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Opinion & Analysis

2018 U.S. Open Preview: The holes at Shinnecock that will make the difference

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I have been fascinated by Shinnecock Hills since I was a kid, watching Corey Pavin’s 4-wood curling through space above the golden fescue and landing a few feet from the flag. It was further cemented by the massacre in 2004, where conditions were borderline unfair… except for the fact that everyone had to play under the same unfair conditions. I love the way this unassuming beauty brought the best in the world literally to tears. The Open returns to Shinnecock for 2018, and while all of the holes will obviously count, some will be crucial.

Here’s a breakdown of the holes that just might cause a breakdown for some of the players, and a couple that will give them a break.

Hole No. 1 (Par 4, 399 yards)

Like Merion and many other classic courses (other than Oakmont where it’s a death march from start to finish), number 1 at Shinnecock is a relatively benign hole. Long hitters will use less than driver and will still have a wedge into one of the most straightforward greens on the course. A rare birdie opportunity that must be taken advantage of.

Hole No. 2 (Par 3, 226 yards)

The longest par 3 on the course will hit the players in the face after the opening hole. It’s a long way uphill and if the wind is in their face it could take as much as a pro 3-wood to get to the green. As with most greens, staying below the hole is an imperative as there is a world of hurt behind.

Hole No. 6 (Par 4, 467 yards)

The No. 1 handicap hole on the course is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Hitting the fairway will not be hard for the pros but he second shot is one of the most demanding in championship golf. Players will have to accurately judge the speed and direction of a cross wind that will be howling on every part of the hole except where they are standing. The only water on the course guards the green along with a cadre of greenside bunkers. Short right will be a popular spot and there are no easy up and downs here. Par will feel like a birdie.

Hole No. 7 (Par 3, 194 yards)

Maybe best known for its conditions in the 2004 open when the green got totally burnt out and was virtually impossible to hit and hold. It was like a watching the Daytona 500 with an oil slick on the second turn and the bitching and moaning of the field immediately made the U.S. Open my favorite major. Even with grass on it, number 7 is no picnic. Nicknamed “The Redan”, a French term for a fortification, the hole defends itself with distance, the wind and a triangular, back-sloping green that as only a couple of reasonable pin placements. More than half the field each day will likely have a wedge in their hands for the second shot and if conditions go south look for numbers that will look like a description of Happy Hour (4 to 6).

Hole No. 9 (Par 4, 460 yards)

If Augusta has Amen Corner, then 9 through 11 at Shinnecock might be called “Hell’s Belles,” a breathtaking trio with a perfect combination of beauty and danger. The tee shot on nine seems easy,  but you have to be in the fairway to be in position to go for the green. As with every hole at Shinnecock, a good sot is rewarded with an opportunity for another, in this instance a good tee shot will leave a short club into a green that is fairly large but perched about 50 feet above the players standing in the fairway and sloped back to front. Players unable to control their spin will find their third shots in waste areas and bunkers guarding the front of the hole, or maybe even back at their feet. Spectators will have a majestic view of the entire course from the green, including the red faces of those who don’t execute on this exacting test.

Hole No. 10 (Par 4, 420 yards)

This might be my favorite hole on the course. The tee shot presents plenty of fairway on the left but players in the know will aim over the fairway bunker on the right. The fairway and approach on 10 are evidence of why the course is called Shinnecock Hills. Finding the fairway on the left leaves a mid-iron into a turtle back green that is canted from back to front. Players who find the fairway right will take advantage of a drop that looks like it inspired a roller-coaster. A 40-foot speed slot means that there is only a wedge into the green and that’s where the fun begins. In 2004 players like Singh and Els saw multiple wedges go up the hill and back again like some sort of sadistic golf nursery rhyme. Singh fumed, “It’s hard to stop a shot on the hood of a VW.” Trying to play safe and hitting the back of the green will send players into a massive steep swale behind the green that will test the skill, imagination and nerve of the unfortunate souls who land there. At least a few will find themselves back in the fairway. This is a hole that, in the hands of the USGA, will humble all and humiliate some.

Hole No. 11 (Par 3, 154 yards)

The shortest par 3 on the course is small but mighty. An uphill tee shot to a green that is relatively large, but if you are on the wrong level of the two-tiered green a two putt will be as rare as finding a taxi in Manhattan rush hour. Players who card a 3 will be running to the next hole with a mix of joy and relief.

Hole No. 15 (Par 4, 430 yards)

This is downwind par 4 is the last of the “easy” birdie opportunities on the back nine. An accurate drive will leave a short iron to the green. If you relax and miss the green, it would be better left 9bunkers) than right close-shaven chipping area.

Hole No. 18 (Par 4, 460 yards)

This majestic closing hole is remembered for Corey Pavin’s heroics in 1995 but with its broad vistas and exacting layout, it is among the quintessential holes at Shinnecock. The ideal tee shot on the sweeping par-4 is to the right side of fairway. From there, a precise shot is needed into the elevated green that is guarded by wind, sand and fescue. Approaches that don’t have enough steam will roll back off of the green. Shots that go long will require a delicate chip or putt back onto the surface. This hole in many ways is what U.S. Open golf is all about: the course, the history, the player and the stage all combing for one magic moment. Worthy, indeed.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. juliette91

    Jun 12, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    I think you can see enough of what you need to see but the point I’d like to make that wasn’t made is that the wider fairways are a bit countered by the way most of the fairways are angled to the teeing ground, effectively making their width that much smaller.
    I watched 1995’s Open there and that’s the big impression I got, especially what you call the birdie hole at number 1. Maybe it was the wind but many players ended up left in heavy rough precisely because they tried to cut the angle and shorten the hole.

    Anyway, the yardages of the pivotal holes you described seem mostly minuscule by today’s PGA tour standards. If a 467 yard hole is a drive and a PW, and that’s one of the longer par 4s it does seem like the scores will be double digits minus for 3-5 players.

    • juliette91

      Jun 12, 2018 at 11:27 pm

      whoops meant players ended up right on number 1…

  2. Jeff

    Jun 12, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Why even bother with pictures when you can’t see what’s going on because of watermarks? Worthless article.

    • 3puttPar

      Jun 12, 2018 at 4:33 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. Its so damn frustrating.

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Opinion & Analysis

Prospective NCAA Golfers, are you ready for September 1? Here’s what you should be doing

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In June, I reported changes to the NCAA rules, including new legislation that prevented college coaches from contacting a prospective student athlete before September 1 of their Junior Year. With September 1 just around the corner, the question is: are you ready?

If not, don’t worry. As always, I am here to help you understand the college landscape and find the best opportunity to pursue your passion in college! Here’s what you need to know:

Be Prepared

Over time, you are going to hear from some coaches. It is important that students are prepared to talk to coaches. Before speaking to a coach, it is important to do research about their institution; what are the grades required for admissions? How many players are on the team? How much of the student population lives on campus? Know the basics before your conversation.

It is also important that you are ready to answer a couple questions. Coaches are very likely to ask, why are you interested in my school? Tell me about your grades or academic interests? Or, tell me about your golf game? Be honest and remember a passion for the game goes a long way.

Coaches are also likely to ask if you have any questions. Having a couple questions written down is important. If you are not sure what to ask, here are some questions I recommend:

  • What is your coaching philosophy?
  • What is your favourite part of coaching?
  • What type of student best fits in at your university?
  • What type of athlete best fits in?
  • What are the goals for the golf program?
  • How do you determine who play play in your top 5 at tournaments?
  • Do you ever take more than 5 players to a tournament?
  • What access does the team have to golf courses?
  • Is it expected to have your own vehicle?
  • Do you do any technical swing work with the players?
  • What is your greatest strength as a coach?
  • Do you offer academic support, such as tutors for students?
  • What percent of teachers have terminal degrees?
  • How does my major (X) impact golf? Can I do it and golf?
  • Do you support graduates in getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting into grad schools?

Know the Numbers

With only a couple weeks before September 1, I would recommend you take time and see where you (or your son and daughter) stands on websites such as Junior Golf Scoreboard or Rolex AJGA Rankings. Now that you know the number, consider in several previous articles I have presented how rankings related to college signings. My analysis of the numbers demonstrates that, for boys, the average Division I player is ranked approximately 300 in Junior Golf Scoreboard in their class with a scoring differential of about .5. The average Division II player is ranked about 550 in their class. For girls, it appears that ranking is less important, but there is a strong relationship between scoring differential and college signings. Girls that sign at schools within the top 50 have scoring differentials of at least -3 or better, while the average for any Division I player is approximately 5.

Keep in mind that when you search on Junior Golf Scoreboard for yourself, it will show your ranking overall. This number is going to be much lower for your ranking in your class. Without a subscription, you will not be able to find your exact rank, but I would generally say you can cut the number by about 50 percent to give yourself a fair gauge. So if you are 3750 overall, you are likely close to 1875 in your class.

For many members of the junior class reading this article, they may see that their ranking might be significantly higher than these numbers. Don’t panic; the rankings are over a 1-year period. After a year, old scores drop off and new scores can be counted. Also, on Junior Golf Scoreboard, your worst 25 percent of rounds are not counted. So, you have time to continue to work on your game, improve your ranking and get the attention of coaches!

Do your research

Now that you have an idea about your ranking, start researching. Where did players of similar rank sign last year? What is the rank of that school? What schools are ranked about the same? Answering these questions will require some time and two resources; Junior Golf Scoreboard and Golfstat.com. To find out where similar players signed from last year, go to njgs.com, then under the tab “rankings & honors,” the bottom option is college signees. Click there, and then you can order the signees based on class rank by clicking on “scoreboard class ranking as of signing date.” You will notice that last year, players ranked about 1800 in their class signed at such schools as Kenyon, Glenville, Southern Nazarene, Central Alabama Community college and Allegany college. Pretty good considering these schools have produced a president of the United States (Hayes, Kenyon), and a 5-time Major Championship participant (Nathan Smith, Allegany).

Now that you have a list of schools where similar students have signed, look up the golf rankings of these schools on golfstat.com. The rankings of schools are under the “rankings” tab on the home page and segmented by NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA.

First find out where the school is ranked and then consider schools ranked 5-10 spots ahead and behind that school. Are any of these of interest? Any where you think might sound interesting? Take time and build a list, then send an email to those schools introducing yourself, along with a swing video.

Have a Plan

Regardless if you are a Junior in High School or a Senior in High School, come September 1, remember that there is still time and regardless of what people say, coaches are always looking. For High School Juniors, it is likely that next summer will have a critical impact on your opportunities in college golf, so what can you do over the next 9 months? Where are you missing out on the most shots? Take time, talk to people and develop a plan to give yourself the best chance to succeed in the future. And then, put in the time!

For Seniors, although many might be in your ear saying it’s too late, don’t listen to them. You still have some time. Take a careful look at how you can use the next 2-3 months to improve and prepare for events such as the AJGA Senior Showcase in Las Vegas. Remember that data suggests that up to one-third of players sign in the late period (for all levels) and up to 60 percent of players who compete in the AJGA Senior Showcase in December in Las Vegas, go on to get offers.

As always, if you have any feedback on this article or a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me! I always love hearing from people and helping them connect with schools that meet their academic, athletic, social and financial needs! Best of luck to you, or your son/daughter.

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TG2: Would you rather have Brooks or DJ’s career? 30+ more AMA-style Instagram questions

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Brooks Koepka vs. Dustin Johnson? All-time favorite driver? Poker chips as ball markers? Editor Andrew Tursky and Equipment Expert Brian Knudson answer 30+ questions from the @tg2wrx Instagram. They also discuss Joe LaCava (Tiger’s caddie) paying off a heckler to go away.

Enjoy the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Wyndham Championship

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After one of the most exciting Sunday’s of the golfing year, attention now turns towards the race for the FedEx Cup playoffs, and the quest to attain a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup. For the former, this week’s Wyndham Championship is the final opportunity for players to work their way into the top-125 in the FedEx Cup standings and earn a spot in the opening event of the playoffs. Despite many of the world’s elite understandably taking this week off, there are some big names in action here in Greensboro, with Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Webb Simpson all setting their sights on winning at Sedgefield Country Club this week.

Sedgefield CC is a relatively short par-70 golf course. It measures just over 7,100 yards, and it’s a golf course that doesn’t particularly favour the longer hitters. The rough is playable in Greensboro this week, and like most years at the Wyndham Championship, expect players who have their wedge game dialled in to thrive here at this event.

Last year, Henrik Stenson put on a ball striking clinic, posting 22-under par to win the title by one stroke over Ollie Schniederjans.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Webb Simpson 12/1
  • Hideki Matsuyama 16/1
  • Henrik Stenson 18/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello 22/1
  • Brandt Snedeker 22/1
  • Shane Lowry 25/1
  • Billy Horschel 28/1

It’s been a bit of a disappointing year for Daniel Berger (35/1, DK Price $9,300), but the Floridian showed some very promising signs at last week’s PGA Championship. After opening his PGA Championship with a very poor round of 73, Berger then shined over the next three days. The American posted three consecutive rounds under par, two of which were 66 or better. It was enough to give Berger a T12 finish and plenty of momentum heading to Greensboro this week.

In St. Louis last week, Berger lead the field for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, gaining an impressive 8.5 strokes over the field. It was the second best performance with his irons in his career, and at Sedgefield, Berger is going to have hole after hole where he can attack pins with his precise iron game. The two-time winner on the PGA Tour has had a quiet year, but in a weakened field, with plenty of question marks surrounding those at the top of the market, he has a superb opportunity for win number three here in Greensboro.

A T31 finish at the PGA Championship last week means that Chris Kirk (80/1, DK Price $7,500) has now made the cut in his last ten events. From these ten events, four have resulted in top-25 finishes, and Kirk has been hitting the ball particularly well as of late. Over his previous 12 rounds, Kirk ranks fifth in the field this week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 10th in ball striking and eight in Strokes Gained-Total.

Kirk will cost you just $7,500 on DraftKings, and looking at some of the players that are more expensive this week, he appears to be a bargain. Kirk is three for three in cuts made at the Wyndham Championship in his last three visits, and the four-time PGA Tour champion looks in excellent shape to mount his best challenge yet in Greensboro. Over his last 12 rounds, Kirk leads this week’s field for proximity to the hole, and on a golf course where flushing short irons to close range is going to be key, the American looks to offer some of the best value around this week.

With 17 out of 19 made cuts this year, and arriving off the back of a T12 finish in his last outing, Rory Sabbatini (75/1, DK Price $7,100) looks undervalued once again on DraftKings this week. Over his previous 12 rounds, Sabbatini ranks 24th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and 10th in Strokes Gained-Total. What’s more, is that Sabbatini is coming to a golf course that he has played very well in the past. In his last two visits to Sedgefield CC, the American has finished in the top-10 twice, with his best result coming last year when he finished T4. Coming off a strong showing in Canada, and with his proficiency in making cuts and excellent course history, Sabbatini looks a great DraftKings option here this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Daniel Berger 35/1, DK Price $9,300
  • Chris Kirk 80/1, DK Price $7,500
  • Rory Sabbatini 75/1, DK Price $7,100
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