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PGA Championship: 5 things we learned on Saturday

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Day three at Bethpage promised to differ from the first 48 hours of the 2019 PGA Championship. With a halved field and no 10th-hole tee times, odds of missing your tee time were reduced, even for David Lipsky. Brooks Koepka began the day with a 7-stroke lead, but the chance to chase him down depended on one of two scenarios playing out.

The first demanded similar course conditions to days one and two. In that situation, someone would shoot 63 or 64, hoping Koepka remained at par or higher. Conditions were different, as the wind picked up and then swirled, sending a higher number of tee shots into the rough and beyond. As for the second, well, it required Koepka to balloon to a mid- to high-70s score, allowing a score anywhere below par to make up ground. Neither one happened, and Koepka left the state park with the same lead as he had 24 hours prior. We still learned quite a bit on Saturday, so have a look at the 5 most important things we learned on Saturday at the 2019 PGA Championship.

5. New names made their presence known

Ardent followers of professional golf have read about Jazz Janewattananond, Harold Varner III and Luke List, but until today, none had made a dent in the first page of a major professional event. Each sits at -5, tied with Dustin Johnson, seven blows behind Koepka. Varner will accompany Koepka on the Sunday march, but all four of the minus-fives will play either for 2nd spot, or the coveted “If Koepka should falter” trophy.

4. How do you come from THAT far behind?

Simply put, you need to make six birdies at least, get to 9 or 10 under par, and pray for rain. Koepka’s swing looks like it’s here to stay. He doesn’t get tired physically, and he isn’t under the weather. Yesterday, I predicted that Matt Wallace would hit more shots like this one. I stand by that prediction, and expect Wallace (at -4) to be the only one of the chasers to give Koepka a run. Wallace is playing for the same sort of legitimacy as the leader. Koepka wants to be a part of the conversation for best golfer in the world; Wallace wants to be much more than an afterthought when Ryder Cup 2021 comes around. Sunday will put the Englishman in another class.

3. Spieth and Scott went quietly away

No one likes to foretell doom and gloom, unless they go by the name of Bran Stark. It is someone’s job to predict such things in golf, and the team of S and S shared the cloak of most likely to play above par on Saturday. The Jordan Spieth who gutted out the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay was not present today. The Adam Scott who played through the rain to defeat Angel Cabrera in the 2013 Masters playoff was also unavailable. Bethpage is a big, brawny golf course. With the exception of Lucas Glover in 2009, it rewards big, brawny golfers.

2. Is Bethpage a boring place to play a major championship?

I don’t think so, but I’m not convinced that this was the best set-up for it. If the PGA likes birdies, tell me how they went from 10 billion birdies in the event’s first half, to quite a few less on day three? Something changed, or perhaps the course caught up with the conditions. There is a lot of thick rough out there…why? Increase fairway width by 10%, so that balls that barely miss, have a chance at redemption. Move the tee markers up on number six and make it a drivable par four for at least one round. Do the same on number eighteen, just for one day on the weekend. If Koepka is on his game for day four, anticipate a nice time for a long nap.

1. Will Brooks Koepka seal the deal on Sunday?

All signs point to Yes, and major championship number four, and possibly the blessing of Pope Brandel of Chamblee. However, we did see a few flinches on Saturday, and we would like to mention them here. To begin, his putting distance control was erratic. Did you see that first putt on 17, from 20 feet? The one that went 75% of the way to the hole? Brooks made his share of 5-feet putts today, but if the distance control gets weird tomorrow, and the short putts start spinning out, well then… Another area of concern was driving. He can’t be perfect, but with the big stick in his hands at all times, the big miss might be coming. If BK goes wide right or left and makes a big number, the confidence might be shaken.

All right, I’m searching for a needle in a haystack of straws at which I’m grasping. Got that? It’s a double metaphor, because a double metaphor is what is needed to keep Koepka from holding PGA and US Open trophies for the 2nd consecutive cycle.

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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.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Ronald Montesano

    May 19, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    SeniorHacker, I feel your pain.

    Prime21, excellent analysis. over and out.

  2. ffs

    May 19, 2019 at 10:26 am

    If you’re going to write about Jazz JANEWATTANANOND, at least have some respect and spell his name correctly. I mean all you had to do was copy and paste from the web ffs

  3. T

    May 19, 2019 at 2:05 am

    If you watched the closing coverage on the Golf Channel every night, the greenskeepers are out there pouring water all over the golf course, which, I think, is totally unnecessary and too much, and it clearly showed on Saturday. They should just leave the moisture to nature alone once the tournament starts, except on the greens. Why are they spraying water all over the rough? Just to keep them juicy. A tad over the top, I reckon

  4. SeniorHacker

    May 18, 2019 at 11:25 pm

    I learned that I won’t watch on sunday. No Tiger, boring leaderboard, Koepka in front by a mile. Just for me :((

  5. Prime21

    May 18, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    Like any Major Championship course you have to take what the course gives you and if they want to, they can set it up so it yields no birdies. The course dried out a bit, the wind blew and the pins were tucked. There was no 64 out there today, period. The Black is more US Open than PGA, so unless they play it at 7,000 yards, birdies will be hard to come by. There are holes to attack, but 4-5 max, and that is only if the pins are generous. The rough is too lush and wet to take down to a manageable level this time of year, so you better hit the fairway, just like an Open venue. In the end, like with any golf tournament, the best player will win, though like most PGA’s it won’t be a birdie fest like in years past. Brooks made his move when the course was soft and now he simply needs to ride the Par train home, while dropping a couple birdies simply because he is great. You can wait for him to fall apart, but it ain’t gonna happen. I say he wins by 9 shots, cause everyone else is going to have to take chances that will simply amount to more bogies than birdies.

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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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