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Opinion & Analysis

5 things we learned on Friday at the 2018 U.S. Open



Let’s have a moment for the faces we won’t see live this weekend: Rahm, Sergio, Kuuuuuuch, JDay, Bubba, Rory, Tiger, et al. Shinnecock Hills wasn’t manageable for everyone this week, so let’s get right to those who did take a swig and smile. The 5 things we learned on Friday at the U.S. Open all deal with survivors of the 36-hole cut. Feast!

5) Tommy Fleetwood is more than hair

If you haven’t followed the rise of Sir Thomas of Fleetwood, do a wiki search and catch up. When Fleetwood wins, he does so with the command of a field general. He measures the course with acuity and executes a plan of battle with efficient movement. His Friday-morning 66 was brilliant stuff. Five birdies against one bogey was precisely what he needed to return to contention. On Thursday, he might have gone away with consecutive bogeys on 11, 12 and 13, followed by another at 15. Instead, he birdied the 16th and made his way to the clubhouse at 5-over. His 9-shot, overnight improvement is what he is likely to shoot, not what he is capable of posting. Expect Fleetwood to join the fray in full on Saturday afternoon. He might even be in the final pairing by day’s end.

4) Dustin Johnson is golf’s Buddy the Elf

It may not make sense to you, but it does to me. And my goodness, what an elf! The 2016 U.S. Open champion made bogey at the first hole, the fourth-easiest hole on day one. Only the par 5s (5 and 16) and the 4th hole were kinder than the opener. After that, it was back to red figures. Johnson surgically separated himself from par with birdies at the par-3 7th and 11th holes (the Vegas Toss), and the aforementioned 4th and 16th, to authorize a scorecard of 67 and a 2-day total of 136. At 1:44 p.m., EST, I make this claim: Johnson will win the doily for 36-hole medalist. If he doesn’t, I’ll send three of you a doily. Details on that contest to be determined. Do you remember that eerie calm that Johnson possessed, as the marsupials of rules attempted to steal the 2016 Open from him? It never left, and it will serve him well this weekend. When a long hitter takes pride in his wedge game, props must be given. Hail, Elf! Let’s get that #DJTheElf hashtag started.

3) 1-2-3-7-9-11-12-14-17…Give up?

Half of the world’s top-20 professional golfers are in the top-20 of the U.S. Open. From top-ranked Dustin Johnson to the 17th ranked pro, Marc Leishman, representation seems about right. So much for couch putters who say that Shinnecock is unfair, that it isn’t a proper test, that its fairways are too narrowly wide, its greens too firmly soft. Or was it softly firm? For pity’s sake~ Once again, the U.S. Open has taken on the task of identifying the world’s best golfers. Thirteen of the top-20-and-ties fly the USA flag; five wave the English banner, and the rest raise the stars, bars, etc. of Sweden, Australia and Scotland. Not a bad spread for a decent event, on a playable course. Next candidate for controversy is …

2) No putt today will be greater than this one

Matt Parziale is you, me, her, him…or at least who we want to be. And not for the golf. He’s a fire fighter from Massachusetts. He’s the reigning USGA Mid-Amateur champion. He missed the cut in April at the Masters, although he did leave town with some crystal, thanks to a Friday eagle at the 13th. With the birdie on 18, he guaranteed himself a spot in the field for the final two days of the U.S. Open. After Shinny, will any tournament measure up? Congratulations, #LadderCompany1 of #BrocktonMassachusetts. Your favorite son has done you proud once again.

1) The one who will win their first major is… 

Ian Poulter, who sits at T4? That disastrous triple-single finish may be tough to put behind him, but if there’s anyone who can do, it’s Poults. Maybe Scott Piercy (T2), who salvaged a back nine of 3-over 38 with a front nine of two-under 33. That’s pretty sweet. Charley Hoffman (T2) has challenged in the past at Augusta, and seems to always find himself on major leader boards; can he finally close the door and get it done? Studs Fleetwood and Rickie Fowler, both sitting at 2-over, are within earshot, but they have to maneuver through the group of been-there-done-that major winners all sitting at 1-over; that group includes Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka. Aside from DJ, who may run away with it and ruin our fun, it’s a packed leaderboard sprinkled with vets, winners and hopefuls. Here’s to a great Father’s Day weekend!

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Ronald Montesano writes for 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.

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history



Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska



There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game



Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

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

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19th Hole