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Cherished Championship – The 110th U.S. Open

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Nicklaus, Watson, Kite, Woods. The last four winners of United States Open Championships contested at the Pebble Beach Golf Links. It’s a prestigious list and one every player in the field wants to join at the 110th playing of the U.S. National Championship.

But few win U.S. Opens; most simply survive better than their peers. That wasn’t the case in 2000 when Tiger Woods lapped the field but this year looks a lot different than those halcyon days of just a decade ago.

Woods is in the field this week, as in Tom Watson as each will have very different perspectives on what this Open will mean to them. For Watson, undoubtedly it will be a swan song, while Woods is hoping it will signify his return to the game at a championship level. 

 Like any major championship there are dozens of storylines to follow but before you pay attention to the front runners have to give respect to what is championship is really about. Every dreamer with enough ability can qualify to play in this event, adding an element unseen for most of the year, save for the British Open Championship.

The dream of young American golfers, the one they play out on the putting green as a child, is to win their national championship, and whether you are five times runner-up Phil Mickelson or Stanford standout Joseph Bramlett, you have that opportunity before you this week on the Monterrey Peninsula. 

Homegrown Contenders

Mickelson, as the number 2 ranked player in the world and the best player who has come closest but is yet to win the U.S. Open, is “the guy”. He is the one the weight of America rests on this week. He has been in position to succeed before and if he can find fairways at Pebble (no easy task but considerably easier given the positive weather forecast for the week) it is his championship to win or lose. That is written with no disrespect to any non-American players but being that is his OWN National Championship gives him that more motivation and the edge.

In a couple days of practice at Pebble, Tiger Woods has been the polar opposite of his 2000 form. A decade ago he knew where the ball was going each and every time. This week, in practice at least, there appears to be little consistency in the results of each and every shot. It is hard not to imagine that he will find some sort of a swing to play with come Thursday when he tees it up in Group 39 with Ernie Els and Lee Westwood. Even so, by the end of the day he just might be the high man in that illustrious trio. It is just too tough to say but the memories of 2000, when he won by 15, just might be the fuel he needs to light his fire. Either way, it will be entertaining to watch.

As for other U.S. contenders – there are plenty of options. Hunter Mahan and Sean O’Hair, out of the Sean Foley stable, could make this their breakout championship. Steve Stricker is always a good pick and if you want dark horses – try David Duval or Shawn Micheel. Duval is determined to win a U.S. Open and Micheel, a man who knows how to win a major, is coming off a strong week in Memphis. Zach Johnson has both the ability and mindset to win a major and should not be discounted.

Foreign Invasion

Westwood, Westwood, Westwood. After a win last week the Englishman will grab a large portion of the spotlight. But the #3 player in the world, in my estimation, was rather erratic last week. And variable shots will buy nothing but trouble this week on the gnarly U.S. Open layout strewn with wild grasses and innumerable unplayable lies. 

For foreign content on the leaderboard I’ll stick to the straight and narrow players, given the layout and the inherent penalties for getting off-line. Tim Clark (Players Championship) and Luke Donald (Madrid Masters) have wins this year and might be ready for Major Championship glory.  Watch too for fairway and green specialists like Stephen Ames.

Ground Resistance

Like any recent U.S. Open, while one player may end up hoisting the trophy, the golf course will always be the winner.

At 7040 yards and playing to a par of 71, on paper Pebble Beach Golf Links does not look the typical U.S. Open configuration but as we know from past Championships here, only the best players will prevail. 

Playing 194 yards longer than it did for the 2000 U.S. Open , length is not a huge factor at Pebble, but keeping a ball on the fairway and on the correct part of the greens (n fact, just hitting them), will be.   Favourable weather should help players manage their fairways and greens in regulation but it is all too easy in a major to worry about where NOT to hit it than the opposite.

No hole will stand as a better barometer of play than hole #2. After an opener where birdie is a real possibility, the 502 –yard, par four, 2nd will be ready to slap players in the head and remind them that they are playing in a U.S. Open.

If they survive the first 8 holes they will get another reminder on the 9th, a par four playing 505 yards this week where the tilting fairway effectively plays half its yardage.

If players can manage to avoid disasters at those two holes they might be in the running.

And lastly, if the Championship is close, it will all come to down to the 17th and 18th holes. The tricky 208-yard 17th has been the home to U.S. Open drama in the past and there is no reason to think that another on-the-stick shot (Nicklaus, 1972), or chip-in (Tom Watson) on the way to victory cannot happen again.

Come Father’s Day on Sunday the chances are good an emotionally charged moment will take place on one of the most beautiful golf holes in the world, the 543-yard, 18th at Pebble Beach. The par five is an ideal canvas for drama with the ocean looming left.

There could be no better backdrop for any player, whether a first-time major champion or repeat victor, to make their U.S. Open dreams come true.

This report provided to GolfWRX.com by Flagstick Golf Magazine (www.flagstick.com)

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Everything former Nike rep Ben Giunta said about working with Tiger Woods

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Ben Giunta, a former Nike Tour Rep and now owner of the TheTourVan.com, joined host Johnny Wunder and TXG’s Ian Fraser for the most recent installment of the Gear Dive podcast.

While you’ll want to hear everything Giunta has to say, his remarks about working with Tiger Woods are particularly notable, and we wanted to present them here for those of you who may be more textually inclined.

On Tiger Woods’ preferences for club testing

“He always does his testing at home. 99 percent of the time. Whenever Tiger showed up to an event he was ready to go. There was no tinkering with equipment at Tour events. All of the work we did with him, we would do a week prior.”

“Rick Nichols, who was my boss when I was at Nike…he was Tiger’s right-hand guy. He worked with him on pretty much everything. We would prep everything. Rick would go and work with him at home…at that time it was in Orlando. They would tweak and do everything they needed there. Then when he showed up to the tournaments, I could probably count on one hand the number of times he came into the trailer to get work done.”

“He was built different. He came to do his homework on the golf course and prepare for the tournament. He was not tinkering around with equipment when it came to tournament time.”

“Any time he would test anything during the week…it was for a backup. He was constantly searching for backup drivers and…woods. So if something happened…he already had done all of his work.”

On Tiger’s driver preferences

“We were always tinkering with different CGs. Obviously, there was a lot of special stuff made for him. He didn’t use an adjustable driver…until Nike got out of the equipment business. We were always making sure the center of gravity was perfect. He was very specific on face angles and how much loft he wanted to look at. And he always wanted the face angle to be pretty much the same.”

“We had to have different iterations with different lofts based on where his golf swing was…obviously, his golf swing changes a lot based on all of his injuries and swing changes…There were certainly times where he was swinging a driver that spec’d out at a true eight-degree head, then he’d be all the way up to 11 or 12 degrees sometimes.”

On Tiger’s consistency in iron preferences

“The only thing that ever really changed with Tiger’s irons…was the lie angle. But lofts…they have been the same since he played golf…It’s been the same specs for his entire professional and amateur career. Those specs haven’t changed but the lie angles have. As far as I know, he has never experimented with different iron shafts [True Temper Dynamic Gold X100]. They’ve always been the same…with wooden dowels down in the tips of the shafts.”

“He always had the mindset that he was going to manipulate the club to get the ball to do what he wanted it to do.

On the consistency of Woods’ wedge setup

“He’s evolved with different grinds depending on his delivery or what he’s trying to do technique-wise, he’s modified his soles a little bit over time…but he’s always kind of reverted back to your traditional dual sole.”

In addition to talking Tiger, Giunta discusses how he got a job on Tour, working with Rory McIlroy, tinkerers vs non-tinkerers, and what he’s doing now (and more) in the rest of the podcast.

You can listen below.

RELATED: Tiger Woods WITB 2018

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Tour News

WATCH: Tiger Woods on Facebook Live with Bridgestone Golf

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Tiger Woods just appeared in a Bridgestone Golf Facebook Live video. While the audio isn’t the greatest (sounds like there’s some mowers rolling by), we’ve got to pass it along.

Check out the video below.

Woods initially discusses his wedges, before moving on to sharing some insights about how he hits his patented stinger–covering the ball, starting it farther right, and keeping his follow through short.

On his ball, the Bridgestone Tour B XS, which he presents as a softer ball well-suited to his swing, Woods says

“I need spin. I don’t spin the ball a lot. My swing has never produced a lot of spin. I’ve always been able to take spin off the golf ball–I grew up in an era where we played balata. What separated a lot of guys was the ability to take spin off the golf ball…to keep it below the tree line. There was a lot more movement in the golf ball.”

“My swing has naturally evolved. I’ve had different swings throughout the years, but each swing didn’t spin the ball a lot. So, when I get up to my long irons with a harder ball that most people would launch…I don’t. It falls out of the sky because it has so little spin.”

Woods mentioned that he hasn’t played Shinnecock since the course’s pre-U.S. Open makeover, but that he expects the course will be particularly difficult: an old-school U.S. Open with minimal graduated rough where it will be difficult to shoot under par.

Responding to comments, Woods sings Hazeltine’s praises and mentions he’d love to be able to wear shorts during PGA Tour events

“We play some of the hottest places on the planets and it would be nice to wear shorts…even with my little chicken legs,” Woods says.

Woods tells amateurs looking for more spin around the greens that they need a soft golf ball, mentioning that solid contact, maintaining loft, and allowing to club to do its job are key. Woods mentions that he has “a couple extra shots around the greens” thanks to the softness of his golf ball.”

We’ll next see the 14-time major champion in action at next week’s Memorial Tournament (which he discusses to wrap up the video).

 

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Popular Photo Galleries

10 interesting photos from Tuesday at the Fort Worth Invitational

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GolfWRX is on the ground at Marvin Leonard’s famed pet project, Colonial Country Club, peeking into players bags and taking in the action on the driving range.

While you’ll want to take a trip through the buffet line, we’ve made you a plate of some of the tastiest morsels.

Absolutely savage new putter cover for Jon “Rahmbo” Rahm. Just killer.

Prettier than a new penny.

Spotted: Aldila Rogue Silver 130 MSI

Everything here is excellent. Just excellent.

More like Garsen Murray. Am I right?

If you were Aaron Wise standing over the winning putt at last week’s Byron Nelson, this is what it’d have looked like (of course, you’d have had a ball and the putter would be soled on the green, but you get the point…)

Abraham Ancer’s new Artisan wedges are simply incredible… All of this: Artisan star stellar stuff.

Rickie Fowler has gone grape.

You can’t fool me. You’re not Adam Hadwin, you’re a golf bag.

Is Patrick Cantlay considering a switch to a Cameron Napa?

Check out all our photos from the 2018 Forth Worth Invitational below.

Tuesday’s Photos

Special Galleries

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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