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Rory explains how the European team setup Le Golf National to “neutralize” the U.S. players

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As the 2018 Ryder Cup weekend wore on at Le Golf National, and the United States kept digging itself into a deeper hole, it became obvious Team USA was in trouble. The Europeans turned a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead on Friday, extended the lead to 10-6 on Saturday, and won the Ryder Cup 17.5 to 10.5. A thorough beat down.

But why? What happened to the stacked United States team, filled with top-ranked golfers, hall-of-famers, veterans, and talented rookies.

What the U.S. media, and possibly the U.S. “task force,” didn’t know going into the event was how penal Le Golf National was on wayward drives; hitting fairways was essential. And it seemed the U.S. players were playing from the incredibly thick rough surrounding the narrow fairways, or taking drops from water hazards, or hitting balls over fences (Reed), way more often than the European players were at “Paris National” — as Rory McIlroy referred to the course in a post-event interview.

When you look at the driving accuracy stats from the 2017-2018 season via PGA Tour’s website, it starts making more sense:

It seems the Europeans, however, were privy to that knowledge, and actually set Le Golf National up purposely tough off the tee to put the United States at a disadvantage.

Here’s what Rory told interviewer Jimmy Roberts about home-course advantage after the Ryder Cup match on the Golf Channel’s telecast.

“It is an advantage to be playing at home. The crowds being mostly for the home team, and I think the captain has a little bit of control on what he can do with the golf course. You know, we’ve set this golf course up very tough this week so it neutralizes some of the bombers that were on the U.S. side. You have to do what you have to do to give yourself any slight advantage. We knew that coming in and we neutralized the big ball hitters here and it paid off for us.”

Paid off it did. The Europeans regained the Ryder Cup in convincing fashion.

Full recap of the Sunday singles matches at the 2018 Ryder Cup.

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He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team and earned a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. big jones

    Oct 1, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    Maybe “leave your egos” comment meant for the US to gear back and not play bomb and gauge?

  2. James Sweeney

    Oct 1, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    Had this discussion pre cup. There should be a neutral party to set up the course. Skewing the course toward on side or the other is contrary to the egalitarian ethos of the game.

    • Clint

      Oct 2, 2018 at 9:19 am

      In golf it’s perfectly fair to set the course up so it suits one team’s game. Both teams have to play the same course so they’re both subjected to the same challenges. This is no different than the shift in baseball, zone defense against good isolation teams in basketball, and various defenses in football to take away another team’s advantage.

  3. dixiedoc

    Oct 1, 2018 at 11:13 am

    Oh, now we lost because the course was too hard for our long hitters. Didn’t East Lake have the same set up, narrow fairways and thick rough. I don’t think the course caused Rickie or Phil to hit it into the water from the fairway. Sour grapes. The US just got their rump whipped. Stop making excuses

  4. Charles Griffin

    Sep 30, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    This isn’t new. It’s been done for at least two decades now.

  5. jim

    Sep 30, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    should have told many US players to ditch the drivers and hit 3 woods. it become more and more obvious as we watched and got to see more of the golf course.

    • A. Commoner

      Sep 30, 2018 at 7:19 pm

      Gee..that would have required very high level thinking! Not an original but …”play the course as you find it!”

  6. CrashTestDummy

    Sep 30, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    I was just thinking about this when watching the Ryder Cup. I was wondering who has the choice of the venue and course setup. The course clearly had an advantage for Europe as it favored the more accurate ball strikers that keep it in play. Narrow fairways, long rough, lots of water, etc. Keeping in the fairway was paramount this week. That is why Molinari won so many matches as he is one of the more accurate ball strikers.

    The US needs to keep this in mind to pick courses and setups that favor their players.

    • A. Commoner

      Sep 30, 2018 at 7:26 pm

      We, USA, already did that. Why would anybody think a bunch of altruists are in charge of course conditions?

  7. Tom Duckworth

    Sep 30, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    I agree with the other posts. If you are worried about players hitting it too far make the rough tougher make the fairways narrower. I’m sure the players will adjust I’m sure the big hitters on tour are good enough to dial it back a little and hit fairways if they had to.

  8. Johnny Penso

    Sep 30, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Is that Rory or a young Mr. Bean in the picture above?

  9. Progolfer

    Sep 30, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    It was nice to see a golf course that emphasized skill, not just brute power like those on the PGA Tour. Le Golf National was a tough, but fair test. I wish they played more courses like that on the PGA Tour!

    • Johnny Penso

      Sep 30, 2018 at 2:43 pm

      For anyone that thinks players hit it too far, this course is the prototype answer to that question. Tough but fair, make the long ball more punished by a wayward hit, difficult rough etc.

    • JustJoeGolf

      Oct 1, 2018 at 11:31 am

      Hitting the ball far is just as much a skill as hitting it straight. It’s the combination of the two that is the ultimate skill.

      • Progolfer

        Oct 1, 2018 at 12:30 pm

        I don’t believe hitting the ball far is a skill. A skill demonstrates precision. Distance requires strength, not skill; accuracy requires skill, not strength.

        • John Reltso

          Oct 1, 2018 at 12:46 pm

          Distance requires plenty of skill. Look at Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, and plenty of others who aren’t necessarily that big or strong. They hit it far because they know how to create the right angles and use their lower bodies correctly. That takes plenty of skill.

        • Rman

          Oct 1, 2018 at 2:56 pm

          of course hitting the ball far is a skill! it requires great technique to do it!

          • Progolfer

            Oct 1, 2018 at 3:22 pm

            Obviously, hitting a ball 300 yards requires skill. It requires skill (which still means PRECISION) to make a good swing and hit it on the sweet spot with speed. That’s not the discussion. My point was that too many golf courses on the PGA Tour reward guys who try to hit it as hard as they can– which is NOT a skill in itself because anyone can do it– and don’t penalize players for missing their target (which requires skill!!). That’s why I like Le Golf National.

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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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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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