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5 things we learned Thursday at the U.S. Open

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Should we have anticipated a fog delay at Torrey Pines? Yes. That’s the kind of thing that happens along the California coast. Should we have anticipated a scorecard like the one that Matthew Wolff turned in? Not in our wildest, sleep-deprived hallucinations. Our guy had five pars out of 18 holes and shot 70. Two of those pars came on his final pair of holes, so through 16 greens, Wolff had eight birdies, three bogey, two doubles … and three pars. There were other odd rounds on the day, but none that ended as well as did that of George Gankas’ star pupil. 36 players were stranded on course overnight and will finish in the morning. Have a look at the five things we learned on Thursday at Torrey Pines.

1. Guys we absolutely should have seen in contention after day one

Start with Koepka. Two-time winner of the U.S. Open, plus mental and physical giant, plus eternal chip on his shoulder, adds up to constant challenge in major events. Brooks reached 4 under par through 11 holes, after his birdie at the second hole. Along with Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas, the Tallahassee Titan began his day on the inward half. Torrey Pines bit him on the very next hole, and again at the seventh, and he finished his day at 2 under.

Xander Schauffele is one of those guys who would have won a major title (say I) had 2020 been a normal sort of year. He was on a roll, and the venues suited his game quite well. Two bogeys and four pars on the day gave him 69 on the day, even with Koepka. Most important takeaway from today? All of his birdies came on the inward half. Comfort on the back nine during Sunday’s home stretch would be everyone’s first request.

Tyrrell Hatton is entertaining. His clench-jawed, self-immolating method of conquering a golf course is not one that I recommend that you emulate, yet I can’t help smile each time he directs a debilitating comment at his own visage. He seems to possess that essence that might take him to the top of a major one day. Dude is thick and plays without fear. He had four birdies on the day and waits in the shadows for his opportunity.

2. Guys we absolutely did not expect to be in contention after day one

The law firm of Molinari and Molinari. If hit with the question Which Molinari has a USGA title? at trivia tonight…or tomorrow…or Saturday, go with Edoardo. Two years ago, we would have expected Francesco to be in the thick of things. Now, not so much. Francesco notched five birdies on the day and escaped with a pair of bogeys in his 68. Brother Edoardo, the 2005 U.S. Amateur titleist at Merion, eclipsed younger brother Francesco in the birdie department (six on the day) but had a rough patch of plus-4 from holes 2-6 at the beginning of his round. When you can do this, however, you can erase bogey!

One actual co-leader, Russell Henley, is one of the tour’s most accurate putters. On Thursday, he toured Torrey in 27 putts, which will win the day quite often. Henley hit 8 of 14 driving fairways but found his way onto 13 greens in regulation. That approach won’t play all week, unless the putter remains white hot.

The other actual co-leader, Louis Oosthuizen, gave chase to Phil Mickelson last month at the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island. Did we anticipate a return challenge from the 2010 Open Champion at St. Andrews? Absolutely not. That, dear reader, is precisely why he is challenging. Oosthuizen’s stature demands that he play a straight-arrow game, and Torrey Pines rewards that approach this week.

3. Guys whose rotten play blew our minds on day one

Webb Simpson was 6 over par when he reached the 10th tee. Then, things got worse. He added a bogey and a double before marking down the day’s only birdie, at 18. Unless there’s a mid-60s round in the offing, Webb’s stay in San Diego will be brief.

Kevin Na might be the best player in history to have absolutely no game for major championships. Na has two token top-10 finishes in 40 career biggie starts. Other than a seventh-place finish at Oakmont in 2016, his U.S. Open record is forgettable. After an opening 77, add 2021 to the flop list.

Justin Rose won the 2019 Farmers at Torrey Pines. What that tells us: he has a nice track record when the course plays like a PGA Tour event. What that does not tell us: how he fares when the USGA takes control of cut lines, green firmness, and putting surface speeds. As far as weird rounds go, have a look at his: par par par bogey bogey bogey par par par bogey bogey bogey par par par. In hindsight, do you think he would eschew the money he was paid in 2014 to jump ship to bad clubs, after his seminal U.S. Open win? Yup. Yup. Yup.

4. Guys we are THRILLED to have in contention

Rafael Cabrera Bello, aka the beautiful goatherd, has long been one of those golfers who should have more wins than his record belies. RCB might have had the day’s only clean card. Birdie at the 2nd, eagle at the 18th, see you on Friday! The Canariano finished top-25 at Winged Foot last September, and perhaps looks to add an even better finish in 2021, thanks to an opening 68.

Keep it Spanish with El Vasco, Jon Rahm. A victim of Covid two weeks ago at The Memorial, Rahm is in town with unfinished business. Knowing well that he cannot bull his way around a U.S. Open track, Rahm has chosen a more elegant method, and it is paying dividends. After a helter-skelter front nine of birdies, bogeys, and just two pars, Rahmbo settled down on the inward half and finished his round at -2.

5. Guys we see hoisting the trophy on Sunday

Unlike Winged Foot last fall, there are no angles that allow for bomb and wedge play at Torrey Pines. Ultimately, the new prototype for a U.S. Open course will be more Torrey than Golden Age. Length doesn’t matter this year. What wins on Sunday is the golf equivalent of the decathalete. Blend all the skill sets for 96 hours, and you depart with the art. With that image seared into your mind, here are three chaps with a chance.

Hideki

Matsuyama showed us in April that he has the major disposition. If the putter stays warm, the pride of Japan will be halfway to a 2021 grand slam with his second major title.

Matt

Fitzpatrick won a U.S. Amateur the same year that Rose won the Open at Merion. Fitzy is trending upward the last few weeks, and Father’s Day might be the one for him to honor his pops with a major professional title.

Lee

As much as we love a rising-star story, we long for a fading-star comeback. Westy was oh-so-close in 2008, the year of the broken tiger. He has zero major professional titles on his family crest, so does he break through in 2021? I’m not the one to say no.

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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.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ronnie Mundt

    Jun 20, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    6. We learned Jon Rahm beat the media and governments odds and survived the Wuhan Special. So brave.

  2. The Donkey Kuch

    Jun 18, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    Kdouuuuuuche, Kdouuuuuuuuche, Kdouuuuuuuche, Kdouuuuuuuuuche, Kdouuuuuuche….

    • Regular person

      Jun 19, 2021 at 4:18 pm

      Congratulations you idiots are more annoying and dumber than the donkey you think you’re making fun of by posting that ignorant nonsense!!

  3. Brenner W Pieszak

    Jun 18, 2021 at 12:52 pm

    Those are honestly your picks to win? Lmao

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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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5 things we learned Saturday at the British Open

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For a third consecutive day, Royal St. George’s golf course provided ample opportunity for golfers to make moves up the leaderboard. As with all potions and recipes, knowing the proper amount of each ingredient was critical. For many, knowing which ingredients to leave out, and which ones to incorporate, was also decisive. Too many drivers, too much draw, too great a risk into a particular green, all resulted in lost shots and descents. By day’s end, most of the expected players were still in contention, ensuring that Sunday’s march across the storied links of RSG, sandwiched between Prince’s and Royal Cinque Ports, will be memorable.

Our memory is fading, but we do know five things that we learned today. Share them with us, won’t you?

1. Driving Suez

As Bryson DeChambeau continued his search for a new realm of golf performance, his climb up the leader board stalled. He made a double at nine and a bogey at 13 and stepped to the tee of the 14th at Sandwich at 3 over on the day. With nothing to lose, the scientist proceeded to bang driver OVER the crossing hazard known as Suez Canal. The carry was measured at 340 yards to find fairway, and DeChambeau’s tee ball ended 366 from its point of origin. His wedge approach barely missed its tiny target front left, ending in the guarding bunker. With a deft touch, Bryson got up and down for his first birdie on the day. Given the glee of the online announcers, we bore witness to a first-ever event with that swing of the driver.

2. Louis, Collin, not fade away

Louis Oosthuizen and Collin Morikawa began day three in the same pairing, separated by a pair of strokes. Morikawa began to fade with bogeys on two of his first five holes. Recalling that he was a PGA champion just a few years back, the young Californian reset and rebounded. He played the final 13 holes in minus 4, posted 68 on the day, and made up a stroke on the leader.

Oosthuizen’s front nine was ideal. He turned in 33 thanks to birdies on seven and nine. At that point in the round, the top challenge to the South African’s lead was Jordan Spieth, who also turned well on day three. Oosthuizen struggled a bit coming home carding two bogeys and one birdie, but Spieth struggled more. That will be discussed further on. As for Louis, the 2010 Open champion, his birdie at 16 renewed his lead over Morikawa. The two will partner for a second consecutive day on Sunday, and odds favor one of them to depart with the Claret Jug’s suitcase.

3. Who else remains?

Despite closing with three bogeys on his last eight holes, Jordan Spieth sits just three behind the 54-hole medalist. He has been the most impressive when it comes to making birdies of all the leaders. What he needs to solve for Sunday is how to continue this while eliminating that. “That” would be the bogeys, the lost shots, the anxious, hurried swings. His three major titles suggest that he knows how to do this, but it has been since 2017 that he hoisted major hardware. On Sunday, he might do so again.

Corey Conners and Scottie Scheffler are the most intriguing new names on the leader board. Each has played with composure and expertise — not just this week but over the past 18 months. And they’ve done so in other major championships. They’ve suffered the lumps, bumps, and bruises of also-rans and almost-weres along the way, and both appear ready to shed that baggage at Sandwich.

4. Who went away?

Dustin Johnson did. As quickly as he ascended on Friday, he derailed on Saturday. Not in fabulous, dramatic fashion, but little by little. He ended 3 over on the day and minus 4 for the week. As little as 2 under on the day would have seated him in one of the final two groups on Sunday, but 2021 was not to be DJ’s year at the Open. Rory McIlroy came and went even quicker. He was 4 under on the front nine, and 3 over on the back. His woe-ridden face, sagging shoulders, and quickened pace said it all: The tournament was his for the taking, and he forgot how.

Brooks Koepka, Emiliano Grillo, and Andy Sullivan also struggled on Saturday, as did the aforementioned Bryson DeChambeau. The common thread was trying too much and not accepting what the course offered. The wind was up, but not to a flamboyant degree, just enough to topple wayward strikes toward sand and higher grass.

5. Who wins on Sunday?

This guy. Two Open titles in the same year.

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