.  Also look for Jordan Spieth to make a charge, but at 4-over he’s a bit too far off to win.  Zach Johnson has the game and temperament for this test and should be right there too.

The one player who’s demonstrated A-game quality and hasn’t seemed to be affected with nerves is our tour rookie, Andrew Landry.  Why not Landry to win it all?  I’ve never heard of the guy until Thursday, but he’s impressed the heck out of me.  Can Mr. Cool handle the Sunday pressure?  We’ll see!

I’m off to play and then enjoy this afternoon’s coverage.  Happy Fathers Day to all and play well!

2016 US Open Picks

2016 US OpenFinally, the 2016 US Open returns to a classic course that will produce a classic test.  Oakmont Country Club will feature tight fairways, deep rough, and the fastest greens on earth, and I love it.  If you are a traditionalist, and you believe even-par is a great score in this tournament, and that this should be the hardest tournament on earth to win, you’re in for a treat.  You can’t have been happy with last year’s carnival played at Chambers Bay, or even the 2014 contest at the redesigned Pinehurst #2.

Let’s look at the principals:

Justin Rose won the last US Open contested on a traditional layout (Marion – 2013) and sort of backed into it when Phil Mickelson found another way to finish 2nd.  Rose has got to be considered a contender.  He’s having a great ball striking year but his putter is shaky and these greens are going to be the most difficult the pros play all year.  Regarding Phil, I believe the window is just about closed because of age.  Phil plays more interrupt driven golf than ever before.  Interrupt driven = pars and birdies interrupted by “others”.

Rory McIlroy leads the BABSBP category (Bad Ass Ball Striking Balky Putter) with Justin Rose closely following.  Although Rory is arguably the best ball striker on earth when he’s on, the recent change of putting grip from left hand low to reverse overlap is disconcerting when done so close to a major.  He pulled this before The Masters going from reverse overlap to left hand low and was ineffective.  He struggled on the slickmeisters at The Players too, and when his putting is off, he clearly gets frustrated.  The US Open requires steadiness with the flat stick and more patience than any other tournament, and for that reason, Rory’s out.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth is clearly the best putter in the world.  Jordan Spieth 2015He just recently won at Colonial too.  Current world #1, Jason Day is arguably the best all around player and is deserving of his top ranking.  With apologies to Masters champion Danny Willett, the tournament will come down to these two.  Going head-to-head ten times, Day would win six.  It’s that close.  Will the heat be a factor?  Day has struggled with health issues on and off and during some high visibility moments.  Can Spieth keep the ball in the fairway?  The occasional chicken wing move could be costly on the clutch tee shots on Sunday.  Spieth won at Chambers Bay because he can putt and because there was no rough.  Spieth became more and more jittery over his shots at The Masters and I’m not sure he’s overcome that nervousness.  Day is cool, Day is calm, Day is collected.  Jason Day is your 2016 US Open Champion.  Jason Day SwingDid I miss someone?  Who do you think wins it?

2013 US Open Picks

MerionMy 2013 US Open picks are not going to look like the conventional odds board selections popping up in Las Vegas or the offshore betting houses.   This year is a unique opportunity for non-favorites because there are no “horses for courses”running in this tournament, as Merion has not hosted a major championship since 1981.

Let’s cull the herd by looking at last week’s big name debacles at Memorial and start with Phil Mickelson.  What bugs me is that he didn’t play for the second straight year (dropped out in 2012) and hasn’t played since The Players Championship where he missed the cut.  Memorial is a great tune up because it’s hard and the best players in the world compete.  Phil is playing this week at FedEx St. Jude because he always plays the week before a major, but TPC Southwind is a horrible tune-up venue.  Phil is inconsistent from week to week and he’s very difficult to predict.  What’s clear is that he doesn’t play enough and now he’s rusty.  Sorry not happening this year, Lefty.

Tiger Woods‘ 3rd round 79 was mystifying but these things happen for a reason and I believe his hot streak with the putter is over.  The flat stick is clearly his Achilles heel when he’s off and his superb ball striking and four wins in 2013 have the odds makers falling all over him at 4/1.  Call Steve Stricker for another putting lesson because it’s not happening this year.

Rory McIlroy‘s first round 78 was no surprise.  Rory is plagued by inconsistency and is still distracted to a point where he’s too focused on firing agents and lining up endorsements to play consistently well.  No focus – not happening in 2013, Mr. McIlroy.

The smart money is on two main contenders and two dark horses.  Merion will require excellent accuracy off the tee and superb wedge/iron play from 125-150 yards.  The course is set up at only 6,996 yards and drivers will remain in the bag.  The exceptions are the three monstrous par-3s at #3 (256 yards), #9 (236 yards), and #17 (246 yards).

SnedekerContender #1 is Brandt Snedeker.  Okay, I’ll throw out his second round 80 at Memorial 🙂 but I love that he’s third on tour in GIR from 125-150 yards and putts lights out.  He’s hungry, has contended in the last two majors, and is ready.  He gets a little quick with his putting stroke under pressure and will have to settle that down.

Contender #2 is Graeme McDowell.  I love the win at RBC Heritage because the Harbour Town Golf Links is short and tight requiring a similar mindset to the pending US Open setup.  Also, look who he defeated at RBC; Webb Simpson – defending U.S. Open champ.  These guys love the short tracks.  I like G-Mac’s ability to putt under pressure, as well as his ranking in driving accuracy (1st) and scrambling (1st).Gmac

Your 2013 US Open Picks:

Champion:  Graeme McDowell.  Finished 2nd last year, has the game, the guts, and the stats to make it happen.

Runner Up:  Brandt Snedeker.  Gets closer than ever but loses Monday in an 18-hole playoff.

Third:  Jim Furyk.  Cagey veteran knows how to play the Open and doesn’t get flustered.  Very patient player.

Dark Horse #1:  Kevin Chappel.  2nd at Memorial and T-10 in last year’s US Open.  Up and coming.  Love his odds at 200/1.

Dark Horse #2:  Michael Thompson at 150/1 looks like a real value play.  Finished 2nd in the Open last year, finished 8th at Memorial this year, and looks like he focuses well this time of year.

Enjoy the spectacle and happy Father’s Day!

Pinehurst – Resort and Course Reviews

Resort Review:

The Carolina Hotel – Pinehurst, NC

Just returned from an excellent trip to Pinehurst Resort for three days of golf at one of America’s premier destinations.  Here’s a link to the trip photo and video album.  Played the #8 course on Saturday, #4 on Sunday, and finished out on the storied #2 course on Labor Day.

Pinehurst sells a variety of all inclusive deals with various lodging and playing options.  We played on a three-day, two-night package and stayed at the Manor Inn which was the least expensive choice for lodging but was more than adequate for our needs.  The Manor is an older building with clean rooms, nice comfortable beds, mahogany desks and wardrobes, modern bathrooms, and high speed internet access.  Manor is very convenient to the rest of the resort as free shuttle buses can be summoned from any resort property and will take you anywhere.

The Carolina Hotel, pictured above, is the center of Pinehurst operations and is the largest of the lodging options.  We enjoyed our three course dinners and morning breakfast buffets (all included) at the Carolina in their formal dining room.  The food was delicious and the service impeccable.  The staff at the Manor and Carolina were friendly and helpful and exuded class and plenty of old Southern charm.

Upon arrival, you are assigned a bag tag with your tee times and course numbers for your entire stay.  You leave your golf bag at the main club and every day the staff has your clubs loaded on a cart at the course you are scheduled to play.  Courses 1-5 play out of the main clubhouse and 6-8 are off-site.  The main clubhouse is a tremendous facility with two pro shops managing play (#2 has it’s own).  A huge grass driving range and extensive putting green are available along with several practice chipping and pitching areas.  The practice facilities are simply the best I’ve ever played at.  Inside the main clubhouse along the long corridor from the entrance to the locker rooms are displays detailing the wonderful history of Pinehurst and the various championships, trophies, and tributes to the winners.

Payne Stewart, 1999 US Open Champion

Course Reviews:

Pinehurst #2

Pinehurst #2 – 17 tee

The original 1907 Donald Ross design has been altered considerably by Coors and Crenshaw in 2010.  Gone is most of the rough, replaced by natural looking waste areas containing sand, grasses, and pine straw.  The par-3 17th pictured above, features this to the right.  In some instances, bunkers have been placed within the waste areas blurring the line between hazard and waste area.  My group was wondering how a ball on the edge of a bunker within a sandy waste area should be played.  On a pre-round tour of the course, I thought I’d be playing several 3-woods off the tees for position since the waste areas extend the length of most par 4 and 5 holes, but surprisingly I found ample landing area in the fairways and hit driver on all holes.  Making clean contact from the various lies in the waste areas was difficult and we also noted that after playing the first few holes with the same waste area look, subsequent holes were fairly indistinguishable from the previous.  At the end of the round, no single hole stood out for its features or magnificence.

Our biggest disappointment was learning that the greens had been aerated and top dressed four days before our round.  This was supposedly a surprise to everyone including the pro shop staff, as the greens superintendent had judged that the Bent grass greens were under tremendous stress from the summer heat and needed to be saved.  I was highly suspicious of this reasoning until I learned that they aerated one day before a major member guest tournament.  Maybe it was true?  Either way, our round was played on bumpy sandy greens and we payed the full $175 surcharge.   Elsewhere the course was in excellent shape with the Bermuda fairways and tees quite immaculate, and good quality sand in the bunkers.  I found the lack of formal elevated tee boxes and the all-sand cart paths interesting, as an obvious attempt had been made to preserve the most natural of looks to the land.  Also the closeness of several greens to teeing areas made me wonder how the 2014 US Open and Woman’s US Open participants would manage the proximity to other groups and the associated distractions.  Finally, in contrast with the other Pinehurst courses, there were no indicators for pin positions and guessing yardages was difficult since the only markings were on the sprinkler heads.  The course requests that you keep carts on the paths at all times and there are no distance indicators on the paths.  The other seven courses employ the Red, White, Yellow flags to indicate positioning but the #2 pins are all white with the #2 logo emblazoned and unless you take a caddy or are equipped with a range finder, you’ll end up guessing the yardage and lugging a handful of clubs from cart to ball.

For the record, I played the white tees at 6,307 yards and carded an 82 and was left with the impression that #2 was an impressive layout but was a bit over-hyped.

Pinehurst #4

Pinehurst #4 – 13 green

The Tom Fazio 2000 rework of #4 produced a stunning must-play.  The course was the best conditioned of our three with the greens rolling smooth and true, although not very fast, and the tees and fairways in excellent shape.  Fazio has framed several tee shots with clusters of pot bunkers, most notably on the edges of dogleg par 4s and 5s.  Additional pots are cleverly placed green side to defend against wayward approaches.  I found myself hitting 3-wood off several tees for pot bunker avoidance which turned out to be a good strategy.  You have to think your way around this course and can score by avoiding the trouble.

Each hole is unique and memorable.  They do a great job on hole #4 which is a beautiful downhill par-3 that requires a forced carry over water, and reuse the same lake on #13 to present a sweeping dogleg left par-5 that is the consummate risk-reward adventure.  The fun continues on the par-3, 14th which features the same lake all the way down the left.   A few of the holes have significant elevation changes that adds to the uniqueness of the track.

Inevitably, you will visit some of the 140+ pot bunkers so bring your sand game but if you can avoid the majority, you’ll do well.  We played from the blue tees at 6,658 yards and I shot a five-over 77.  #4 was clearly our favorite play on this trip.

Pinehurst #8

Pinehurst #8 – 17 tee

Number 8 plays off it’s own clubhouse and is another Tom Fazio design and was built to commemorate the Pinehurst centennial year of 1996.  The layout of this course was varied and very enjoyable however conditioning was an issue.  The greens had obviously been stressed by summer heat and had significant brown patches.  Some of the collars were completely killed and were being actively worked on.  The Bermuda grass tees and fairways were in excellent shape, as they were across all courses.  After the sum of our experiences on the three courses, we thought the resort may want to resurface all putting surfaces with Bermuda to better manage the heat.

The key to playing #8 is placement off the tee.  you MUST hit the fairway or are left with awkward lies in very penal Bermuda rough.  Once in the second cut, either off the fairway or green side, the ball sat down and was very difficult to extract with clean contact.  Despite the ragged conditions on the greens, I managed to have a good day putting as the surface of the practice putting green mirrored that of the course and left me very comfortable with the speed.

#8 has its own driving range which was beautiful but was only half opened and got very crowded during the morning warm-up with some folks waiting a few minutes for a spot.  Double teeing was the culprit and I’d like to see the course avoid that practice.  There was an excellent short game area that included several mowed approaches and a good size bunker.  A second smaller putting green was located next to the first tee which was convenient.

We left thinking that if conditions were better, #8 would be a great play.  That being said, we had a very fun day and I carded a six-over 78 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,698 yards.

Pinehurst #8 – post round on the range