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GolfWRX Morning 9: A firm U.S. Open favorite emerges | Is wanting an “old school” U.S. Open problematic?

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Good morning, GolfWRX members. As most of you are signed up for our newsletters, you likely already know that I’ve been sending this little Morning 9 roundup of nine items of note to start your day.

In case you’ve missed it, or you prefer to read on site rather than in your email, we’re including it here. Check out today’s Morning 9 below. Feedback is always welcome–send everything from news tips to complaints (hopefully more tips than complaints)!

If you’re not signed up for our newsletters, you can subscribe here.

By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

June 11, 2018

Good Monday morning, golf fans, and a good U.S. Open week as well. I’ll be chatting with Sergio Garcia for a few minutes this afternoon at the Adidas flagship store. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to ask El Nino.
1. A finish in style a U.S. Open favorite makes
Dustin Johnson was dominant, excellent, etc. at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, holing out for eagle and the win, as you’ve surely seen.
  • Explaining DJ’s weird reaction: He didn’t know if it went in
  • Not his first brush with walk-off wins: At a junior golf tournament in South Carolina, DJ was on the receiving end of a walk-off W. None other than Kevin Kisner holed out to beat him by a stroke: “[Kevin] actually skulled it, too…It hit the flag and went in and beat me by a shot.”
  • PGATour.com’s Jonathan Wall rightly points out, “Johnson likely won’t lose sleep over the fact that no player has ever won the U.S. Open after winning on Tour the week prior, simply because Johnson doesn’t seem to lose sleep over much of anything when it comes to his day job. Ever the unflappable athlete, he has overcome more than his fair share of on-course turmoil without so much as a scar.”
2. A Shot clock Master
Journeyman Mikko Korhonen dominated at Diamond Country Club en route to  his first European Tour title at the Shot Clock Masters.
  • Entering the final round ahead by 5, Korhonen ultimately topped Scotland’s Connor Syme by six.
  • Most significantly, however: Only four players were hit with penalties during the week. Rounds were rapid. Players (publicly at least) praised the format.
3. A Curtis Cup crushing
Look, amateur golf isn’t a massive cauldron of fan interest, and that’s even more true for women’s amateur play (not that it should be; but these are the numbers, folks). That said, you don’t have to be a champion of the nobility of the institution of non-professional play to appreciate the quality of the U.S. side’s performance at Quaker Ridge.
  • Kristen Gillman was at the fore for a U.S. singles sweep Sunday; the most lopsided result in Curtis Cup history. The 20-year-old University of Alabama talent, topped 16-year-old Annabell Fuller 5 and 4 to wrap up her perfect week.
  • The Americans won 17-3. The team broke the record for margin of victory of 11 set at Denver Country Club in 1982.
4. Woods the contender remains an enigma
An AP investigation…
  • “His irons are sublime, his driver for the most part long and straight….If we’ve learned anything from his latest comeback, Tiger Woods can still putt a bit, too….A decade ago that would have made him the overwhelming pick to win the U.S. Open.”
  • “Heck, a decade ago he won the U.S. Open basically on one leg for what, incredibly enough, was his last major championship win….But as Woods docks his yacht near Shinnecock Hills this week, he’s still a golfing enigma of sorts. His scores are decent, if not spectacular, but he’s yet to win and has only been in serious contention once in nine tournaments this year….Is the real Tiger finally back?”
This year’s tournament, as the unbylined bit is right to suggest, isn’t expected to be a Woodsian romp. Why? A few possibilities are put forth.
  •  Woods’ age–is the slow decline in putting here
  • The aforementioned putting
  • Opponents no longer roll over and die when he’s near the top of the leaderboard
5. The problem with wanting the U.S. Open to get back to its old self
Firm, fast, narrow, tall grasses aplenty! “The USGA needs to get back to its roots,” the chorus sings. While this is a seductive stance, it’s not without potential pitfalls.
Geoff Shackelford identified a few.
  • Venue Selection Division: The identity was lost with Erin Hills and Chambers Bay for many. Even though Shinnecock Hills is links-like in appearance, the designs of the aforementioned and their setup opened the USGA up to criticism.
  • Anti-progressive Setup Set. It’s hard to believe folks are clamoring for the days or chip out rough 3 yards off the fairway while the drive 30 yards wayward finds matted down rough. Nor can I fathom how anyone wants to go to some of the game’s greatest places only to smother out the best design features to match the U.S. Open setup “identity.” As long as the players can carry a ball 300 yards or more and use wedges to hack out of rough, the old ideal isn’t coming back.
  • Mike Davis Disdain Marching And Chowder Society: If you do not fall into one of the first categories, chances are your desire to see the U.S. Open return to its old ways stems from simply not liking the role Davis has played in trying to move the U.S. Open into the new century while retaining some of the old identity.
6. How good do you really have to be to play high-level college golf?
Writing for GolfWRX, Brendan Ryan explores the question, looking at the scoring averages from top programs.
  • “Although the sample size is small, teams who compete at the national level (including playing regionals) need difference makers who in college can average 73 or better. Historically, the data suggests that difference makers usually have scoring differential that is negative, and they are ranked in the top 100-150 in their class.”
  • “How good is the 20th ranked player in the class? According to Junior Golf Scoreboard, the 20th player in the 2018 class has a scoring differential of -3.92, and the 20th player for the 2019 has a scoring differential of -2.51.”
The rest of Ryan’s conclusions are well worth digging into.
7. Mickelson’s rock
Maybe you remember Phil Mickelson’s bunker shot at the par-3 17th at Shinnecock in 2004. Lefty’s final-round effort at the penultimate hole was uncharacteristically poor and sounded the death knell for his bid to win the tournament. Turns out, it wasn’t “just” a bad shot that befell Phil.
  • Dave Shedloski...:”Only Fred Funk, his playing partner in the final round of the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, has known Mickelson’s secret. He distinctly heard the clunky, discordant sound emanating from the front left bunker as Mickelson played his second shot at the par-3 17th hole.
  • Instantly, he knew what had happened and solemnly watched the predictable result as Mickelson’s ball raced past the cup-above it, in fact-to a place on the oil-slick green where the left-hander easily could three-putt.”
8. Unlike any other: Sweetens Cove
Peter Schmitt played the emerging Tennessee gem whose positive reputation seems to swell daily–he returned with takes galore.
  • “What do you say about a 3,300-yard, nine-hole course in rural Tennessee with a prefabricated shed for a clubhouse, a port-a-john for a locker room, and a practice green the size of a coffee table? For starters, it’s the most enjoyable golf experience I’ve had in years.”
  • “Picture a world-class, challenging, and ridiculously fun golf course. Now strip off the 15,000-square-foot clubhouse, the pro shop, the driving range, the short game area, and even the superfluous nine holes you can’t remember anyway. Now, go ahead and shave another 300 yards off the tips. That may sound sacrilegious, but once you’ve distilled the experience into only what is necessary, you’re left with something that takes you back to when you first fell in love with golf. Maybe even something that takes you back to the birth of golf itself.”
Bold words. More from Schmitt.
9 ICYM: Rickie Fowler is engaged
If you’re looking for an angle in to bet (or not to bet) Rickie Fowler at Shinnecock this week. Fowler proposed to girlfriend Allison Stokke, a former collegiate All-American pole vaulter, over the weekend (she said yes). Evidence below.

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19th Hole

Lexi Thompson violates Rules of Golf at Indy Women in Tech Championship

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During the third round of the Indy Women in Tech Championship, Lexi Thompson unknowingly ran afoul of the Rules of Golf.

Preferred lies–AKA lift, clean, and place–were in effect at soggy Brickyard Crossing. Thompson hit her drive at the par-5 10th hole wide right. It settled in the sixth fairway. Believing she was allowed to lift and clean any ball in the fairway, Thompson began to do so.

The rule, of course, only applies to balls that settle in one’s own fairway. Fortunately for Thompson, an official saw what was happening and stepped in to administer a penalty.

“Thankfully, Marty [the official] intervened before she hit her next shot,” Golf Channel’s Kay Cockerill reported. “Otherwise, she would have been hitting from the wrong spot, and it would have been a two-shot penalty. So, in a sense, it saved her a shot.”

The LPGA issued this statement.

“While playing the third round of the 2018 Indy Women in Tech Championship, Lexi Thompson incurred a one-stroke penalty for breach of the preferred lies local Rule (Appendix IA Part 3b Course Conditions).”

“The Committee adopted the preferred lies local Rule due to the turf conditions of the golf course after receiving over an inch of rain. The LPGA, under the local Rule, restricts the player from preferring her lie when her ball lies in a closely-mown area of a hole other than the one being played.”

“During the play of hole #10, Thompson’s tee shot came to rest in the fairway of hole #6. As Thompson’s ball lay on the fairway of hole #6, she was not entitled to prefer her lie.”

“She preferred her lie in breach of the local Rule but prior to playing her stroke from a wrong place (Rule 20-7), she was questioned by a Rules official regarding her actions. As she had not played her stroke from the preferred spot, she did not receive the general penalty of two-strokes under the local Rule. However, she did incur a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 for lifting her ball at rest without authority.”

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Joe LaCava, Tiger Woods’ caddie, paid a heckler $25 to leave at the WGC-Bridgestone

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While Steve Williams would likely have taken a different route, Tiger Woods’ current caddie admitted to bribing a fan to leave his boss alone.

LaCava called into ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo” and told a tale of paying of a heckler at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

LaCava said the man heckled Woods throughout his final round at the Bridgestone, and on the 14th hole, LaCava interceded, telling the man to check out action elsewhere on the course. Interestingly/absurdly, the man said he would be happy to, provided LaCava reimburse him for his ticket.

Here’s the full transcript c/o ESPN.

Mike Golic: “Did you have any issues with the people at Bellerive?”

Joe LaCava: “Not at all, and you hit it right on the head, 99 percent of the guys and women are behind Tiger, pushing for Tiger. They want to see good golf in general they’re not anti-the-other-guys, but they’re certainly rooting for Tiger more so than the other guys. But, funny you guys ask that question. The week before in Akron, I had a little incident with a guy who was harassing my guy on the 14th hole at Akron the last day outside the ropes, roughening him up pretty good. And I said, hey listen bud, why do you gotta go there? Everyone’s having a good time, everyone’s pulling for Tiger. You don’t like the guy that’s one thing, but you don’t to be yelling at my guy, screaming negative stuff like that. And I said at the end of the day, if you affect him, his performance, it effects my bottomline. So he calls me a couple names and I go back and forth with the guy, and I say why don’t you just leave. And he says well if you give me $25 for the ticket that I bought today I’ll leave. And I said here you go, here’s $25.”

Mike: “Did he leave?”

Joe: “So I whip out $25 and he starts to go down the 14th fairway toward the green. I say look pal $25 is $25 you gotta head the other way. So he starts to head the other way, he goes 20 yards down the line, then he calls me a certain other, a swear word. So I run 20 yards back the other way and I’m going face to face with this guy. And all the sudden Tiger’s looking for a yardage, and I’m in it with this guy 20 yards down the line. So some cop has to come in, push this guy outta the way, and take him outta the tournament.

Mike: “So what did Tiger say when you came back to give him the yardage?”

Joe: “Well that’s a great question. We were so far to the right of the trees, and he was on his third shot believe it or not, we were still 150 yards away from the green, and he didn’t really know what happened. He heard the commotion, he heard the guy yelling at him, so we talked about it after the fact, but he didn’t really know how it developed. And he says I was wondering what happened, and he goes normally it wouldn’t that long to get a yardage. I said well a little incident down the road. He didn’t have a problem with it, and actually I gotta standing ovation for kicking the guy outta there.

Security probably should have happened sooner when LaCava was $25 richer.

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19th Hole

A brief cart ride (by his caddie) has big implications for Akshay Bhatia at the U.S. Amateur

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16-year-old Akshay Bhatia may be looking for a new caddie for his next event. The rising star of amateur golf was penalized when his caddie accepted a ride on a golf cart at the 14th hole during the round of 64 at the U.S. Amateur.

Bhatia would go on to lose to Bradford Tilley.

The match was all square at the 14th. Chris Darnell, Bhatia’s caddie, made a pit stop at the bathroom after Bhatia hit his approach. While the player walked to the green, Darnell was approached by what he believed was a USGA official driving a golf cart.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell said afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Of course, neither players nor caddies can ride on any form of transportation during the round unless authorized, per the Rules of Golf. Bhatia was penalized accordingly and lost the hole after a (real) official spotted the infraction.

Particularly frustrating for the golfer was the fact that he had birdied the par-5 and believed he was going 1 up on his opponent, only to find out they were all square.

As mentioned, Bhatia would go on to lose in 19 holes.

Adding another layer to this drama, Darnell said Tilley’s caddie had done the same thing earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

What are the chances Tilley or his caddie admit to the infraction now? And who is this mystery idiot who loves the USGA enough to drape himself in their garb but is daft enough to blatantly break a straightforward rule of competition?

Dumb rule? Certainly in this sense. But so many situations exist in amateur play that you can understand why the USGA would level a prohibition on transportation. Still, shouldn’t there be some room for interpretation? It’s difficult to argue Bhatia himself gained any advantage…

What do you think, GolfWRX members?

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