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Morning 9: Pebble Beach: Just what the USGA needs? | Rory’s putter saga | TW and the art of the rest day

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By Ben Alberstadt ([email protected])

June 13, 2019

Good Thursday morning, golf fans.
1. Pebble the panacea?
Dave Kindred says a U.S. Open at Pebble could be just what the USGA needs…
  • “The folks in charge of the United States Open golf tournament do many things well, and the thing they do best is bring their ultimate competition to the Pebble Beach Golf Links, the ultimate golf course. Maybe some places demand more of a player; Oakmont comes to mind. Maybe some places speak more to history; Augusta. No place, it says here, does all that while sending its players to the edge of the known world – way past Gilroy, just south and west of Salinas – and onto the greatest stage in golf.”
  • “…And now they come not to a place unknown, not to Erin Hills or Chambers Bay, but to a place called felicitous and breathtaking and “one of the most amazing pieces of property in the world” (Spieth, Tuesday). They come to Pebble Beach, a property sanctified by Nicklaus and Watson and beatified by Woods, and we’ll see if Brooks Koepka can add to the history. Victory would be Koepka’s third straight in the Open. That trifecta has been done, but only once, and a lot has happened since Willie Anderson came over from Scotland and did it in 1903, ’04, and ’05.” 

Full piece.

2. Feeling the pressure…
AP report reminding us what’s at stake…”From rules gaffes to dead grass to lack of rain or wind, the story surrounding the past four U.S. Opens has been as much about the management of the tournament as it has been the shots by the players in the field.”
  • “Because of that recent history, the USGA might be under as much pressure as any of the competitors this week.”
  • “It is not lost on us this is an important week, not only for golf, this is an important week for the USGA,” executive director Mike Davis said at a news conference Wednesday, the day before this year’s national championship starts at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
3. Final prep for Tiger (and everyone else)
Golf Digest’s Joel Beall…“Woods joined Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Kevin Kisner for a tour of Pebble’s back nine. There’s usually not much to extract the day before a major: the preparation has been done, the strategy laid out. It’s more out of routine, sprinkled with the search for one final secret or observation that will prove the difference. Those needing Wednesday to get their swing or mind right can be written off.”
  • “Yet Woods, a year-and-a-half into his comeback but still very much in the exploratory stages of what his body can and can’t do, views Wednesdays in a different light…”
  • “…The 43-year-old now takes Tuesdays off-or as much as a three-hour practice session can qualify as “off”-to conserve energy. Because his latest back procedure has tightened his muscles up, Wednesday serves as a litmus test for Woods, making sure the swing that was there on Monday has returned.”
4. Bring on the driving irons?
Golfweek’s David Dusek on a popular weapon for attacking Pebble Beach this week…
  • “At 7,075 yards, Pebble Beach Golf Links is not a long course by modern standards. However, the cool, damp climate is perfect for growing grass, and it has allowed the United States Golf Association to line the fairways and surround the greens with deep, thick rough.”
  • “That rough would typically compel golfers to consider adding a high-lofted fairway wood to their bag and remove a long iron. Fairway woods, like a 5-wood or a 7-wood, have a wider sole than a long iron and a lower center of gravity. They can work through tall grass and get the ball up more easily. Plus, because they have a longer shaft than a long iron, a fairway wood will hit the ball a little farther than an iron with the same loft.”
  • “But this week at Pebble Beach, the firm fairways and a weather forecast that calls for virtually no rain has players rethinking their options. Driving irons, normally put into play on windy courses to keep the ball low and allow it to run after it lands, have been more popular than expected.”
5. Slow starts have doomed Rory’s major efforts of late
John Huggan for Golf Digest….
  • (What Johnny Miller told Rory) “Johnny told me to look at the history of major championships,” said McIlroy, who tees off the 10th hole at 7:51 a.m. local time on Thursday. “That first round is so important. And I agree. My first rounds at Augusta [73] and Bethpage [72] this year put me a little bit behind the eight ball. And it’s hard to catch up. Especially as major championships are played on the toughest courses. The temptation is to chase and it’s hard to do that.
  • “In the majors I’ve won, I started really well with rounds in the mid-60s. And that’s sort of what’s held me back a little bit [in the others]. If I can take the freedom that I played with on Saturday and Sunday last week [when he shot 64-61 to win the Canadian Open by seven shots] and get off to a good start here, I’ll hopefully be right in the tournament from the get-go and stay there. That’s what is wonderful about golf, whether you win or lose. You go to the next week and it’s sort of forgotten about. You start again. You can’t dwell on success or failure. You keep looking forward.”

Full piece.

6. …but at least he has his putter!
Tim Dahlberg at the AP…
During the trophy presentation at the Canadian Open…”McIlroy momentarily traded his putter for a Toronto Raptors jersey with the CEO of Golf Canada, Laurence Applebaum, and they nearly forgot to trade back.”
  • “I traded him. He gave me a Raptors jersey, and I gave him my putter and thought he was going to give it to [caddie Harry Diamond] up at the scoring area or whatever,” McIlroy said on Wednesday at the U.S. Open. “And I saw Harry. He goes, Where’s your putter? And I said, I better go find it. So, no, I definitely didn’t give it away. I know I’ve done some stupid things in the past, but that would have been right up there.”
  • …”I said to Harry, Could you go and find Laurence? He’s got my putter. And put it back in the bag and make sure the bag gets on the plane and goes to California,” added McIlroy. “That was really it … the guy I gave it to was running the golf tournament. He knows it’s not for him.”
7. Contrast of Woods, Koepka
James Raia at the Monterey Herald with an interesting perspective…
  • “But unlike Woods, Koepka believes he doesn’t get enough attention and is misunderstood by the public for his stoic nature while competing. Also unlike Woods, a diplomat and often cautious with the media, Koepka doesn’t have much of a filter.”
  • “While other prominent players, including Woods, have criticized the United States Golf Association for U.S. Open course set-ups, Koepka said others complain too much. He prefers to reference the “even playing field” golf offers.”
  • “Koepka has also “challenged” players saying: “winning majors is easier than other tournaments because there are only a handful of players who are talented enough and mentally strong enough to compete with me.”
8. Rory the liberated
The NY Post’s Mark Cannizzaro…
  • “…you saw what Rory McIlroy did in his runaway RBC Canadian Open victory Sunday and don’t think that was a loud-and-clear message entering this week’s U.S. Open, you’re not paying attention.”
  • “If McIlroy brings the form he had in posting a final-round 61 in Canada to Pebble Beach, look out field…McIlroy is perhaps the most dangerous front-runner in the game, a player who can get hot and go low in a hurry.”
  • “Liberating, satisfying … I mean, there’s a lot of different words you could use to describe what it would feel like,” McIlroy said Wednesday of the prospect of winning another major. “I had a chat at the [U.S. Open] champions reunion [Tuesday] night with Johnny Miller and Johnny said, ‘You look at the history of major championships. That first round is so important.’
9. USGA’s show and tell
The Forecaddie on the museum pieces the USGA brought to the U.S. Open champions dinner…
  • “As with the amateurs over at Cypress Point, USGA Golf Museum director Hilary Cronheim said Hogan’s 1-iron and its striking wear pattern near the hozzle got the most attention, with McIlroy, Geoff Ogilvy, Martin Kaymer and Lee Janzen taking the most interest.”
  • “I’m a golf geek, and I love the traditions and history of the game,” McIlroy said. “And that was so cool.”

 

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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 3M Open

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GolfWRX is live from the 3M Open in Blaine, Minnesota.

In addition to 13 general galleries from the range and putting green at TPC Twin Cities, we have in-hand shots of TaylorMade’s new MG3 wedge and 300 Mini Driver. Additionally, we have a look at Mizuno’s new Pro 225 iron and plenty of “new and/or interesting” in the putter and putter cover department.

Check out links to all of our photos below!

Tuesday

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Special galleries

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3M Open betting tips and selections

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Welcome to the first week of a new installment of betting tips from Andy Lack, staff writer and host of the Pick of the Pup Golf Show, a weekly golf betting podcast.

We’ll kick things off with the 3M Open. The PGA Tour travels to the TPC Twin Cities this week in Blaine, Minnesota, a course known for its generous fairways and an abundance of water hazards. That’s right, water comes into play on 14 holes on TPC Twin Cities, so avoiding big numbers and still taking advantage of scorable opportunities will be of paramount importance.

Let’s dig into my outright selections.

Bubba Watson (35-1, DraftKings)

The 12-time PGA Tour winner is quietly putting together a run of some incredibly impressive golf. Watson has now made seven cuts in a row, with four top-20s, including a contending performance at the Travelers, and a sixth-place finish at the Rocket Mortgage.

The main reason for optimism is the return of his approach play. Watson gained 5.3 strokes on approach in his most recent start, good for his best iron week since October. Iron play has proven to be paramount at TPC Twin Cities, with top-10 finishers gaining an average of 4.5 strokes on approach across two editions.

35-1 is a fair number on the two-time Masters champion, who is trending positively in the ball-striking department.

Emiliano Grillo (40-1, William Hill)

Emiliano Grillo fits a similar profile of Watson, a ball-striking extraordinaire who has shown recent top-end ability on approach. Over his last 36 rounds, the former Frys.com Open champion ranks second in strokes gained approach, ninth in proximity from 200 yards plus, and third in birdies or better. In my cumulative ranking of approach stats, Grillo laps the field as the best iron player teeing it up this week.

As is always the case with Argentina native, the putter is a concern, yet Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa may have shown Grillo the roadmap by finishing first and second here with nuclear irons and a field average putter.

Keegan Bradley (50-1, BetMGM)

While Grillo might slightly outpace Keegan Bradley in iron play, the former PGA champion is not far behind. Over his last 36 rounds, Bradley ranks third in strokes gained approach, fifth in proximity from 200 yards plus, and third in opportunities gained.

Prior to the Open, where he missed the cut by a stroke, Bradley gained 5.5 strokes on approach at the Rocket Mortgage, and 4.3 at the Travelers in his prior two starts. The Vermont native has lost strokes on approach just once this season.

Bradley has a bankable skill-set I can trust, and 50-1 feels a fair price in a field lacking an abundance of elite talent.

Doug Ghim (66-1, BetMGM)

Find a narrative. Stick with it. I’m selecting the best iron players in this field and praying that one of them putts well. One of them has to right?

Over his last 36 rounds, Ghim ranks fourth in strokes gained approach, first in proximity from 175-200 yards, and first in greens in regulation gained. The University of Texas product was a highly touted amateur who feels primed for a breakthrough on a larger stage.

The irons have been elite from day one, and we’ve seen slow, yet progressive improvements with his driver and putter. I’m willing to bet this is the week it all clicks.

Jhonattan Vegas (70-1, DraftKings)

While Vegas is known more-so for his off the tee prowess than his iron play, I have a hard time passing up on the big-hitting Venezuelan on a wide open track where he can really let the driver loose.

Over his last 36 rounds, Vegas ranks 22nd in birdies or better gained, ninth in greens in regulation gained, and fourth in driving distance. While he may not possess the same approach chops as Grillo, Bradley, or Ghim, Vegas’ irons are certainly trending in that direction.

The three-time PGA Tour winner has gained over 3.5 strokes on approach in three consecutive starts. Sign me up.

Scott Stallings (150-1, BetMGM)

This feels like a big number for Scott Stallings, who was 70-1 just a week ago at the John Deere Classic, and a popular selection at that.

While the 55th-place finish at the John Deere might have disappointed some, his ball-striking remained solid and he simply couldn’t buy a putt. Stallings has gained strokes off the tee and on approach in three consecutive starts.

Unlike some of my other selections, the three-time PGA Tour winner carries a more reliable putter as well. Stallings’ position on the betting board had the biggest discrepancy from my numbers. This was a must-bet for me.

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Morikawa solves Royal St. George’s for 2021 Open Championship title

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It’s known that Ian Fleming wrote a great bit of his James Bond series of tales from a cottage near Royal St. George’s, in Sandwich, England. It’s less known that the selected site for the pivotal match between Bond the hero and Auric Goldfinger the villain, took place at a renamed RSG. Fleming christened his links Royal St. Mark’s. Finally, on a sad note, the elected club captain Fleming passed away mere weeks before he would assume the position, and so his portrait does not hang on the walls of the RSG clubhouse. On this 18th day of July, 2021, a new captain did not play his way in. Instead, a Champion Golfer of the Year was recognized for the 15th time at this links and for the 149th time overall.

It would be interesting to ask the competitors if they considered Sandwich to be a putter’s course. My guess is that they would say “no.” More than that, it played this week as an approach course, and then as a driving course. Since writers and fans lead mundane lives, they like to fish around for a weakness in a player, forgetting that every golfer that tees it up is world-class.

With Collin Morikawa, they suggest that putting is not his strong suit. They forget that he worked with Mark O’Meara months back, adjusting his grip on shorter putts. He ultimately adopted the modified pencil, or modified saw, grip that he used with great success all week.

On Sunday, as his playing partner and others struggled around him, and as Jordan Spieth surged, Collin Morikawa made putt after putt of all lengths, shapes, and flavors. At week’s end, his average of 1.54 putts per green in regulation was exactly .01 behind the tournament leaders. So much for a weakness.

Flip the script to Morikawa’s perceived strength: his approach play. Over the course of the week’s four rounds, the eventual champion hit this percentage of greens in regulation: 72-83-66-77. Over the 72 holes, he putted for birdie or better three-quarters of the time. Unless you’re the world’s worst short-game practitioner from off the green, and on it, for that matter, those numbers are in your favor.

Morikawa knew instinctively when to land a ball dozens of yards shy of the putting surface, and when to fly it to the crevice. He found shelves and hollows all week long, and he was one of two golfers all week to post four rounds in the 60s. For the unfortunate Jordan Spieth, his quartet of sub-70s was not enough to sequester the Claret Jug for a second time.

Intangibles? He had them, too. Deep breaths, closed eyes, anticipated trajectories — it all led to trust and execution. When he got in trouble, as happens with champions, Morikawa joined his vision with the land, found a trace, and followed it back to safety.

Congratulations to the 2021 Champion Golfer of the Year, on his second major tournament victory. Let the pundits predict if and when Collin Morikawa will complete the career grand slam, and how difficult it will be for him to win a U.S. Open and a Masters.

For now, leave them to their augury and their conjecture. There is no better walk in golf than this one, and Louis Oosthuizen, who lost out to Morikawa this year, does know. He walked it in 2010, at the home of golf. Today, it was the turn of someone else, someone we may be fortunate to watch play and smile for many years.

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