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5 things we learned: Sentry Tournament of Champions

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Professional golf returned to television this weekend, in the guise of a 33-player event in Hawaii. The field was reduced from 34 when Kevin Na withdrew immediately prior to the tournament’s start. By week’s end, the contenders were reduced to two, and they gave us a conclusion to remember. In fact, if the 2019 is anything like the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, it will be memorable, exciting and worthwhile. We learned five important things this week at the rolling, tumbling, par-73 layout crafted by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and we feel obligated to share them with you.

1. You have to wonder the Team USA captains overlooked X.

Furyk and company selected Tony Finau over Xander Schauffele for the US Ryder Cup side last fall. Would one switch have made any difference? Doubtful. However, up to that point, Schauffele had more wins than the Utahn Finau (2 to 1), yet was passed over. Since then, Schauffele has won two important events, and Finau has zero. It’s safe to say that the top brass was seduced by the words of peers and the length of Finau. Europe does what it always does at home; it reduced the length of the golf course, forcing Team USA to fit drives, rather than bomb them. Schauffele, at 5 feet 10 inches in height, is as much a fitter as a bomber, and is money when in contention. That’s very valuable when it comes to international team play (unless your name is Tiger Woods, who neither fits drives nor plays particularly well in against Europe or the Rest of the World.) Oh, and if Woods (the 2019 US Presidents Cup captain) makes the same mistake as his Ryder Cup captain did, shame on him.

2. Schauffele low-key shot 11-under par to gut Gary

Ignore what Brandel Chamblee says on television; he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On one hand, he says that Woodland didn’t play aggressively enough, and that’s why he lost. He then invokes Jack Nicklaus as a guy who knew how to win, with or without a lead. Well, Nicklaus was never aggressive, at least more than he needed to be. Neither of these approaches would have helped the rest of the field. Schauffele chipped in for one eagle, holed a wedge for another, and made putt after putt, set up by stellar iron play The winner navigated the final 17 holes, after an ugly, opening bogey, in 12 below par. Shazaam!

3. Woodland sure looks like a different competitor for 2o19, despite the outcome

In post-round interviews, Gary Woodland intimated that Sunday night would be difficult, but Monday would dawn with a clarity, an awareness of how well he played. The Kansan took a 3-shot lead into round 4 and shot 5-below par. He was steady all week (67-67-68-68) on the par-73 Plantation course at Kapalua, Woodland was the only golfer to play four rounds in the 60s to open 2019, and was the best player of the week. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t the best player on Sunday, and he was overtaken by lightning in a bottle.

4. Bryson DeChambeau’s intellect will ride shotgun with his competitive talent all year

When asked how the 2019 rules changes will impact tournament outcomes, the litany of tour professionals answer with opinion at best. Not DeChambeau. He ended 2018 explaining the difference of COR (coefficient of restitution) as related not to club faces, but to flagsticks. Tour sticks, made of fiberglass, would absorb more shock and let balls that hit them drop. USGA shafts, on the other end, are metal, and don’t offer quite the forgiveness. Conclusion: Tour sticks=flag in; USGA sticks=flag tended. DeChambeau then went out and proved his point, making a wave of putts with the stick in, from all sorts of distances. Truth be told, it adds a different element to the game. Instead of the power lip-out, we might have the catastrophic carom. Stay tuned for more of DeChambeau’s fact-based research on golf in general, and his impending 6th tour title.

5. Does Kapalua spotlight the vast gulf between them and us, better than any other course?

I don’t have friends with the good fortune of having played the Plantation course, but I remember playing Chambers Bay, the year of its US Open. I played well, but I felt soooo small. Kapalua is a thrill ride for the touring pro, as each competes for speed slots, offering the jackpot of turning 400+ yard holes into driveable ones. Remember Dustin Johnson’s near-ace at No. 12 last year? If not, have a look below. How many tee decks would the average-distance golfer have to advance, to take advantage of those same, course secrets? My guess is two or three. Golf will always be the one game that allows all participants to hit the shots that the best practitioners execute. What continues to change is the scope of the field on which those shots are hit. Here’s to long drives and laser approach shots, followed by flagstick-rattling putts in 2019!

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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. DaveJ

    Jan 8, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Why would you mention Finau in the Schauffele snub section? Finau played quite well in the Ryder Cup and was a great Captain’s Pick. Mickelson and Tiger were garbage and should be the only targets mentioned.

  2. Ty Webb

    Jan 8, 2019 at 10:17 am

    A+ for Monday morning quarterbacking on the RC captain’s pick. Could not be done any better.

  3. Kris

    Jan 7, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Ron, I am lucky enough to have played there once. It and Glen Abbey are the 2 pga courses I’ve played. I bet I could play a dozen times (and would happily if free lol) and not figure out all the landing areas they find and where to play from. I lost many balls on drives I thought looked great but was just the wrong line. Hit the middle of 18th bloody fw and lost a ball.

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Morning 9: U.S. Open ratings soar | ….and still, calls for Joe Buck’s head | Woodland’s big betting buddies trip

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

June 18, 2019

Good Tuesday morning, golf fans.
1. U.S. Open ratings up 44 percent
AP report on the big uptick in viewership…”This year’s U.S. Open was the most watched since Fox started televising the event in 2015.”
  • “Nielsen ratings show Sunday’s final round averaged 7.31 million viewers and peaked at 10.17 viewers from 9:15 to 9:30 p.m. EDT, when Gary Woodland clinched his first major.”
  • “Sunday’s final round saw an increase of 44% over last year, when an average of 5.09 million watched. It is the first time since 2013 that the final round has averaged over seven million. The 2013 U.S. Open on NBC averaged 8.4 million for the final 18 holes.”
2. When the U.S. Open returns to Pebble…
Good stuff from Geoff Shackelford with some modest (in a Swiftian sense) suggestions regarding what we could see when the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach in 2027
Here’s one thing he sees when looking into his crystal ball…”This year’s pre-tournament buzz centered around how many holes would require driver. But as a new wave of 5-9, 150-pound super jocks continue to overtake pro golf and the governing bodies cave to their marketing departments instead of regulating distance, players in the 2027 U.S. Open ponder whether to add a sixth wedge to their bag over carrying the big stick. Just days before the event and citing pressure on their business model, equipment manufacturers successfully lobby the USGA for a local rule mandating players carry at least one of their drivers, now priced at $750. But 58-year-old Phil Mickelson, playing on a special exemption, bucks the trend and carries three drivers.”
3. Woodland’s debt to basketball
The New York Times’ Karen Crouse…
  • “Gary Woodland grew up a serial monogamist, in love, depending on the season, with basketball, baseball and golf. He bonded with his father on the golf course, aspired to be like the Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett and had shooting-guard dreams of glory until they were crushed in college by a future first-round pick of the Chicago Bulls, Kirk Hinrich.”
  • “Woodland, 35, was tasked with guarding Hinrich in his first game for Division II Washburn University against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. It did not go well. He can remember thinking, “O.K., I need to find something else, because this ain’t going to work.”
  • “The next year, at roughly the same age that the three-time major champion Jordan Spieth won for the first time on the PGA Tour, Woodland transferred to Kansas and fully committed himself to golf. Sixteen years later, Woodland became the first Kansas alumnus to win one of the four major golf championships.”
4. On Gary Woodland’s equipment…
Golf Digest’s E. Michael Johnson…
  • “It’s in the woods where Woodland gets particularly lumberjack-like. His Ping G410 Plus driver is a 9-degree head that actually measures out at 7 degrees. Only Bubba Watson on Ping’s staff plays with less loft. Woodland’s driver shaft is an Accra RPG 472 with the company’s M5 rating, which equates to extra-stiff, and it weighs 76 grams, again probably 25 percent or more heavier than your driver shaft. But that’s not enough for Woodland. The shaft is “tipped” approximately two inches, which makes it play at a stiffness like a triple-X shaft.”
  • “Woodland was fit for the Accra shaft almost three years ago at the RBC Canadian Open, and he’s used the same specs through multiple heads ever since. According to Accra’s Gawain Robertson, on the range Woodland “hits it farther probably than anyone in the world,” but in a tournament he wants to play a controlled fade. Like most pros, he hates the hook, so by choosing to play a fade, Woodland’s also bringing more spin into the equation. So he is doing everything equipment-wise to drop that spin. Hence the stoutness of the stiffness of the shaft on his driver and the extra-low loft.”
5. Family pleads guilty to Masters badge scheme
Golf Digest’s Joel Beall…
  • “On Monday a Texas family pleaded guilty to federal charges to a scheme involving stolen identities to obtain Masters badges.”
  • “In the tournament’s hometown of Augusta, Ga., Stephen Freeman appeared before a U.S. District Court to admit to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. As part of a plea deal, Freeman agreed to three years in a federal prison.”
  • “Freeman’s sister and parents pleaded guilty to the same crime. However, their pleas called for no jail time. The four will have to pay more than $275,000 in restitution, according to a release from the office of U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine.”
6. Opinion: Joe Buck has to go
West Valentine at Pro Golf Now has had enough…
  • “On Monday a Texas family pleaded guilty to federal charges to a scheme involving stolen identities to obtain Masters badges.”
  • “In the tournament’s hometown of Augusta, Ga., Stephen Freeman appeared before a U.S. District Court to admit to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. As part of a plea deal, Freeman agreed to three years in a federal prison.”
  • Freeman’s sister and parents pleaded guilty to the same crime. However, their pleas called for no jail time. The four will have to pay more than $275,000 in restitution, according to a release from the office of U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine.”
7. Suh sticks to his sticks
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…”When Suh turned pro after last month’s NCAA Championship and teed it up in the Memorial Tournament, the flatstick remained in the bag. So did Suh’s other 13 clubs.”
  • “While Suh signed a head-to-toe apparel and bag deal with Puma and a contract with Titleist to continue playing the Pro V1x ball, he decided to hold off on an equipment agreement and continue using his all-Ping setup that he’s used for three years.”
  • “It’s a rare move during a time where the top amateurs are chasing six-figure paydays from equipment companies.”
  • “What I have in the bag is something that I’ve had success with for years, and when I tee it up at a tournament, that’s something that I want in my hands,” Suh said. “I don’t want to look down and look at something completely new. I’m a big believer that the success on the golf course is ultimately going to determine the success you have off the golf course.”
8. Gary’s big betting buddies trip AKA “a little much for some of the guys” 
As told to Jason Sobel at the Action Network…”I went out to Pebble Beach with some buddies. Me and another guy were playing a shamble against two guys scrambling. Each team got three presses. The money got up to where it got to be a little uncomfortable.
  • “Fortunately, though, we were winning.
  • “It’s coming down to the 18th at Pebble and we give them a half-shot on the last hole, just because it got a little out of hand for guys who didn’t have it.
  • “There were a couple of us who could afford it, but we were playing the last hole for $32,000 each. That was a little much for some of the guys.
9. Why Was it Great?
I love this video series from our resident equipment expert Ryan Barath. If you haven’t caught it yet, take five minutes of your life and stroll memory lane…or green as RB discusses the iconic Bullseye putter.

 

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Morning 9: Woodland triumphant | “Cockroach” Koepka | Brooke = Canadian GOAT | No Tiger til Portrush

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

June 17, 2019

Good Monday morning, golf fans.
1.Woodland!
AP report…”Gary Woodland denied Brooks Koepka’s bold bid at history with two clutch shots and made U.S. Open memories of his own, starting with that silver trophy in his hands at Pebble Beach.”
  • “Woodland finished in style Sunday. He holed a 30-foot birdie putt for a 2-under 69, giving him the lowest 72-hole score in six U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach and a three-shot victory over Koepka, who was going for a third straight U.S. Open.”
  • “Koepka had to settle for a footnote in history as the first player with all four rounds in the 60s at the U.S Open without winning. But he made Woodland earn every bit of his first major championship.”
2. A quick detour to the LPGA Tour…
Brook Henderson now winningest Canadian pro golfer, man or woman, ever.
  • BBC report…”The 21-year-old, who won the Lotte Championship in April, hit a two-under 70 to finish on 21 under, one stroke ahead of a four-way tie for second.”
  • “Henderson has now won nine LPGA titles, giving her the most wins for a Canadian golfer on either the PGA or LPGA Tour.”
  • “Earlier this year, to get my eighth win and to tie that record was a huge deal for me,” said Henderson. “To now breakthrough that is awesome. I’m just really excited for the rest of the summer and hopefully many more wins in the future. It’s really special.”

Full piece.

3. Koepka the “cockroach”
Golf Digest’s Brian Wacker…
  • “He’s like a cockroach,” Xander Schauffele said. “He just won’t go away.”
  • “Koepka did not win on Sunday at Pebble Beach to join Willie Anderson as the only other player ever to claim three straight U.S. Open titles.”
  • “So what? He doesn’t know much about Anderson, or Google, anyway. And he doesn’t even like golf, remember?”
  • “Koepka, who finished second three strokes behind winner Gary Woodland, is the best player in the world and that much he does know. He just wasn’t the best for four days along the Monterey Peninsula, though he was close.”

Full piece.

4. Hovland sets amateur scoring record
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols…”On Sunday, Hovland birdied the 18th hole to finish with a final round 67, giving him a four-day total of 280 (-4) and setting the 72-hole scoring record for an amateur in U.S. Open history.”
“Hovland broke the mark held by Jack Nicklaus…Hovland opened his week with a 69 on Thursday, then posted 73-71 before his Sunday 67.”
5. See you at Royal Portrush, Tiger
ESPN’s Bob Harig…”Don’t expect to see Tiger Woods again until The Open next month in Northern Ireland.”
  • “The 2019 Masters champion shot his best final round at the U.S. Open in 10 years on Sunday — despite a horrific start to the round — to finish tied for 21st and take a bit of satisfaction out of what had mostly been a disappointing week.”
  • “Woods’ 2-under-par 69 came after he bogeyed four of his first six holes. He played the final 12 holes in 6 under par. He previously broke 70 in the final round of a U.S. Open in 2009 at Bethpage Black.”
  • “Now he’s looking at skipping four weeks of tournament golf leading up to The Open at Royal Portrush, a plan that didn’t work so well heading into the PGA Championship but one that is likely part of a new reality for the 15-time major champion.”
6. Phil
Harig again on Phil Mickelson’s forgettable Open effort.
  • “You couldn’t help but know it was Phil Mickelson’s birthday on Sunday, as much as it was noted among the gallery as he played the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links.”
  • “Mickelson managed to birdie the final hole and shoot 72 to complete a disappointing U.S. Open that saw him finish before the leaders teed off, never much of a factor in the championship he finished at 4 over par. And that 49th birthday he celebrated Sunday was yet another reminder that the opportunities to win the U.S. Open after six runner-up finishes are coming close to an end.”
  • “Well, I don’t know what else to say. It’s not like I’m going to stop trying,” said Mickelson, who has played in 28 U.S. Opens. “I enjoy the challenge. But I thought this was a really good chance for me.”
7. What we learned
From our Ron Montesano’s post-mortem on the 2019 U.S. Open
  • “Gary Woodland, the private man, and Gary Woodland, the public man, unite to form the man who captured the world’s attention this week. In 2017, Woodland and his wife quietly revealed that one of their expected twins had passed in the womb. Their son, Jaxson, was born early and light of weight, but improved in health with great and tender care. Now two years old, Jaxson and the Woodlands await the arrival of twin sisters later this summer.”
  • “In 2019, the golf world watched as Gary teamed with Amy Bockerstette during a practice round at the Phoenix Open. Bockerstette executed a series of unexpected shots on the par-3 16th to make par, supported all the while by Woodland. It was apparent that Woodland was invested in the entirety of the moment. Three simple words went back and forth between the pair: You’ve got this. On Sunday, at Pebble Beach, a tweet from Amy’s account arrived: You’ve got this, Gary Woodland.”
8. Pete Cowen
A good time to revisit this Pete Cowen Golf Digest “My Shot” (Cowen has recently worked with Gary Woodland on much-improved short game)
One of his best bon mots…“IMPROVING AT GOLF is not that big a deal. I can guarantee dramatic improvement from 15 minutes a day, without even using a club. But that commitment is way out of the range of most people. I spoke recently at a seminar attended by 500 Australian club pros. I said, “We’ve long known that exercising 15 minutes per day will add several years to our lives. Those of you who have spent 15 minutes daily over the last 10 years, raise your hands.” Not a hand went up. I said, “If you won’t commit 15 minutes to lengthening your very life, what makes you think you’ll devote 15 minutes to golf?” The problem comes down to actually doing it. It’s a very tough sell.”
9. The original 0311
I’d like to call your attention to GolfWRX’s new video series with PXG. It breaks new ground for the site, and biasedly, I think the results so far are excellent. Whatever your perception of Bob Parsons is, you’ll want to watch Johnny Wunder’s 25-minute interview with the PXG founder.

Watch it here.

 

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How Gary Woodland won the 2019 U.S. Open

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Let us begin with a clarification, which is not to be confused with a rant. Just as difficult as the measuring of a champion of one era against that of another, is the comparison of one tournament venue with another. Pebble Beach is unlike any other U.S. Open site in the current rotation. The entirety of the PGA Tour visits it for two competitive rounds each February. While the fairway configurations, the green speeds, and the wind patterns differ in June, it is still Pebble Beach Golf Links. As such, it should be expected that golfers would play it better than a site on which they compete but once a decade. Now, on to our most worthy champion.

5. Before there was Brooks Koepka …

…there was Gary Woodland. When the notion of the super-athletic, athlete from another sport first took root with Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland was there. Growing up, there was golf, but there was basketball (he could dunk with ease) and baseball (he attended Washburn University for a year, playing baseball as he studied.) Golf’s siren call was strong, however, and he left Washburn for the University of Kansas, to study and play golf. From 2007 to 2011, Woodland worked at his craft, spending time on both the Nationwide (now Web.Com) and PGA Tours.  In early 2011, Woodland lost a playoff for the Bob Hope title to Jhonattan Vegas, but came back two months later to win in Tampa. Strong, athletic, but was his win due more to good fortune and athleticism, than golf prowess? Eight years later, the question would finally be answered.

 

4. Before we go on, here’s to Brooks Koepka

In no way, shape, or form, did the 2-time, defending U.S. Open champion lose the 2019 playing. Koepka outplayed an entire field, save the one athlete destined to hoist the eponymous trophy. The Florida man played four rounds in the 60s, one of only 2 all week to achieve this distinction (guess the other!) He made 6 bogeys on the week, despite the shifting and narrowing of the fairway lines, courtesy of the host association. With all the attention of the world squarely on his shoulders, his visage, Koepka responded better than anyone anticipated. He improved his position each day, then seized the tournament on Sunday. Except, of course, for Gary Woodland.

3. Power gets you far, but the short game brings you home

Every great champion learns this lesson. Jack Nicklaus learned it later in his career than most. Dustin Johnson became a major champion when he embraced it. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson always had it. Brooks Koepka personifies it, and Gary Woodland showed the world that he had, at last, honed a world-class short game. Think back to all the long putts, all the par-saving efforts, that found the bottom of the cup this week. Recall the chip shot holed at the 12th on Saturday, the pitch over the hourglass on the 17th green on Sunday. Nothing less than precise execution would suffice in those situations, nothing less than precise execution was offered.

2. The humanity reveals the man

Gary Woodland, the private man, and Gary Woodland, the public man, unite to form the man who captured the world’s attention this week. In 2017, Woodland and his wife quietly revealed that one of their expected twins had passed in the womb. Their son, Jaxson, was born early and light of weight, but improved in health with great and tender care. Now two years old, Jaxson and the Woodlands await the arrival of twin sisters later this summer. In 2019, the golf world watched as Gary teamed with Amy Bockerstette during a practice round at the Phoenix Open. Bockerstette executed a series of unexpected shots on the par-3 16th to make par, supported all the while by Woodland. It was apparent that Woodland was invested in the entirety of the moment. Three simple words went back and forth between the pair: You’ve got this. On Sunday, at Pebble Beach, a tweet from Amy’s account arrived: You’ve got this, Gary Woodland.

1. Where are you going? I’m going to Woodland!

Where exactly is Woodland? This week, it was a place where 17 birdies eclipsed 4 bogeys by some distance. A place where Woodland matched games with Justin Rose (twice), Tyrell Hatton and Shane Lowry, and came out far apace. Woodland has finally evolved into a space where an adrenaline-filled athlete came to manage his energy and emotions: “It took me a lot to learn to control adrenaline; and other sports you use adrenaline to your advantage. Out here, when I get a little excited, I need to find a way to calm myself back down.” Woodland is a place where sagacious teachers (Butch Harmon, Pete Cowen, Phil Kenyon) contribute their expertise to the competitor. Finally, it is a place where a golfer confirms what some might call cliches: hard work, humility, and a constant desire to improve can bring complete success.

 

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