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Opinion & Analysis

Predicting Friday’s Ryder Cup pairings

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With less than 24 hours to go until the 2018 Ryder Cup begins, speculation is rife regarding the pairings for Friday’s opening foursomes and four-ball action. While attempting to nail down the Friday morning pairings is difficult enough, I decided to take the challenge a little further by predicting both Friday’s pairings, and how much action each star is likely to see over the three days at Le Golf National.

Team Europe

Rose/Stenson

This intimidating twosome played together three times at Hazeltine back in 2016, and both men played all five sessions that year. Based on the practice groups, it looks likely Captain Bjorn will opt for this fearsome pairing once more to get things going on Friday morning. While I feel Justin Rose is a lock to feature five times this week, Henrik Stenson will most likely sit for one session, as the Swede has been suffering from a wrist injury for the past few weeks.

McIlroy/Rahm

The firepower and energy of this twosome would be so much fun to watch, and it is something I need in my life. Europe’s pairings are far more difficult to predict and generally more susceptible to change session by session, but I have a feeling Thomas Bjorn may well let the wild bull, Jon Rahm, loose in his Ryder Cup debut alongside Rory McIlroy. As with the opening pairing, I feel McIlroy is odds-on to feature five times this week, while Rahm is more likely to sit for a session. However, that may change were he to bulldoze his way through an opening match.

Poulter/Hatton

It’s one step up from blind guessing at this point on regarding Team Europe’s pairings, but with the experience of Ian ‘The Postman’ Poulter, it’s likely that Bjorn will send Europe’s talisman into action with a Ryder Cup rookie. I can see that man being Tyrrell Hatton, who may need a Ryder Cup veteran to control his emotions in the heat of battle. Poulter featured three times at Gleneagles and four times at Medinah, and I expect him to play four sessions this time around. Hatton will likely feature a maximum of three times all week.

Fleetwood/Molinari

This pairing would be another case of a Ryder Cup debutante going out with an experienced head. I think there is a good possibility of these two playing together, and I have a hunch that Tommy Fleetwood will be a star at this event. I also feel the Englishman will feature more than Molinari this week, who has gone off the boil a little recently.

Garcia/Noren

I’d like to see this pairing, and I think it would be a success. There are concerns that Bjorn’s decision to give Sergio Garcia a wildcard pick will backfire the same way Darren Clarke’s decision to provide Lee Westwood with a wildcard in 2016 did. However, I have more confidence in Garcia than most this week, and playing alongside the man who won at Le Golf National earlier this year may well get the best out of the Spaniard. Noren could well feature four times this week, while Garcia is likely to play one session less.

Casey/Olesen

A little weak on paper perhaps, but that’s not to say that this pairing can’t succeed, especially in foursomes action. The smart money is on both Paul Casey and Thorbjørn Olesen featuring three times this week, but if things go wrong on Friday, Olesen especially, will not be taking an appearance on Saturday for granted.

Team USA

Woods/Reed

All the talk of Woods and DeChambeau has quietened and judging by the practice pairings and whispers; it looks like Patrick Reed will be the man to play alongside Tiger. This pairing would be an explosive way for Captain Furyk to kick things off on Friday morning, and I think he’ll do just that. Rich Beem, speaking on Sky Sports UK, stated that he would be surprised if Woods featured more than three times this week. I would be stunned not to see him play four matches though, as his precision iron play could be pivotal for the U.S. this week. It all depends on how they get out of the gate, but should they get off to a hot start, then Reed could well play all five sessions once again.

Spieth/Thomas

It appears the successful Spieth/Reed pairing is over, with rumors indicating the breakdown was due to some public comments made earlier this year by Patrick Reed. Jordan Spieth’s close friendship with Justin Thomas would make this a comfortable setting for both Spieth and the Ryder Cup debutante Thomas. As with Fleetwood, I’m expecting big things from Thomas this week, and I can see him featuring 4/5 times at Le Golf National. Spieth, who has not been at his best lately, may have to settle for three sessions.

Fowler/Johnson

Another pairing that looks very likely according to reports, and this one has the potential to go either way. The need for precision off the tee may hurt this twosome, with Johnson’s accuracy issue being the main concern. The big-hitting American played four sessions at Hazeltine, and it’s likely he’ll get the same amount of game time at Le Golf National. Fowler will most likely play the same amount, although three may be all he can manage, having just recovered from an oblique injury.

Mickelson/DeChambeau

Playing alongside Mickelson this week may well be a thankless task. The American dropped four strokes to the field off the tee at East Lake, and on a golf course at Le Golf National where precision off the tee will be critical, it’s not hard to envisage him struggling. It looked dead set to be DeChambeau and Woods teeing off together, but a lot has changed, and the youngster now seems to be making his Ryder Cup debut alongside Mickelson. I don’t see Mickelson featuring more than three times this week, while DeChambeau has a greater chance of acquiring more playing time. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Bryson paired up with Tiger at some stage this week.

Watson/Simpson

Bubba goes to Paris. I struggle to see how this ends well. The American’s ball striking has been all over the place lately, losing strokes to the field for his approach play in seven of his last eight events, and last week at East Lake dropping 12.4 strokes to the field tee to green. On paper, this is undoubtedly Team USA’s weakest lineup, and Simpson’s average Ryder Cup record (2-3-1) doesn’t inspire much confidence either. As a big Bubba Watson fan, I’d love to be proved wrong, but I see him picking up no points on Friday and then not being seen again until Sunday. Simpson may squeeze one more session out of the week than Watson.

Koepka/Finau

Finally, the big hitting and unassuming Brooks Koepka looks likely to take Tony Finau under his wing this week. This pairing has plenty of upside to it, and my gut says that both men will perform well at Le Golf National. However, I’d be surprised to see these two play every session together and I believe Koepka, who was superb at Hazeltine, will feature in at least four sessions in Paris.

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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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Opinion & Analysis

Brooks Koepka’s coach, Claude Harmon III, on BK’s PGA Championship victory, working with the game’s best, and more

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Coming fresh of the celebration of Brooks Koepka’s fourth major win, Koepka’s long-time coach, Claude Harmon III chatted with Johnny Wunder as he was just about to hop on a plane back to The Floridian.

Here are the highlights of their conversation.

JW: Claude how you doin’?

CH3: Uh, I’m hungover!

JW: Brooks is walking off the 18th green after another major triumph. What is the first thing you guys said to each other?

CH3: Well, obviously there was a lot of emotion in that moment, but he told me it was the happiest he has ever been on the golf course, and after everything he’s done, that’s a big statement.

For him to put in all the hard work and to fight as hard as he did on a golf course that completely changed on the last day and come out on top makes me extremely grateful to be a part of the team that supports that. I believe he will find out more about himself from getting through the final nine holes than he would if he would have had a parade coming in and won by seven.

JW: That’s a great point. It seems like he is more apt to win even more majors based on that back nine than he would have otherwise.

CH3: I don’t think if you were watching it on TV you could have any appreciation for just how difficult it was. What DJ did yesterday was impossible and having that up ahead applies even more pressure to a leader. Ricky Elliott and BK are looking at the scoreboard and seeing DJ and 3 under and having no idea how that’s even possible. It was that tough.

JW: I think Brooks stubbornness is part of his true greatness. Would you agree?

CH3: His perspective constantly was “I’m still in the lead and someone is going to have to catch me and this golf course is extremely difficult.” Even after all the bogeys on the back side, he still controlled the lead and kept that mantra. The crowd yelling “DJ! DJ!” actually didn’t piss him off, it woke him up.

JW: How did yesterday compare to Shinnecock? 

CH3: At Shinnecock it was an interesting situation because Fleetwood…posted before BK was even off and in that case, Brooks said it was like playing against a ghost. No matter what he does, Tommy isn’t going to make any more mistakes or change in any way. That’s a tough scenario when you are staring at a number that won’t move for 5 1/2 hours.

JW: What do Brooks and DJ have that people can learn from.

CH3: It’s funny because we hear these cliches in sports psychology all the time, but I believe those two are the living embodiment of ONE SHOT AT A TIME. They don’t look back. Ever.

JW: Speaking on DJ. I’m watching the back nine and thinking to myself this guy is playing out of his mind, it was literally a battle of the best.

CH3: We talk about it all the time in golf, what we always want is the two best players in the world going toe to toe. We had that yesterday and I hope as time goes by we can look at this final round as a battle we will be talking about for a long time. Best players in the world on a tough but fair golf course with the ultimate prize on the line. In situations like this when there is this kind of pressure and these stakes you can look at the leaderboard and see the cream rising to the top. Rory, DJ, Jordan all with good rounds on a really tough day.

JW: You met Brooks in 2013, he showed up in his mom’s beat up Explorer and don’t know him at all. What was your first impression?

CH3: I was introduced to him by Pete Uihlein, his old roommate, and at first glance, he had raw talent and a ton of speed, but no plan. At the time he was hitting a draw and was uncomfortable with that. He told me his current coach wanted him to hit draws, and I said well that’s your fault, not your coach’s. It’s the player’s responsibility to manage himself and the information he’s comfortable with. When we worked on him getting into a fade, he started to click and he turned to me and said “it can’t be this easy.” My reply was “it has to be this easy!” At that level, under the gun, it better be easy. [Golf is] tough enough already.

JW: What were his career goals early on?

CH3: Even then, he wanted to be an elite player who won multiple majors. I was coaching Ernie Els at the time who had just won his fourth major and Brooks was on the Challenge Tour. He was committed to getting there but needed guidance, someone with a plan that wasn’t just his golf swing. Obviously, it worked out.

JW: What would you say is the Harmon secret to getting the best players in the world to peak as often as you guys do?

CH3: My dad told me: “What you don’t say is just as important as what you do say.” At the Masters this year Brooks, in practice, was really struggling. Look, it’s Masters week and I’m not going to go in there and start putting thoughts in his head. At that point, if this is a shuttle launch, we are in the cockpit and there is no turning back. My dad always had his guys have a go-to shot that they “knew” they could hit. Brooks calls it his “fairway finder” which is a squeeze off fade with a driver. I told him to hit a couple of those knowing it might spur some confidence. After a few absolute flushed misses, his confidence went up and he turned to me and said…”fairway finder all day.” The rest is history.

JW: You coach DJ, Brooks, Jimmy Walker and Rickie. Describe each in one word

JW: DJ
CH3: Natural

JW: Brooks
CH3: Tough MF

JW: Rickie
CH3: Genuine

JW: Jimmy
CH3: Soulful

JW: Thanks old friend
CH3: Talk soon, thanks man.

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Podcasts

On Spec: Swing weight is overrated

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A deep dive into one of the most talked about but truly misunderstood aspects of club building: swing weight. What it really means, and why it isn’t the end all be all for a set of clubs.

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

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Bethpage Black

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Bethpage’s Black course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened for play in 1936. It was immediately considered one of the best tests of golf in the world, and it has tested golfers coming from all over the world in its 83-year history. Bethpage State Park itself has five courses. The Green was the first course built and was originally called Lennox Hills Country Club. In the early 1930s, the Bethpage Park Authority purchased Lennox Hills CC and other adjacent property and turned the whole thing into what is now known as Bethpage State Park. Course architect A.W. Tillinghast was hired to remodel what would become the Green course as well as build the Blue, Red, and finally the Black. The Yellow Course was designed by Alfred Tull and opened in 1958.

Bethpage first hosted a major championship in 2002 when it hosted the U.S, Open. What is somewhat forgotten 17 years later as it hosts its third major, is how much the course had fallen into disrepair by the mid-1990s. Luckily, the USGA could see through all of that and helped fund a complete restoration that was overseen personally by Dave Catalano, the larger than life (in both stature and personality) head of Bethpage State Park. Dave had been working at Bethpage since he was a kid in 1967, picking up papers in the picnic area. It was his baby, and with Rees Jones by his side, they painstakingly restored the Black to its former greatness and into a true championship test of golf. After the PGA Championship, the Black will be back in the spotlight 2024 as host of the Ryder Cup, joining a very short list of courses to host a U.S. Open, a PGA Championship, and a Ryder Cup.

Playing the Black is one of the most unique experiences in the game because of what it takes to get a tee time. There are a very limited number of tee times. They are easier to get if you are a NY resident, but for most of us, it’s first come, first serve. Which in practical terms means they have a parking lot with numbered spaces and people start showing up the day before to sleep in their cars to play. In fact, I can proudly say that the last three times I slept in my car it was just to play at Bethpage. One of those times I didn’t even get out on the Black and had to settle for playing the Red! Should have eaten dinner in the car I guess….

Every time I have slept in the car I have had a great time. It’s a party in the lot with a bunch of golfers hanging out all excited to play the next day. There’s usually a few beers around and one of the times, someone called a cab and went and got 50 cheeseburgers from McDonald’s at 1 a.m. to show us all some top-notch NY hospitality! That’s definitely not an experience you will have going to play any other top courses!

Once you finally do get to sleep, the staff wakes you up around 4 a.m. to go get in line and get your tee time and course assignment. Then you can go back to sleep or go eat breakfast or hit balls or whatever you want until it’s your turn to tee off. On your way to the tee, you see the famous WARNING sign telling you that the Black Course is an extremely difficult course which they recommend only for highly skilled golfers. Hopefully, you didn’t lose your tee ticket because you will need that to get onto the tee and trust me, they aren’t messing around with the rules!

The golf course itself sits on a huge, sprawling, fantastic piece of land with abundant elevation change and lots of random contours. The bunkering is big and bold and not to be messed with. There is abundant long fescue and numerous trees off to the sides of the holes which combined with the beautiful bunkering makes for a very beautiful setting.

The first hole is a downhill, almost 90-degree dogleg right. The fairway is pretty flat and so is the well-bunkered green. The key for the player is to put their drive into the right place in the fairway to get a good angle to the hole location. From here you cross Round Swamp Rd and head to the second, which is a short, uphill par 4 of 389 yards. The fairway slants a little right to left and the green is elevated and can be a challenge to hold. The third is a par 3 that plays about 160 yards normally but has been brought back to 230 the PGA. This is one of the more interesting greens on the course; it’s wide on the right and falls away as it gets to the back and tapers to a smaller, more narrow section on the left. Bunkers flank the short left and right side of the green.

The fourth hole is vintage Bethpage Black and probably the most photographed on the course. A huge bunker flanks the left side of the fairway off the tee of the 517-yard par-5. Another, even more huge bunker looms at the end of the fairway cut into the from right to left. The tee shot is downhill but the rest of the hole is uphill. There is a second fairway to layup over the big bunker where you will have a partial view of the small, flattish green that falls away slightly and is protected by two more deep bunkers to the front and left. The fifth is a monster par 4 of almost 480 yards. A massive fairway bunker guards the right side of the fairway which is also the best angle to come into the small, elevated green guarded by two deep bunkers short and one over the green.

FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK – MAY 15: A general view of the fifth green is seen during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 15, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

No. 6 gets back into the more open and less tree-lined part of the property. The tee shot is semi-blind and over a hill. The landing area is pinched by bunkers on both sides. The long hitter who can carry the hill should have a very short shot into the flattish, oval shaped green that’s open in front and protected by bunkers on both sides. No. 7 is a converted par 5 that plays as a par 4 for the PGA. At 524 yards, it’s very long and the tee shot requires a long poke over another large fairway bunker. The green is again pretty flat and protected by deep bunkers in front.

The eighth hole is unique for the Black as it’s the only hole with water in play. A 210-yard drop shot to a green with some slope from right to left and front to back and a ridge running on a diagonal angle through the middle of the green. The shot must carry the pond short of the green and there is a deep bunker left and a hillside right. Nine is a 460-yard hard dogleg left that drops down off the tee and back up to the green. Another very deep bunker guards the left side and can be carried by the longer hitter. The right side of the fairway is the safe play off the tee but leaves an awkward shot out of a gully up to the green. The green is heavily guarded in front again by deep bunkers.

As the players make the turn, they are confronted with another long, tight par 4 of just over 500 yards. Hitting the fairway is key here as the fairway is heavily guarded by bunkers and fescue. The green sits on the other side of a little gully and is guarded once again by a set of deep bunkers. The 11th hole is 435 yards and has probably the most interesting green on the course. It has a little false front and two distinct tiers with some nice internal movement. A really good green on any course it stands out on the Black amongst what is mostly a flatter set of greens. 12 forces the players to carry it 285 over a massive cross bunker on the 515-yard par 4. The green is back to the more typical flattish oval, and characteristically is guarded in the front on both sides by deep bunkers. 13 is a par 5 of over 600 yards. One of the least bunkered holes on the course, there are a few bunkers on the left and a great little cross bunker about 60 yards short of the green that obscures the view of the green and will make the players think twice about going for the green in two. 14 is the best chance for birdie on the course. A par 3 that plays only 160 yards over a valley to a narrow, long green.

After walking off the 14th green the players cross back over Round Swamp Road to the home stretch of the course. 15 is always the hardest hole on the course for me when I play the Black. The hole plays 460 yards. The tee shot is flat to a fairway that bends slightly right to left and has no bunkers. The second shot is massively uphill. Over a hillside set with bunkers and a small section of fairway to a green set into the top of the hill and guarded by the deepest bunkers on the course. A very hard hole to make par if you miss the fairway or miss the green. The 16th has a downhill tee shot that will test the player’s judgement of the wind if there is any present. The green is well guarded especially to the right and is small with a little slant to it. The 17th is an uphill brute of a 210-yard par 3. The green is 45 yards wide and is huge. However, it does not look big from the tee as it is set amongst a veritable minefield of bunkers waiting to swallow up any wayward shots. The players walk up a hill to the 18th tee and stare down at a fairway that gets severely pinched in the middle by the huge bunkers on both sides. The green is then back uphill, it’s medium sized with a slight kidney shape and two deep, artistically shaped bunkers set into the hillside short.

All of this adds up to a great test of championship golf.  The course is pretty straightforward. There is not a ton of strategy other than hit it long and straight and make as many putts as you can. The greens are mostly pretty flat so there should be a lot of chances for birdie for those that can reach the greens in regulation. That said, the course has a ton of character when it comes to the land movement and elevation changes as well as the massive, artistic bunkers. New Yorkers are VERY proud of the Black and for a very good reason. It’s a fantastic golf course. Golf needs more top courses like the Black that are accessible to everyone and challenging to even the best players in the world.

 

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19th Hole

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