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Opinion & Analysis

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

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Whoops, we did it again. While not as dramatic as the 7th hole concern of 2004, the Saturday of 2018 seemed eerily familiar. The commentators were divided on the question of whether the USGA was pleased with the playing conditions. The suggestion was, the grass in the rough was higher than necessary, and the cuts of the fairway and greens were just a bit too close of a shave. No matter, everyone finished and the band played on. The hashtag #KeepShinnyWeird didn’t trend, but Saturday the 16th was certainly not ordinary. Five weird things we learned, on the way.

5) Phil’s breaking point

It wasn’t violent. No outburst or hysteria. We’d seen Phil leap in triumph at Augusta. Now we’ve seen the Mickelson jog, albeit under most different circumstances. Near as we can determine, for a moment Phil forgot that he was playing a U.S. Open. After belting a downhill, sliding bogey putt well past the mark, the left-handed one discerned that the orb would not come to rest for quite some time: a lower tier beckoned. As if dancing a Tarantella, Phil sprang toward the ball and gave it a spank while still it moved. Just like that, his quadruple-bogey 8 become a 10, thanks to the 2 strokes for striking a moving ball penalty. In true warrior fashion, Mickelson accepted the penalty without questions, intimating that it saved him another stroke or two in the end. Yeesh. Phil, we feel you.

4) DJ’s front-nine free fall

Just as unlikely as Phil’s whack-and-walk was Dustin Johnson’s front nine of 41. The cool gunslinger of Thursday-Friday faced the same turmoil as the other 66 golfers remaining, and the outward nine did not go according to his plan. DJ got past the opening hole with par, after making bogey there on Friday. Number two was another story. Double bogey on the long par three was followed by 4 bogeys in 5 holes, beginning with the 4th. The irony once again was, Johnson struggled on holes that the field did not necessarily find difficult. Hole No. 2 was the 10th-ranked hole for difficulty on day 3, while 4 and 7 were 13th and 11th-ranked, respectively. Hole No. 6 and 8 did fall in the more difficult half, but not by much. At day’s end, however, the tall drink of water remained in contention for his second U.S. Open title.

3) The firm of Berger and Finau

Each likely anticipated no more than a top-15 placing after 3 days, despite posting the two low rounds of the day, 4-under 66. Those efforts brought them from +7 to +3 for the tournament, but Johnson and the other leaders had yet to tee off. Every indication was lower and deeper; then the winds picked up, blustery like the 100 acre wood of Winnie The Pooh. Both golfers posted 6 birdies against 2 bogeys, to play themselves into the cauldron of contention. Berger has one top-10 finish in major events, while Finau has 2. None of those three came in a U.S. Open, so a win tomorrow by either golfer would qualify as an absolute shock.

2) Recent winners fared well

In addition to Johnson, the 2016 champion, Justin Rose (2013) and Brooks Koepka (2017) found themselves near or in the lead for most of the afternoon. Since Shinnecock Hills offers much of what characterizes links golf, it should come as no surprise that 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson is also within a handful of strokes of the top spot. Rose played the best tee-to-green golf of the leaders on Saturday, but was unable to coax legitimate birdie efforts from his putter. Koepka was the most impressive putter of the day, making up to 60-feet bombs and consistently holing the clutch par saves. On another note, given his victories at Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) and Royal Birkdale (2017 British Open), the missed cut by Jordan Spieth was the week’s biggest surprise.

1) The wind

The most unpredictable of nature’s weapons, the winds of Shinnecock Hills exposed flaws in the course preparation. Areas that would have held off-line putts, were dried out enough to escort those efforts off the shortest grass, into the runoff compartments. The zephyrs pushed tee balls and approach shots just far enough astray to bring all the danger zones into the recipe. Prediction for tomorrow is, any golfer within 5 shots of the lead has a chance at the title. A Miller-esque round of 63 would bring anyone into contention, if the wind continues to blow. No event appreciates drama more than the U.S. Open, and Sunday at Shinnecock promises plenty of it.

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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.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. 4Right

    Jun 17, 2018 at 11:48 am

    True US golf fans don’t act like the drunk and totally out of control US fans. Those fans shouldn’t even be at a golf tournament. You could hear on the TV telecast the poor treatment of the Euros… Bad taste… As a true golf fan, my apologies to the Euros!!!

  2. Tartan Golf Travel

    Jun 17, 2018 at 9:06 am

    The USGA is totally worthless. They screw up the rules and can’t run tournaments, so what good are they!

    • michael ellenstein

      Jun 17, 2018 at 12:34 pm

      The USGA are a bunch of old fools. They have completely lost touch with the rank and file golfer and are apparently incompetent at running tournaments. It’s time for a replacement – any replacement.

  3. Nick

    Jun 17, 2018 at 8:56 am

    I appreciate this will be seen as a European complaining about American fans in a Ryder Cup year but I cannot believe nobody was kicked out after the appalling response the New Yorkers gave Poulter, Rose and Stenson yesterday. That was shocking behaviour. Wouldn’t see that from British fans at The Open when American’s are contending.

  4. PJ

    Jun 17, 2018 at 1:30 am

    How about the absurd amount of yelling from the drunk spectators? Seems like the censor button person had a very busy day.

  5. gif

    Jun 17, 2018 at 12:01 am

    DJ plays with a really bad Spider putter… he should go Mini-Spider because he can’t control the outlandish Spider …!!!!

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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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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Courses

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

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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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Podcasts

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

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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

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