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Morning 9: Par 3 Contest | Rory & Augusta | No cell phones at ANGC, ever!

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

April 11, 2019

Good Thursday morning, golf fans. Enjoy the Masters!
1. Par 3 Contest
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard on Matt Wallace’s Par 3 Contest win.
  • “Matt Wallace is making his first start in the Masters this week, so he probably didn’t know about the “curse.”
  • “No player has ever won the Par 3 Contest and the Masters in the same year. The Englishman, however, hopes to break that tradition.”
  • “Wallace defeated Sandy Lyle, a two-time winner of the Par 3 Contest, on the third playoff hole Wednesday after both players finished tied at 5 under.”
  • “I wanted to hole that putt on the last and I didn’t, and then went to a playoff and it got a little bit more serious than how the nine holes went and I guess I just I wanted to win this,” said Wallace, who used a hole-in-one on the eighth hole to help him get into the playoff.”
2. Gal on Smith
Sandra Gal wrote a beautiful remembrance of her (perhaps unlikely) friend, Marilynn Smith, for Golf.com.
“She started writing me letters, and then suggested we talk on the phone. After our first chat she asked me if I would call her again the next week. And so it began. We spoke every Sunday, no matter if I was in Florida or Taiwan. There were plenty of times when I didn’t feel like it, but still I called. Every time we hung up, my heart felt full and I think hers did, too.”
  • “Marilynn loved to give me little tips but I’m quite stubborn so I was reluctant to try them. I can’t even tell you how happy she was when I finally switched to left-hand low putting and my stats improved. She must’ve told me a thousand times, “Don’t forget to aim at the top of the flagstick so you don’t end up 15 feet short of the hole.” Yes, Marilynn, I will. But she cared more about me as a person than as a golfer. “Are you smiling? Keep smiling and hold your finish,” she would remind me. “Are you writing your thank you letters and thanking the pro in the pro shop?” Yes, Marilynn.”
  • “Every little gesture meant so much to her. In January 2018, I went through a difficult time in my personal life and was slowed by an injury. All I did was paint, walk in the Austrian mountains and contemplate life. Marilynn was very concerned and our calls during that time were so precious to me. She asked me to paint something for her, preferably a landscape. I hate doing landscapes but I gave it a try. To my surprise, it turned out okay, and I gave it to her at our tournament in Phoenix, where we had first met two years earlier. She loved it and every Sunday after that would tell me she had found something new in the painting. I couldn’t fathom the gratitude she had for the smallest of things in life.”
3. The pain lingers
Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch talks to a few big-time players who narrowly missed out on the green jacket.
  • “In ’98 Duval was sitting in Jones Cabin, tied for the lead with Mark O’Meara after a final round 67 when O’Meara hit his approach shot on the last to 20 feet. “Don’t worry David, no one ever makes that putt,” said Augusta National’s then chairman, Jack Stephens.”
  • “O’Meara holed it. “Hey good tournament,” Stephens said to Duval. “We look forward to seeing you next year.”
  • “The other losses lacked such poignancy, but were no less painful for the former world No. 1. A year later he was T-6 behind Jose Maria Olazabal. The new millennium began as the old one had ended: T-3 behind Vijay Singh in ’00 and solo second to Tiger Woods in ’01.”
4. A chronology of Rory & Augusta
As the Ulsterman bids again for the career grand slam, Golf Digest’s Brian Wacker take a look at Rory McIlroy’s history at Augusta National
Beginning with 2009…
  • “His first Masters? There was curiosity more than expectation – a top junior, his reputation had preceded him and this was his first major as a professional after having turned pro the year before.”
  • “McIlroy played a practice round early in the week with 2003 winner Mike Weir, a player whose game couldn’t be more different. “I didn’t really ask him too many questions,” he said. “I was just putting to the tees he was putting to. He probably knows the greens pretty well.”
  • “The hole that scared McIlroy the most? The 12th. “Sometimes you’ve got to play away from the pins here and take a 30-footer and 2-putt and go to the next,” he said. “Par is a pretty good score around here.” Four pars for the week. Pretty good all right.”
McIlroy tied for 20th in ’09. Full piece.
5. They’ve done it all…except win the Masters
Barry Svrluga at the Washington Post looks at the top players in the game and the unifying reality that none of them have green jackets in their closets.
  • “Brooks Koepka won two majors a year ago, and he credits sitting out the Masters because of an injury as rekindling his affection for golf. Justin Rose arrives at Augusta National Golf Club as the top-ranked player in the world, and twice has played in the final group on Masters Sunday. Rory McIlroy hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in any tournament this year, nor has he finished outside the top 10 at the Masters since 2013, the kind of profile that makes for an easily identifiable favorite. Dustin Johnson has won in both Saudi Arabia and Mexico this year – further proof he can win anywhere at any time, regardless of course or competition.”
  • “Those are the top four players in the world at the moment, each a worthy pick at the 83rd Masters. Total green jackets among them: zero. The highest ranked player in the world who has won here? That would be No. 12 Tiger Woods, whose last Masters title came in 2005.”
  • “This Masters, then, will do one of two things: It will provide either validation for one of the accomplished players who have never won here, or it will prop up a past champ who enters the year’s first major championship sputtering, to one degree or another. There’s almost no in-between.”
6. Reed returns
Paul Newberry at the AP…”He’s an anomaly at staid, ol’ Augusta National, which has always preferred bland and homogenized winners, who’ll always say the right things without saying much of anything.”
  • “Patrick Reed, that’s not.”
  • “His family life is messy. His attitude is brash. His college days are pock-marked with allegations of cheating and teammates wronged.”
  • “That’s OK.”
  • “Villains are more fun anyway.”
7. When it rains…
Matthew Rudy examines the effects of rain on Augusta National–a course where the powers that be have more agronomic control than any other.
  • “At the most basic level, rain reduces roll in the fairways and makes the greens slightly more receptive to shots coming in at steeper angles. The lack of roll in the fairway doesn’t mean much to players like Rory McIlroy, who can carry it more than 320 yards, but for players with mid-pack power, losing 20 yards of roll out means picking entirely different lines off the tee.”
  • “”Most of the preparation for a major is focusing on tee clubs and the lines you like to take,” says top teacher Tony Ruggiero, who works with a stable of PGA Tour players including 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover. “When the course plays out of character, you have to make the time to play the holes where you might not be as comfortable with the line the course and the weather is going to make you take.”
  • “A prime example? The 10th hole offers a speed slot that shoots tee shots played in the right place-down the right center, with a slight draw-upwards of 50 yards farther down, where the uphill approach to severely sloped green gets way easier. When the ball doesn’t roll as much, players will be forced to use a harder-to-control driver instead of 3-wood to take full advantage of the slot. That makes clean ball-striking with the driver more of a factor than normal on a course that usually allows some forgiveness.”
8. No cell phones…ever!
Todd Kelly at Golfweek on Fred Ridley’s comments on ANGC’s (no) cell phone policy.
  • “I think that’s something that does set us apart.” Augusta National Chairman Fred S. Ridley said during his annual Wednesday news conference in the interview room on the first floor of the spacious press building. “I think our patrons appreciate our cell phone policy.  I know that we have now become an outlier, if not the only outlier in golf, as well, at allowing cell phones.”
  • “Go to any sport event, and that’s pretty much all you see: Fans holding up their phones to capture pictures or video of the action.”
  • “But I think it’s part of the ambience of the Masters,” Ridley said. “I read Rory’s interview yesterday, Rory McIlroy, and he made some very insightful comments about that. He said it was really nice to be out there on the golf course and not seeing everyone with — looking down at their hand with their cell phone.”
9. Finau1
Tony’s Finau’s hands-in-the-air, backpedaling, ankle-dislocating mishap after acing the 7th hole during last year’s Masters Par 3 Contest is a tired trope at this point. Still, you have to respect the guy for embracing, what has to be, the most embarrassing moment of his professional golf career.
  • A first act to the humor: Nike “developed” this ultra-hightop golf shoe, the Finau1, for the golfer.
  • And while April Fool’s Day jokes assuredly stink 10 days later, Finau, again, gets credit for embracing the moment (“time to put the shoe on”) and lacing up am 10-eye Finau1 during today’s Par 3 Contest, Wednesday.
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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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5 things we learned on Saturday at the U.S. Open

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How much of a deficit is too much to close, on day four? Gary Woodland posted his third-consecutive round in the 60s, maintaining position at the top of the leader board. Justin Rose did more than keep pace with his playing partner, however. He shaved one stroke off the leader’s advantage, ending the day one shot off Woodland’s 11-under pace. Next came Brooks Koepka. That guy. Like Woodland, Koepka has also visited the 60s during each round, the only other golfer in the field to do so.

Stories of contenders are plentiful, just not as many as we held on Friday evening. The 2019 United States Open championship is drawing to a close, with no indication of its resolution. Still, at least five things became more apparent on Saturday, and we’ve selected a quintet of factors that might reveal the next national champion of the USA. Here we go.

5. Contenders make putts

They say that poa annua, the grass that inhabits the putting surfaces of Pebble Beach, opens up as the day progresses, making smooth runs bumpy. Even in the late afternoon, when the poa does growa, the golfers in contention find a way to get the ball in the hole. Rolls from all distances, from every corner of every green, found their way to the bottom of the cup in round three.

Chez Reavie and Gary Woodland made bombs for par from over 40 feet. Justin Rose tamed short, twisty snakes for birdie. As valuable as those putts were today, to keep golfers in contention, they will be worth their weight in gold on Sunday. On day four, made putts might be the stroke that propels someone toward a major title.

4. Contenders get up and down … or sometimes, just down

The bunker sand at Pebble Beach hasn’t varied from the sort that the PGA Tour encounters each February. Weird, I know, but sometimes a course trades out the usual sand for something USGA-funky. A disproportionate number of hole-outs and near-misses from sand has happened this week. Perhaps it’s the cream rising to the top, or maybe it’s the sand. Who knows?

The gnarly, snaggly rough appears ferocious, yet somehow, these golfers are able to decode its parameters. As for chips and pitches from tight lies, how welcome are they? Put a wedge in the hands of the leaders, and it’s as good as a putter. In 1982, Tom Watson’s hole-out from beyond 17 green was unprecedented. Anticipate 3 or 4 of those tomorrow, epic shots that define a championship.

3. Contenders get it done on the opening 7 holes

The announcers have belabored the point of Pebble’s two faces: holes one through seven, then all the rest. It’s a point worth belaboring. The USGA has set up the fourth to be drivable as a par 4, affording an opportunity for golfers to begin with a bang. A drive in the fairway at one and three leaves short iron or wedge for the approach. Six is a reachable par 5 that shows no shame in giving up eagle after eagle to the daring strike. Seven has been docile all week, with little wind to distract the wee pitch shots that fly like darts at the flag. If you get yourself 4-under after seven on Sunday, you’ll find yourself near the lead or clear of the field. If you don’t, as Tiger Woods did Saturday, playing the opening 7 in 1 over, you’ll drift away as a statistic.

2. Contenders get something done over the difficult stretch

You have to go all the way to Matt Wallace, the last golfer listed at T9, to find a double bogey on a score card. While the stretch from 8 to 18 is daunting, it is not unmanageable. In fact, it must be managed to remain in contention. Big numbers receive a one-way ticket away from Monterey. So, too, do extended runs of bogey.

The top 15 golfers (save one) shot between 1 and 4 under on Saturday. Matt Wallace, at even par, was the exception. It doesn’t seem that a low 60s number on Sunday is in the offing, but that’s what they said in 1973, at Oakmont. The top two will battle each other, while the rest of the field will hope for lightning to strike.

1. What to make of Gary Woodland?

He hasn’t gone away. To the contrary, he sits atop the field for a second-consecutive evening. Is Gary Woodland, finally, major material? He was supposed to be the next brawny basher, until Brooks Koepka showed up. Woodland scrambled his tail off on Saturday, missing seven of 11 greens, but making just one bogey. He three-whacked the 8th green from an inch onto the back fringe, after a massive misread of the first putt’s break. Other than that, he was brilliant each time momentum prepared to shift.

Can he fight momentum shifts for a second consecutive day, when he will again pair with the elegant Justin Rose? He will have to, for he must beat them all in order to wear the crown. Somewhere in Arizona, Amy Bockerstette is pulling for him to do just that.

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