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5 Things We Learned from Day 3 of the U.S. Open

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History was made on Day 3 at the 2017 U.S. Open.

Golfers made birdies by the bushel, and with nary a major champion within seven strokes of the lead, unless Louis Oosthuizen shoots 59 on Sunday (and that might not be enough), we will have a first-time winner.

1. Today’s JT and his Sixty-Three

My love, what goes around, comes around. I mean, Can’t stop this feeling that Justin Thomas did something special today. He wasn’t wearing a Suit & Tie, and he didn’t make everything, but he won’t Cry Me A River. You see, JT (aka Justin Thomas) had nine birdies and one eagle to go with two bogeys and six pars, for 63. He tied the low single-round number for an Open, but he actually went 9-under par, and no one had ever gone deeper than 8-under (cough, Johnny Miller, cough.)

Truth be told, JT might be bringing SexyBack to golf. Senorita, it’s like he was LoveStoned or something. His playing partner, Jonathan Randolph, had to be thinking, Dude, What U working with? All right, we’re done with the Justin Timberlake (also named “JT”) references! All joking aside, what Justin Thomas did was historic. And we know what happens with historic in Round 3: it usually disappears for Round 4. Can this JT break with tradition and follow greatness with more greatness? We’ll see.

2. Go Low or Go Home

It’s a cliche, but it’s normally reserved for non-major championships. Probably not wanting the bemoaning that befell Chambers Bay two years back, the USGA was cautious with its set up of Erin Hills. Rains came a few times this week, softening things up just enough to keep balls in fairways and allow competitors to target hole locations. Add in absolutely perfect putting surfaces and all the ingredients for low numbers were on the counter.

Patrick Reed, sporting his lucky Ryder Cup red pants, went seven deep for 65 and moved into the top-10, four behind the leaders. Russell Henley had 67 and another bunch signed for 68 (Brooks Koepka, Si Woo Kim, Charley Hoffman and Tommy Fleetwood.) With rain drizzling at round’s end, expect more darts on Sunday and perhaps, a 62.

3. Our Guys, Brian Harman and Tommy Fleetwood

Why is Harman our guy? He tops out at 67 inches tall and he’s a lefty. He’s also at the top of the leaderboard. Harman has missed but five fairways all week, showing that driving accuracy is valuable. Harman also carried himself with an eerie calm, and he had his distance control on point. Sound like sage advice? Follow it the next time you play!

As for Fleetwood, he came to No. 18 tied for the lead at 12-under. Faced with a difficult third shot, Fleetwood chunked it into a swale, then putted his fourth past the hole and off the back of the putting surface, into another swale. He pitched his fifth within 5 feet, then fortunately drained the bogey putt for 68 and 11-under. We’ve all laid sod before, and we empathized with one of England’s best.

4. What We Didn’t Expect: Casey and Matsuyama Flops

If there were two guys you might have expected to take advantage of a windless, moist Saturday, they were named Paul Casey and Hideki Matsuyama. How do you define their days? Not one highlight from either on the USGA Twitter Feed.

Even if Casey had made zero bogeys or worse, his two birdies on the day would have left him three back of the leader. As it was, he got in trouble in the fescue on three, whiffed on his third shot and made his second triple bogey in two days. He bogeyed No. 4 and became an also-ran, ending the day with 75 for 4-under and a tie for 17th spot.

Matsuyama set the course ablaze on Friday with 65, but Saturday was a different story. After a successful outward nine of 34, Matsuyama bogeyed three of his first five holes on the inward side. He did well to add two more birdies to stay within the same zip code of the leaders. Super low might get it done for Matsuyama, but a lot will have to go his way.

5. Prediction for Sunday

Gone from the game of golf is fear. Not since Tiger has anyone struck fear in the hearts of other professional golfers. All of the competitors are in the same age bracket, between 21 and 30. They all (except for Harman) bomb the ball illegal distances. Each seems to be a nice, respectful guy, although inside all beats the heart of an assassin.

Let’s run the top-9 down, then settle on a winner:

  • Harman — Pro: plays within himself; Con: never been there.
  • Thomas — Pro: goes for everything; Con: when he gets wild…
  • Koepka — Pro: long and strong with great touch; Con: never been there
  • Fleetwood — Pro: our under the radar guy; Con: nerves have shown all week at crunch time
  • Fowler — Pro: has been there more than others in majors; Con: has yet to close out a major with a win
  • Kim — Pro: young and twice a winner on tour; Con: young and untested in the majors
  • Reed — Pro: the guttiest player out there come Ryder Cup time; Con: this is not Ryder Cup time
  • Henley — Pro: the best putter in the top nine; Con: zippo in the major championship experience column
  • Hoffman — Pro: wily veteran with major experience; Con: we miss his Samson-length hair

My pick for Sunday is a tie between Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler. When that happens, U.S. teammates will battle on Monday for the trophy.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Auggie

    Jun 18, 2017 at 10:29 am

    The USGA with a little help from Mother Nature is putting on a proper tournament for once. The course is actually playing like it was designed to be played and the majority of the contending golfers are the ones who have been trending and in contention in other recent tournaments during the past month or so.

    It would have been nice to have seen the players face more of the windy conditions that the course was designed to accommodate, but overall I am convinced that at the end of the day the winning golfer will be the one who is golfing their ball the very best and not the one who got the most freakishly lucky bounces around a bunch of dried-up, burnt-out greens.

  2. M

    Jun 18, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Who the heck is Justin Timberlake

    • Golfandpuff

      Jun 18, 2017 at 10:53 am

      gimme’ a break…loved all the references! Watch his concert on Netflix…wipes his rear with Beiber with one eye closed.

  3. Ronald Montesano

    Jun 18, 2017 at 5:49 am

    The grind will be in their faces, as it was today, when they realize that they need to keep up, not simply survive. One score is no different from another. Disaster is always one missed-swing away, thanks to the bunkers, the fescue, the hole locations.

  4. Duk Koo Kim

    Jun 18, 2017 at 5:31 am

    I second the poor broadcasting……and the camera operators are all over the map trying to spot the ball. Why does Buck have to loudly announce EVERYTHING?!! RICKIE FOWLER SAVES PAR!!! Sheesh already, I got it Joe, I got it, relax. Go watch some Pat Summerall and Ken Venturi broadcasts and take some notes on “conversational tones.” You’re driving me freakin’ nuts with the
    carnival barker announcements.

  5. Lawrence

    Jun 17, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Day 3, just another day of the worst broadcast team any golf tournament ever had…shame on FOX..

    • Golfandpuff

      Jun 18, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Don’t know how she plays golf built like that…and noticed first day no ring on finger.

  6. carl

    Jun 17, 2017 at 10:49 pm

    Looks like the emergency fescue trim was not needed

  7. Shi Suk Dik

    Jun 17, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    This boring US Open.
    I no like it, it’s a PGA stop not US Open.
    But. No wind, some rain, soft course, very easy.
    Next year more hard

  8. Old Putter

    Jun 17, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    We need a love button for Ron’s articles

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10 Years Later: Why the assistant coach has made college golf better

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It’s been 10 years since the NCCA Legislation began allowing assistant golf coaches to perform on-course coaching in college events. Today, 94 percent of the top-100 men’s golf teams have assistant coaches, and the coaching pool is stronger than ever, with individuals such as Jean Paul Hebert (Texas), Jake Amos (South Carolina), Ryan Jamieson (Florida), Robert Duck (Florida State), Donnie Darr (Oklahoma State), John Mills (Kent State), Garrett Runion (LSU), Zach Barlow (Illinois), Bob Heinz (Duke), and 2017 Assistant Coach of the Year from Baylor, Ryan Blagg. The list includes a guy with 20+ PGA Tour experience (Bob Heinz), several former college standouts and some National Championship wins (Jean Paul Hebert – 1, Runion – 2, Amos – 2).

In the 10 years since the expanded role of the assistant golf coach, the National Championship has still been dominated by major conference schools, with only three non-major conference schools earning a spot in match play (Kent State 2012, and Augusta State in 2010, 2011). Of course, Augusta State went on to win both of its appearances in match play, earning back-to-back national championships under Coach Josh Gregory.

One of best examples of the success of assistant golf coaches is Chris Malloy at Ole Miss. Malloy, a graduate of Ole Miss, began his coaching career as the women’s assistant golf coach at Florida State. Shortly after, he was working with both programs and had an immediate impact, which included helping the men win their first ever ACC championship. Shortly after, Chris took over as the men’s golf coach at University of South Florida, transforming the team into a National Contender and a top-30 ranking. Today, at Ole Miss, Chris has done the same thing, transforming a team and a culture in three years, earning a spot in the 2017 NCAA National Championship at Rich Harvest Farms.

Another great example is Sooner coach Ryan Hybl, who in 2017 lead his team to the NCAA National Championship. Hybl, an outstanding player at Georgia, then was an assistant with the program from 2005-2009. The system continues to work as three notable assistants made moves this summer; Jim Garden from OU to Coastal Carolina, John Handrigan from UF to Notre Dame and Dusty Smith from Vanderbilt to Mississippi State.

Although to date, mid-major teams have not fared consistently on the national level. The system of assistant coaches has proven to be an excellent tool in broadening the pool of candidates. Last year’s National Championship featured six mid-major schools with half being wily veterans, and half being a product of the assistant coach route; Michael Beard of Pepperdine served as the assistant at Arizona State; Bryce Waller of University of Central Florida served as the assistant at the University of Tennessee; Bryant Odem of Kennesaw State served as the assistant at the University of Wisconsin. It will also feature teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Virginia, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Purdue, which have coaches who have benefited from their experience as assistant coaches in their roles with these programs.

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

The pool of candidates for coaching positions today is deeper than ever. Athletic Directors are blessed to be able to interview several good candidates for almost each job. The result for the players are fully engaged coaches who bring passion and desire to improve each of their programs.

Bowen Sargent, the current head coach at University of Virginia and former assistant coach at the University of Tennessee under Jim Kelson, started coaching when the rules only allowed one coach. In the 10 years since the rule change, Bowen believes “it’s a positive change for sure. Having two coaches allows for a better student-athlete experience and for them to have more access to their coaches.”

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the US Open

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the U.S. Open

The diversity among coaches is also greater. Today’s juniors have the option to play for a skillful player such as a Mike Small at Illinois or Casey Martin at Oregon, or Doug Martin at Cincinnati, or even a world class instructor like Bryce Waller at UCF, Ben Pellicani at Limpscomb or Casey Van Dame at South Dakota State. Waller, an excellent instructor himself, has lead UCF to three National Championship appearance in 7 years. Likewise, Ben, a Golf Digest top-40 under-40 instructor who spent several years learning from Mike Bender has been instrumental in transforming Limpscomb into a national contender, participating in their first ever National Championship in 2017. Lastly, Casey who spent several years under Jim Mclean, then as the assistant at University of Tennessee, has transformed South Dakota State Men’s and Women’s Golf, with both teams currently ranked in the top-100 in the country.

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Athletic Directors are also starting to put more funding towards golf resources. The result has been an explosion of golf-specific training facilities across the scope of college golf. Many mid-major schools have top-notch practice facilities, including places such as University of North Texas, University of Richmond, University of Central Arkansas and Illinois State to name a few.

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

The tremendous pool of coaching candidates has also benefited other levels of golf. For example, 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year Chris Hill is now the head men’s and women’s golf coach at Concordia University, a Division 3 School near Austin, Texas. In his two years as coach, he has already lead the program to seven tournament titles.

As time passed, I believe that we will see a change at the NCAA Championship and it will include a growing trend towards mid-major universities not only earning spots at the National Championships, but having success like Augusta State. The person at the head of one of those programs is likely to have come from the assistant coach ranks and should be thankful for the rule change, which lead to these opportunities.

Please note: As of writing this article, only 6 men’s teams in D1 do not have assistant coaches. They are UTEP (51), McNeese (84), Nevada (88), Richmond (89), Cincinnati (92) and Tennessee at Chattanooga (96).

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