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Morning 9: Lexi to retire | Hadwin’s club debacle | Thorbjornsen earns card

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By Ben Alberstadt with Gianni Magliocco.

For comments: [email protected]

Good Wednesday morning, golf fans, as we gear up for the Canadian Open and U.S. Women’s Open.

1. Lexi Thompson retiring

GolfWRX staff…”Lexi Thompson has announced that she is to retire from full-time competitive golf at this season’s end.”

  • “Thompson revealed her retirement plans via the USGA ahead of this week’s U.S. Open. “
  • “This week’s U.S Open will be Thompson’s 18th consecutive start in the U.S. Women’s Open.”
  • “Thompson won the 2014 ANA Inspiration (now Chevron Championship) and notched 11 LPGA Tour victories, as well as representing the United States in the Solheim Cup six times during her illustrious career.”
Full piece.

2. More on Lexi

Ron Sirak for USGA.org…”The legacy of Lexi Thompson began at a USGA championship in 2007 when the 12-year-old prodigy became the then-youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history. On Tuesday, she bookended a remarkable career at another USGA championship – the 79th U.S. Women’s Open Presented by Ally – when she announced her retirement from full-time competitive golf.”

  • “The stunning news from the 29-year-old known for her powerful drives and gentle manner with her many fans was another twist in a golf journey that saw many successes and a few “what if” moments.”
  • “When she tees it up Thursday at Lancaster Country Club it will be Thompson’s 18th consecutive start in the U.S. Women’s Open, which is a mindboggling achievement for someone who just celebrate her 29th birthday in February.”
  • “And while what lays ahead for Lexi remains vague, her many accomplishments are crystal clear. She won the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship in 2008; made the cut in the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open at 14 and went 4-0-1 for the United States in the 2010 Curtis Cup at 15.”
Full piece.

3. Hadwin’s club debacle

Our Matt Vincenzi…After yet another airline debacle involving missing clubs, the 36-year-old took to X to express his displeasure with the situation.

  • Hadwin has a strong history at the Canadian Open, finishing T12 last year and 6th in 2019, which is the most recent time that Hamilton has hosted the event.
  • Hopefully, Adam will be able to compete in his country’s National Open with his own set of clubs.
  • Hadwin tweeted…”I know most of you feel the same way I am right now when airlines mess up. I’ve been dealing with @AirCanada all day trying to get me clubs out of Denver.  Been told one thing only for something else to happen. At this point they have sat in Denver for 20 hours without making it…Onto another flight to Toronto. Unacceptable. It’s not as if Denver and Toronto are remote.  Airlines need to do better.”
Full piece.

4. Slow play penalty

Our Matt Vincenzi…”A slow play penalty has proven costly for University of Virginia sophomore Ben James.”

  • “James finished in a six-way tie for second, missing a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that left him one shy of the winner, Hiroshi Tai from Georgia Tech.”
  • “While I’m sure he’d like to have the birdie putt back, what really cost James was the penalty he received during Friday’s first round of the event, when both James and Baard Skogen of Texas Tech received one-stroke penalties for slow play. The penalty was assessed on the par-4 17th hole.”
  • James spoke with Golf Digest about the penalty.
  • “It’s a crazy game. One shot. It’s the rules, but it sucks. It stings. There’s such a fine line in golf.”
  • He added that they were given a warning on hole 14.
  • “We weren’t trying to slow up play. We were just trying to play our best golf.”
  • “I knew the result wasn’t going to change, but I wanted to get everything out. And I think that was important. … It made me feel better giving my two cents.”
Full piece.

5. Lexi ‘very content’ with the retirement decision

Mike Hall for Golf Monthly…”Lexi Thompson has explained why she is comfortable with her decision to retire from full-time professional golf at the age of just 29.”

  • “Despite her relatively young age, the American will be competing in her 18th consecutive US Women’s Open this week, having first appeared at the Major when she was just 12. In an emotional press conference ahead of the Lancaster Country Club event, Thompson admitted that golf has dominated her life since her early childhood and that she is ready to try new things.”
  • “She said: “Golf has been my life ever since I was 5 years old, tournaments when I was 7. I haven’t really known much of a life different, but it’s been an amazing one.”
  • “She continued: “There’s more things to life than going to a tournament every week and doing the same training every day. There’s just more to it, and I’m looking forward to experiencing that.”
  • “I feel like I’m very content with where my life is and where this decision will lead me to. Yeah, I’m just looking forward to what life has in store other than golf.”
Full piece.

6. Nelly Korda pays tribute to Lexi

Ronan MacNamara for Irish Golfer…”World number one Korda has played alongside Thompson for USA in the Solheim Cup in recent years and she says Lexi will have left a lasting impact on the LPGA Tour.”

  • “She’s had such an amazing career, I think. I’ve gotten to be on the team with her a couple times representing our country,” said Korda who is looking for her seventh win in eight starts this week.
  • “I think she does an amazing job for the Tour. She spends so much time going to each Pro-Am party. She really dedicated her time to growing the game. It’s sad to see that she’s obviously leaving and not going to be out here with us anymore, but she’s had an amazing career, and I wish her the best in this new chapter of her life.”
Full piece.

7. ICYMI: Thorbjornsen secures PGA Tour card

Field Level Media report…”Michael Thorbjornsen of Stanford finished No. 1 in the PGA Tour University standings and secured his PGA Tour card as soon as he turns professional.”

  • “Thorbjornsen, a 22-year-old from Massachusetts, was one of the top players in college golf this season and has capitalized on the relatively new pathway for amateurs to qualify for the tour directly through college. Thorbjornsen accrued a high enough points average over the past two years to finish the 2023-24 NCAA season atop the rankings.”
  • “Points are awarded for playing college tournaments as well as getting into professional events. Thorbjornsen has made the cut in four professional tournaments already, most recently the 2023 John Deere Classic. He placed fourth at the 2022 Travelers Championship, where he was playing on an exemption.”
Full Piece.
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5 Things We Learned: Saturday at the U.S. Open

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If you weren’t on the edge of your seat as Saturday afternoon’s play thread unraveled, you were certainly having a good nap. Golf at Pinehurst was riveting, as birdies and double bogeys faced off in a breathaking dance. Competitors suddenly rose to heights, then fell just as quickly away to the depths. The leader through three rounds stands at seven-under par, with seven other conestants at minus-one or better. For the first time all week, the lead involves just one golfer, and there is a three-shot gap until the next players. It’s uncharted territory for the 124th US Open, and it merits a bit of investigation and explanation, along with a dash of anticipation. Five bits of information tie the third round in a splendid bow, and I’ll share those five things we learned with you, right now.

1. Holes 1 and 2 are not to be assumed

Thomas Detry’s hard work went away in the space of 35 minutes. He opened with bogey and followed with double, at Saturday’s first two holes. Pinehurst #2 can still be managed, but it’s a lot harder when you’re already three over par on the day. Neither the first nor the second is particularly daunting from a distance perspective. One plays slightly downward, and two is even more downhill, but the challenges around the green are regrettable, when not properly planned. Detry made five from the middle of the first fairway, thanks to three putts from the front of the putting surface. He followed with six at the second, victimized first by the piney sands along the fairway, then by the bunker that guards the right edge of the green. Detry fell away to two-over par after his 76, and will wonder how the formerly-benign opening sharpened its claws so quickly.

Solid Quote: Yeah, didn’t really get off to a great start. 3-putted the first. We (Detry and Caddy) kind of misjudged the yardage on the 2nd, which left us in a horrible spot. So double there.

Honestly, couldn’t have been a worse start because I didn’t really miss a shot, to be honest. We kind of misjudged the yardage. Laid up in the bunker. Kind of game over. 3-over after three, not good.

But I kind of regrouped nicely after that. The greens are a little bit bumpy, moving a little bit more. I shaved a couple of edges. Felt like I was a little bit unlucky on the greens. I’m looking forward for some redemption tomorrow.

2. Hole number three, while early, can be pivotal

The USGA was content to push the tees up a bit on the short, third hole on Saturday. It paid off, as players went after the green with their tee shots. Eagles were sparingly made, and birdies came more often than on previous days. If a player stands even or a bit under par after the opening pair, then finds birdie or eagle at three on Sunday, heartbeats will quicken and the game will be truly afoot. They’ll need to follow the leads of Neal Shipley and Cory Conners, both of whom found the putting surface in one on Saturday.

Solid Quote: Out here you can’t play defensive golf. If you (Morikawa) play defensive golf, it goes offline a little bit more, you’re 35 yards away from the pin.

3. Make your move in the round’s middle

Bryson DeChambeau picked up four shots on the card on Saturday, from holes five through eleven. The strong man from Texafornia (grew up in California, then played college golf in Texas) saved strokes at five and seven, then packed consecutive birdies at ten and eleven. The middle holes at the Deuce aren’t necessarily soft. They are attractive to scoring, especially when you’ve found a way to survive the first quartet. You gain momentum at the fourth, with the massively-downhill drive, then build opportunity with a well-planned fifth, the first par five of the day. The long holes are finished at the tenth green, but holes eleven through fourteen offer the chance to save a few more shots, before the long trek home.

Solid Quote: … on 13 I (DeChambeau) was going for the flag knowing the wind was off the right. It it went over to the left, totally fine. But I pushed it just a little bit and drew it back perfectly at the flag on 13. I knew that was in the realm of possibilities. Got a little lucky there.

Then 14 I was trying to hit it more toward Ludvig’s ball. I hit a great shot, just didn’t start out with any draw spin and the wind pushed it right towards the flag.

That’s kind of what you’re doing out here, is you’re trying to play conservative golf that gives you the opportunity to hit it close in some scenarios. That’s the best way I can describe it.

4. Hold on through the finish

Pinehurst’s number two course closes with two par threes, a par four that was built to be a par five, and an unforgettable finisher that conjures up images of fist pumps and sighs of relief. It’s hard to build a rhythm when you hit iron-drive-iron-driver over the closing quartet.

Solid quote: You (Pavon) feel like sometimes you are flying a little bit, your game, everything is going on, and then at some point you just miss one green, can see a bogey, and then all of a sudden it starts to be harder in your mind and in your game, and you still have to finish the round.

5. How do we sort this out?

With a three-shot advantage, the joystick is in DeChambeau’s hand. He forces everyone to shoot 67 or better, if he posts 70. His pairing in the final game with Matthieu Pavon is not ideal. The Frenchman has the potential to play a solid round, but his inexperience with the klieg lights of a major championship, fourth round, final pairing could lead to a high number. Does this faltering then distract DeChambeau? Perhaps. I believe that will happen, and he will post 72 on the day, finishing at minus five.

That wee wobble opens the door for the penultimate pairing. Cantlay and McIlroy will feel like the final day at a Ryder Cup, perhaps even a rehearsal for 2025 and Bethpage Black. They will be uber-focused on beating each other. The expectation will be that no other leader is better suited to handle Sunday’s pressure. Win the battle and you win the war. One of the two of them will post 68, and will reach a playoff at minus six.

The other playoff participant will come from a bit farther back. Either Hideki or Ludvig will inscribe 66 on his card on day the fourth, and will join battle for another two holes. We haven’t had a US Open playoff since Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in 2008, which means that we’ve never experienced a two-hole, aggregate score resolution.

We’ll have one on Sunday, plus one more hole. If contestants are tied after the aggregate, they move to sudden victory on the third playoff hole and beyond. After the two golfers match scores on one and eighteen, the 2024 US Open will be decided on the second playing of the first hole, and the winner will be the first male Japanese golfer to claim a USGA Open title: Hideki Matsuyama. For him, it will be fun.

Solid Quote: Yeah, I (Matsuyama) think I would be able to enjoy tomorrow if I can adjust my shot and putt well. It will be something fun tomorrow.

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5 Things We Learned: Friday at the U.S. Open

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Any weather concerns that surfaced earlier have vanished, meaning that the 2024 US Open, the 124th of its kind, will finish on time and without distraction nor interruption. Golfers that posted plus-six or higher have missed the cut, reducing the field of competitors to 74. The likes of Viktor Hovland, Max Homa, Will Zalatoris and, yes, Tiger Woods, will not figure any longer, in the outcome of this year’s playing. The leader stands currently at minus-five, and has 19 other golfers at even-par or better, heading into the weekend.

Neither of the day-one leaders succeeded in shooting below par on day two, so the lead did not stretch over the second 18 holes. Will something similar happen on Saturday? Will a golfer rise from the chasers, to seize the 54-hole lead?  It’s quite early to say, but certainly the Open will not be won on Saturday. It will be lost by more than a handful, so grab your snacks and buckle up for a Carolina shoot-out on day three. As for five things that we learned on day two, we have them!

1. Ludvig the Oh-Bear leads the Open

Ludvig Aberg posted one of the 24 rounds under 70 on Friday. Those scores ranged down to the 66 posted by Hideki Matsuyama. Aberg made half as many birdies (three) as he did on Thursday, but he also made just two bogeys, the same number as day one. It’s safe to say that Aberg will take two bogeys per round over the next two days, as long as no big numbers creep onto his scorecard. 2024 may be his first US Open, but history is filled with first-time winners. It has been a while for this national championship, so why not this year?

Solid Quote: … I played the U.S. Amateur here a couple years ago. I think just with the way those greens are, when it gets really firm, and just because you don’t really have any bail-out areas, you’ve just got to take on the golf shots and see where it ends up, and if you don’t pull it off, you’re going to have a really tricky short game shot. I think it’s a challenging golf course, but once again, that’s the way it was supposed to be.

2. Three x Four equals ???

Bryson DeChabeau, Thomas Detry, and Patrick Cantlay all concluded play on Friday evning at 136 total strokes. Cantlay and Detry will tee on in the penultimate pairing, while DeChambeau will match wills with the second-round leader in the day’s final game.

Detry reached six-under par through 14 holes, before two late bogeys brought him back to the field. The Belgian had nine one-putt greens on day two at Pinehurst. His T4 finish at this year’s PGA Championship gave him a bit of experience on how to manage his game through the waning moments of a major. Can he repeat the achievement in Pinehurst?

Cantlay was not the same golfer that signed for 65 on Thursday. He posted but three birdies on Friday, and stumbled with double at eight, and a pair of bogeys on the inward side. As for DeChambeau, he was able to achieve the all important ratio of more-birdies-than-bogeys for a second consecutive day. Which of the three will persevere, and feature on Sunday?

Solid Quote: I (Detry) always tend to do better at courses where pars gains on the field. I feel like this week, you make a par, you gain on the field, keep moving on. I always seem to do better that way. It puts a little bit less pressure on my putting. When I have a birdie chance, it’s like a bonus. I’ve done a great job of taking advantage of it today, I think.

3. Trio at three-deep has eyes on a day-three move

Rory McIlroy, Tony Finau, and Matthieu Pavon finished play on day two at 137 strokes. Neither Rory nor Pavon was able to produce a second consecutive round under par, but they did what was necessary, during a round when they had much less than their best. As for Finau, his move to a new putting grip paid off, and he posted 69 to move inside the top five. Much like the three-pack mentioned in point number two, we have an outsider, a potential winner, and a favorite in this group. Among these three, the standout will certainly be …

Solid Quote:  It’s just work. As I (Pavon) say, work, discipline, learning from the past mistakes you’ve done. The most dangerous guy is the one that learns from mistakes. That’s my opinion. I failed a lot. Helped me to understand a couple things in my game, in my swing. I finally got my first win in Europe. Bring me a lot of confidence because it was showing to me and myself that we were on the right road on everything we were, like, doing in terms of training and stuff like that.

4. Hideki rebounds with perfect card

There was a point on Thursday, during a tournament feed, when one of the commentaors contrasted Hideki’s win at Augusta in 2021 with his struggles on Pinehurst’s greens. Between that time and Friday evening, Hideki figured out those putting surfaces, to the tune of four birdies and zero bogeys. What’s frightening is, Matsuyama (see below) still feels that there is room for improvement. Imagine if he straightens out the other facets of his game!

Solid Quote:  I feel like my short game is really good. Feel like there’s plenty of adjustment to my iron game. Hopefully I can adjust that through the week.

5. Prediction time!

I’m happy to provide a few predictions, to get you through the morning hours on Saturday. My prescience is unrivaled by any, and my predictive abilities have no equal. I may not be Francesco Molinari, who brought drama to a new level with a 36th-hole ace to make the cut, but I do know a thing or two about major championships. Without delay, here are a few predictions about Saturday at Pinehurst:

Leader after three rounds: Bryson DeChambeau

Falls away, predictably: Matthieu Pavon

Falla away, unexpectadly: Patrick Cantlay

Struggles, but sticks around: Ludvig Alberg and Rory McIlroy

Jumps into the mix, thanks to a 65: Billy Horschel

Solid Quote: (in case you forgot how difficult this is, courtesy of the defending champion, Wyndham Clark) If you miss a green, even though you give yourself all the green in the world, it should be somewhat of an easy up-and-down, but you’re into the grain on your chip and then you have to go uphill and then downgrain. It was just difficult. It’s really easy to make bogeys out here.

 

 

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5 Things We Learned: Thursday at the U.S. Open

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I’ve posted on social media that I’m not convinced that the viewing public is ready for three U.S. Open tournaments at Pinehurst #2, over a twelve-year span. I like the course and I love the sandhills, but the deuce is not a visually-stunning course. The topography, with the exception of holes four and five, is flattish. Flattish not in an Old Course way. Flattish in a where’s-the-movement way. I have erred in judgment, and it is possible that the television audiences will take to Donald Ross’ masterpiece in a manner that I did not anticipate.

This much I do know: many players took to the course with great affection on Thursday, aka Day One. Scores got as low as 65, and twenty golfers finished day one under par. This was not an easy day for scoring, either. With the exception of holes nine and ten, no other hole location could be labeled center of green. Competitors were forced to play to safe sides of putting surfaces, and encourage the putter to make a statement. Certainly, the USGA could make the targets even more precise, but chances are, they won’t.

What to expect? Hard to say, but five things that we do know, are elaborated below. Welcome to mid-June, and another US Open championship at Pinehurst. Welcome to five things we learned on day one of the 2024 US Open.

1. Is Patty Ice chillin’ again?

It’s hard to fathom that Patrick Cantlay has not won since August of 2022. In 2023, his performance for Team USA’s Ryder Cup side was decent, but not glowing nor glorious. With the rise of new talents, Captain America 2.0 has been relegated to an afterthought. It used to be When will he win a major and now it’s Will he win again. This week at Pinehurst, Cantlay might answer both questions with vigorous affirmation.

Cantlay was nearly flawless across the gem of Moore county. His 7:40 tee time was a boon, as the course was soft, windless, and untrampled. His only bogey came at the 15th hole, where his tee ball found sand and he was unable to get up and down for the sandy. His six birdies came at the first and last holes of the day, along with the fifth, sixth, eighth, and eleventh holes.

Solid Quote:  “I got the ball up and down on 7, made a bunch of putts inside, eight feet. I think around this golf course, you’re going to leave yourself putts inside eight feet. That four- to eight-foot range. It important that you hole out. I did that well today.”

2. The Oh-Bear stakes his claim

After we all mispronounced his name for the first six months of his professional career, we go to know the Oh-Bear when he won on tour and then earned statement victories at the 2023 Ryder Cup in Italy. On Thursday at number two, Ludvig Aberg signed for a 66 and reminded us all that he is a strengthening force in the world of golf. Aberg won last September on the DP World Tour, then again in November on the PGA Tour. In April, the Swedish lad posted a brilliant, runner-up finish at Augusta National, in the year’s first major championship.

Thursday saw a sextet of birdies wander onto Ludvig’s symphony. Like Cantlay, he made birdie at the first and the last. Holes five, nine, eleven, and twelve also surrendered stroke-savers. His hiccoughs came on the par-three sixth and the par-four fourteenth, where he made bogey. Aberg never appears to lose control nor confidence, and that system will serve him well over the next three days. Like Cantlay, Aberg will tee off in the afternoon wave on Friday. Both will see different course conditions, and their ability to adapt will serve them quite well.

Solid Quote: “Yeah, I think staying very disciplined is important. There’s a lot of pins where you don’t really think about going for. So me and Joe, my caddie, we have a lot of good conversations about certain areas that you try to hit it on.”

3. Peacock rides two eagles to three-under 67

Matthieu Pavon’s last name might translate as peacock from French, but eagles were his bird of choice on day one at Pinehurst. The first-time winner on the PGA Tour made but one birdie on the day, on the par-four eighth hole. He had twice as many bogeys, but that’s not his story. His day was made on the 5th and 10th holes, the two long holes at Pinehurst number two.

In his words, Pavon made his four best swings on the par five holes. He converted both eagle putts to save four more strokes, and ended his day at three-under par. Pavon transitioned from the courses of Europe to the layouts of the USA this season, and his learning curve has softened with each week. Pinehurst will provide as much challenge as any peacock needs, but this bird is already playing with house money.

Solid Quote: “It’s more about seeing breaks because when it’s slower, when you have less break, the ball doesn’t move as much as here. Here it’s really — it’s steep, it’s fast, it’s grainy, so the ball moves quite a lot. You have a lot of curves on the green.”

4. Rory roars to top

Can you say Clean card? Rory McIlroy went 18 holes at Pinehurst #2 without a bogey. He drove the ball supremely well, and putted with surgical precision. We all know the good news that came out of his personal world this week, so we can put Rory the person on the back burner, and focus entirely on Rory the golfer.

McIlroy was in the featured, afternoon triumvirate, with the two most recent major champions. Do you think he had something to prove? Aye. While the Masters champion managed a 71, and the PGA champion posted 70, Rory was the class of the 1:14 tee time. His birdies at four and five gave him early confidence, and his work on the inward half boosted him into his tie at the top. A birdie at ten restarted the momentum, and the Northern Irishman closed with two more birdies over the final three holes.

Solid Quote: “You’ve got to get lucky. I had a lot of really good numbers today where I could just go ahead and hit full shots. Whenever you’re hitting full shots into these greens, the ball is going to stop a little quicker than if you have to take something off or hit little three-quarter shots.”

5. Bryson stays the course and stays top five

The 2020 US Open champion, despite a well-publicized defection to a rival league, has been the most successful, non-PGA Tour golfer of late in majors. DeChambeau has done everything but win, finding top-seven finishes in each of this season’s grand slam events.

DeChambeau began his day on the second nine, where five of the top seven golfers opened their round. Birdies at 13 and 18 brought him through the turn at minus-two. Two more stroke-savers at three and five elevated him to within a shot of the lead. Even though he stumbled with bogey five at the seventh, DeChambeau finished the day at minus-three. Bryson will tee off at 7:40 on Friday, and much like Rory, will have a chance to post a number early and position himself for a weekend charge.

Solid Quote: “That putt on 6 today was crucial from 80 feet. I could have easily putted off the green as well as No. 9. Really making sure my speed control is good, starting lines are good. I did accomplish for the most part what I was trying to do today besides 7.”

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