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5 things we learned on Sunday of the 2018 U.S. Open

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Opportunity knocked for so many golfers, yet it was the 2017 champion who seized the moment when it was his. Brooks Koepka fired his second sub-par round of the week on Sunday to separate from playing partner Dustin Johnson, and enter the pantheon of multiple major champions. He became the 7th player to defend his title, joining old-school legends like Willie Anderson and John McDermott, mid-century icons like Ralph Guldahl and Ben Hogan, and the last man to accomplish the feat, Curtis Strange. With that introduction, let’s move to the main event, the 5 things we learned on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills.

5) The USGA gave golf a chance

True to its word, the USGA pulled out all the stops in the wee hours of Sunday morn. The course set-up team ensured that enough water was distributed to putting surfaces, that worthy shots would not be punished. Hole locations were assessed and confirmed, also ensuring that multiple opportunities for success were available. As a result, 15 golfers turned in scores under par of 70, highlighted by Tommy Fleetwood’s 7-under stunner. Although many fans, writers and players were quick to assault the organizers for losing control of the course, the USGA reminded us that it always had control of the conditions at Shinny, and that its only mistake was to soar too close to the sun.

4) Captain America ran out of gas

If Patrick Reed had been able to sign his card on the 9th tee, when he stood 5-under on the day and 1-over for the tournament, he would be in a playoff with the eventual champion as I type. Unfortunate for this year’s Masters champion was that 10 holes remained. Reed promptly bogeyed the 9th, added 3 more bogeys on the inward half, and summoned just one birdie toward the end. His fourth-place finish was his best in a U.S. Open, but knowing that victory was in the cards will sting for a while.

3) DJ and Finau gave it a run

Where to begin? How about this: DJ had four bogeys on Sunday. He totaled that many on Thursday-Friday combined. He had birdies, too, but couldn’t find the game that possessed him over the opening 36 holes. Oddly enough, this type of experience won’t be a setback for the 2016 champion. After all, he came back from a career-killer in 2015, when he 3-whacked his way out of a playoff with Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay. As for Milton Pouhau Finau, aka Tony, the Utah native had never before been in the final group on any day of a major professional championship. He acquitted himself well, standing even on the day and 3-over for T2 at the 18th tee. Knowing that he needed eagle for a playoff might have taken the final winds from his sails, and he limped home with double bogey and solo third. Looking ahead to the final August playing of the PGA Championship, Bellerive near St. Louis might just be his type of course.

2) Tom Terrific nearly made his own U.S. Open history

I’ll write this cautiously, as I’m certain I would have intimated in the 1980s and 90s that Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood would have been major champions by now. Tommy Fleetwood ought to win one of these things soon. His record-tying 63 was a short putt away from a record-breaking 62. Eight birdies against a single bogey was the stuff of legend, and if only he had trusted that final putt a bit higher on the break … that’s not fair. Fleetwood right now is the fellow to watch at Carnoustie next month. Bet a few quid or bob or whatever on the Southport native, as he should contend for the title.

1) Brooks cooks up a winning broth

It’s easy to look back and see all the great shots that the defending champion hit over the four days of the 2018 U.S. Open, shots that would win him his second consecutive trophy. Remember that 60-feet bomb to save par on Saturday? Shades of Costantino Rocca. How about the approach shots to within mere feet that earned him 5 birdies on Sunday, including a competition-killer on 16? Koepka was the guy we thought Dustin Johnson would be. Perhaps it was the time off for wrist rehabilitation early this season that gave him the burning desire to win. Out for nearly 4 months, Koepka had plenty of time to ponder what he achieved last June in Wisconsin, and what might lay ahead for him. The begged question is, does the most recent, two-time major winner have the game to acquire more of the game’s cherished trophies?

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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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.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Bob Parson Jr.

    Jun 19, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    The USGA sucks!
    The USGA sucks!
    The USGA sucks!
    The USGA sucks!
    And…
    The USGA sucks!

  2. Fang

    Jun 19, 2018 at 2:25 am

    Thanks for linking to unwatchable videos.

  3. Chuck Barkley

    Jun 18, 2018 at 3:00 am

    Tip of the cap to him, phenomenal display of power and finesse. I’m not sure he will be stopped at Pebble unless the USGA decides to move some of the holes into the ocean!

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Wednesday’s photos from the 2019 Terra Cotta Invitational

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GolfWRX is live from the 2019 Terra Cotta Invitational at Naples National Golf Club, which will be contested April 26-28. Past winners of the amateur event include Justin Thomas and Emiliano Grillo.

Denny Glass, chairman of the Terra Cotta Invitational, was kind enough to give us a little more information about the tournament.

For GolfWRX members who aren’t familiar, tell me a little bit about the tournament and its history

Glass: The Terra Cotta Invitational began in 1996 and was originally a combination stroke play/match play event. 20 players were invited and they played 36 holes of stroke play then the top four finishers went on to match play with the others playing an 18 hole consolation match.

I changed it to a 54-hole stroke play event with 50 players in 2006 when I took over as Tournament Chair. This was done to be eligible for Titleist/Golfweek Amateur Ranking Points. The field increased over the years and now has 75-81 players. The tournament is now ranked as a “B” level event in the WAGR (World Amateur Golf Rankings) run by the USGA and R&A. This ranking is one level below the top-ranked events in the world. The WAGR rankings are based on the strength of the field so we are proud to be ranked so highly.

As it’s an invitational tournament, can you tell me a bit about who gets invited in general and who’s in the field this year, specifically? Tournament format?

Glass: It is an invitational so we invite as many of the top-ranked amateur players as are available. The field consists of many juniors (up to age 18), mid-amateurs (19-25) and some seniors (50+), along with collegiate players. While it is an invitational, we still receive more than 150 applications to play.

Can you talk about the host course and the relationship with Naples National?

The tournament is played at Naples National Golf Club. The tournament was started by the membership back in 1996. The club opened in 1993. The club hosted the World Championship of Golf, which was an LPGA event in its second year.

I know the charitable impact is important. Can you tell us about that?

The net proceeds are donated to Naples based children’s focused charities. The tournament has donated over $517,000 since it began.

Wednesday’s photos

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Equipment

Spotted: Dustin Johnson with new Fujikura Ventus prototype at the Masters, RBC Heritage

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Beyond the obvious big news of some guy named Mr. Woods winning his fifth green jacket this past weekend, there were some pretty interesting developments with another player that runs on a first name basis or at least initials: DJ switched drivers MID tournament and had a new Fujikura Ventus prototype shaft to go along with his new TaylorMade M6 as he took on Augusta National Saturday and Sunday.

We don’t have all the details yet, but from what we have heard so far this new Prototype Black Ventus is an even lower launching version of the blue Ventus currently available. If history is correct, and we are looking at a line extension, then the colors tell a lot of the story. The Atmos line features both a blue and black version with a final higher-launching red version to round out the series in what Fuji calls their color-coded launch system to make fitting and product recognition just that much easier.

Photos of the “black” prototype via Fujikura.

It’s not unusual for shaft companies like Fujikura to bring out prototype profiles utilizing technologies from their newest lines to try and get them into the bags of more players. Fuji’s newest technology is VeloCore, and we have already seen it adopted at a high rate. Here is some more info from Fujikura to explain the technology

“VeloCore is a multi-material core comprised of ultra-high modulus Pitch 70 Ton Carbon Fiber (about 150% stronger and more stable than T1100g) and 40 Ton bias layers that are the full length of the shaft for incredible stability. VeloCore Technology promotes consistent center-face impact and provides ultimate stability, tightening dispersion and increasing control. The result is a shaft that maximizes the MOI (moment of inertia) and ball speed of your clubhead through the reduction of twist during the swing and at impact, especially on off-center hits.”

This makes sense, considering any contact made beyond an absolutely perfect (almost impossible from a physics standpoint) strike in line with the COG of a driver head traveling at 120 mph will result in twisting at impact — MOI is maximized in driver heads to increase stability along with spin with Ventus and VelocCore, Fujikura thanks to their Enzo system, is better understanding how that relationship works with the shaft to produce new and better products.

Anyway, since we know DJ deviated from his traditional Fujikura Speeder Evolution II Tour Spec driver shaft for his weekend rounds this past weekend, we can expect to see it again this week at the RBC Heritage this week at Hilton Head, and we’ll have our eyes peeled to see where else this shaft pops up on tour.

Johnson teeing off during Wednesday’s RBC Heritage Pro-Am.

 

 

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Courses

No. 12 at Augusta National: The Golden Bell tolls for Koepka, Molinari

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On Sunday, Tiger Woods accomplished what many thought he could never do by winning another major championship, the 2019 Masters. In collecting his fifth green jacket, Tiger added a new luster to what was already a brilliant legacy. Woods overcame unusual start times, difficult conditions and a generation of young golf warriors that he helped to create. And like every champion before him, Woods had to contend with holes 11 through 13 on Sunday, the beautiful beast nicknamed Amen Corner by the great golf writer Herbert Warren Wind.

Of the three holes, it seems that 12 is the one that has drowned more hopes and dreams in the creek that winds through the terrible trio than either of the other two. Arnold Palmer made six on Sunday in 1959 on the way to losing to Art Wall by two. Tom Weiskopf made a mind-boggling 13 in 1980. Greg Norman had a double bogey during his Sunday collapse in 1986. And there’s Jordan Speith’s quadruple bogey in 2016, which some think he has still not recovered from. Through the generations, the hole named Golden Bell has sounded a death knell for many a would-be champion.

This week, I had the opportunity to walk the back nine at Augusta National with Robert Trent Jones, Jr. Jones is an acclaimed golf course designer in his own right but he is also the son of the legendary Robert Trent Jones, the man who designed the second nine at Augusta National as we know it today and therefore shaped history and the outcome of so many Sundays for so many players.

As we walked along the holes Jones described the changes both dramatic and subtle that his father had made in 1948 to shape the second nine, and I came to a greater understanding of why the stretch is so special. The second nine was deliberately crafted as the ultimate offer of risk/reward. It was designed to create heroes and tragic figures of epic proportions. As we got to the tee box at number 12, Mr. Jones’ well-known face (as well as the microphone I was holding in front of it) caused a crowd together around us as he described what his father had done with the most famous par three in golf.

Jones pointed out how the wide, narrow green on the 12th follows the path of Rae’s Creek which runs in front of it.

“It appears that the creek and the green are running almost perpendicular to the tee box at 12, but the right side of the green is actually significantly further away from the golfer than the left side. This is critical when it comes to playing the Sunday hole location on the right side of the green. Because of the way the hole is framed by water and bunkers, the golfer is deceived into either selecting the wrong club or taking a half swing, which often leads to a shot into the water.”

Jones’s words proved prophetic, as Brooks Koepka and Francisco Molinari made watery double bogeys that doomed their championship hopes. Woods, on the other hand, made par on 12, providing the spark that eventually led to his victory. How did Woods negotiate the 12th?

Again, RTJII shared his crystal ball. “Jack Nicklaus played the 12th better than anyone because he always played to the middle of the green,” noted Jones. “Jack felt that whether the pin was on the right or the left, a shot over the front bunker to the center of the green would take a big number out of play and maybe leave an opportunity for a birdie.”

Sure enough, on Sunday while pretenders to the throne went pin seeking with either the wrong club or ill-advised half swings, Woods channeled his inner Nicklaus, hitting a full-swing 9-iron with conviction to the middle of the green and safely two-putting. It was at once humble and heroic. It was the thing that heroes and champions do: survive demons in order to slay dragons. The moment his tee shot on 12 landed safely was the moment that I, and many others, knew in our hearts that Tiger Woods was, in fact, going to win again at Augusta. It is a singular accomplishment, made possible by his combination of wisdom and nerve at number 12 on Sunday. Amen, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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