Augusta Post Mortem

The dust has settled, the victor crowned . . . here are some takeaways from the 2018 Masters.

1. Apparently, people love Patrick Reed when he beats Rory McIlroy in the Ryder Cup, but not so much at the Masters. The response from the patrons at Augusta in regards to Reed’s victory was decidedly muted, which on surface seems strange given his ties to the area (he led unheralded Augusta State to consecutive NCAA titles over traditional collegiate powerhouses) and his “Captain America” persona. But Reed has carried a certain amount of baggage with him – he was accused of cheating in competition while playing for the University of Georgia, his wife had his parents removed from the grounds of the U.S. Open last year, and he carries himself with a cockiness and arrogance that has rubbed both fellow competitors and sponsors the wrong way (a friend of mine in the sports marketing business told me that after winning the Humana Classic in 2014 – a tournament whereupon he declared himself to be among the top 5 players in the world – he pretty much blew off any sponsor commitments).

2. None of which should detract from his victory last Sunday. Once Rory showed his nerves on the second hole by missing a short eagle putt that would have tied him for the lead, Reed went for the kill and pretty much eliminated the Irishman from the tournament. He is a fierce and fearless competitor who rebounded time and again from his own mistakes to bring home the green jacket.

3. Jordan Spieth would love to replay the 18th – twice. Spieth’s bookend rounds of 66 and 64 were both marred by bogies on 18 in which he tangled with the left side trees off the tee. The final round incident was particularly cruel, as he was in the process of fashioning a historic final round that caught Reed’s attention. His drive clipped a lone branch that left him over 300 yards from the green. Still, he had about a 8 foot par putt to keep him within a shot of Reed, but he overread the break.

4. The Ryder Cup singles match I want to see is Reed vs Rahm. Jon Rahm has carried on the tradition of great Spanish golfers who wear their emotions on their sleeves. He and Reed would put on a show in match play. But Rahm need to lose the beard.

5. Tony Finau is one tough son of a bitch. Finau, who many had as a dark horse contender, made a hole in one in Wednesday’s Par-3 Tournament, and while celebrating his ace, dislocated his left ankle – the angle at which he turned it was as gruesome as I’ve seen in any sport, and the aftermath was pretty ugly. Amazingly, he popped it back into place and teed it up the following day. Not only did he make the cut (and survive the hilliest course on tour), but his final round 66 featured 6 consecutive birdies on the back nine.

6. The Rickie Fowler Major Watch continues – but this was his best effort to date, firing a final round 67 to put himself into 2nd place.

7. Phil/Tiger were essentially non-stories. After a strong opening round, Mickelson barely made the cut on the number. And playing a course that for the first time since his comeback forced him to hit a lot of drivers, Tiger’s deficiencies with that club were exposed. But watch out for these two at Shinnecock Hills at the U.S. Open in June, a track which should suit both of their games.

8. Cameron Smith: keep an eye on him. He looks like a 12 year old, but the young Aussie is strong in all facets of the game and has been turning up on leaderboards fairly consistently after winning (with Jonas Blixt) the Zurich last year. His closing 66 put him in a tie for 5th with McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, and Bubba Watson. Not bad company to keep.

9. Remember Danny Willet? The 2016 champ has missed the cut at Augusta the past two years and has played rather poorly since then.

10. The Announcement – This perhaps should be higher up on the list, but Augusta National’s decision to hold a world-wide women’s amateur championship in advance of the Masters is groundbreaking on so many levels. Kudos to them.

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He’s Back (Part the Infinity)

[Yes, yes, I know it’s been a while. Some changes – some planned, some unforeseen – have kept the Golf Nerd off the intertoobs for a while. But I’m back – and that coincides with the return of a slightly better known golf entity . . .]

Apparently, Paul Casey picked the wrong weekend to win a golf tournament.

Virtually any other week, the golfing press would report on Casey finally exorcizing the final round demons that had kept the talented Englishman out of the PGA Tour winner’s circle since 2009 by firing a final round 65 to take home the Valspar Championship against a reasonably strong field ….

No. No one wants to hear about that.

Instead, the golf world – check that, the sporting world – is agog over the fact that Tiger Woods is “back.”

“Back” takes on a variety of connotations here – it appears that the radical fusion surgery that was done on that part of the Big Cat’s anatomy (please don’t ask what actually got fused; to me, vertebrae are labeled like Scrabble tiles) appears to have held up, allowing him to complete four rounds of golf relatively pain free and with a swing that is producing scary numbers as far as speed is  concerned.

“Back” in that apart from missing the cut at the Genesis Open at Rivera (a track that for some reason has never suited his game), Tiger has shown remarkable progress each time he has teed it up, starting with making the cut on the number at Torrey Pines to almost getting himself into a playoff with Casey.

“Back,” meaning television ratings and on-course attendance went through the roof for a tournament that otherwise would normally attract us typical golf nerds and not too many other folks.

“Back” to the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational next week in Orlando, which TW has already captured a ridiculous 8 times.

“Back” in that Vegas has installed Woods as a 10-1 favorite at Augusta in a few weeks, which a few months ago would have been unthinkable.

Yeah, the man, as they say, “moves the needle.” The Golf Nerd Goddess and I were pretty much glued to our TV for most of the weekend to see if Tiger could hold up for the weekend. Phil Mickelson, after ending his own victory drought at the WGC event in Mexico City the previous week, joked on The Dan Patrick Show, joked that Tiger would probably win the Valspar just to one-up him again. With all due respect to Lefty, Woods being in contention was enough to push him to the background.

As someone who had pretty much written off Woods and either dismissed or ridiculed each of his previous comeback attempts, I will own that and happily eat some crow, humble pie, or whatever plateful of slop you wish to place in front of me. At the same time, folks thinking that he’s “back” to being the unstoppable dominant force of yesterday need to pump the brakes.

Yes, the swing speed is back. At the same time, it’s still a challenge for Woods to get the driver in the fairway. To be fair, the few times he pulled it out on Sunday he drove it beautifully, but not having the confidence in it to hit it on the final hole trailing by a shot left him a good 50 or so yards back for his approach from the rest of the field. That could very well put him at a disadvantage on venues where length is a factor.

His iron play, by his own admission, was average at best on Sunday, an outcome he attributed to being in-between clubs a lot of the time. That can be attributed to a lack of feel and an absence from being in the thick of competition for a while.

Tiger knows all of that – and that may be why that this version of the Cat may be the most endearing to watch. You knew that this was a different Tiger when he was genuinely pleased at making that cut at Torrey. And when he rolled in that gargantuan put on 17 to pull within one of the lead, there was no histrionic fist pump and shout; rather, a huge, almost sheepish smile broke out over his face, almost as if to say “Did I just do that?”

The man has been through a lot – yeah, much of it has been self-inflicted, but we love a comeback story, don’t we? Particularly one where the protagonist has been humbled and is grinding his way back, which is the script that Woods seems to be following. And throwing him into a mix of the talented young guns and a seemingly ageless Mickelson should make for compelling watching in the coming weeks.

Oh – and Paul Casey? Nice win, pal.

Departures and Arrivals

Golf in the Olympics turned out to be surprisingly compelling. Justin Rose edged out Henrik Stenson on the men’s side, while In Bee Park, carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations, dominated the women’s competition. Moreover, Gil Hanse’s masterful course design not only delivered a marvelous canvas for the participants to display their skills, but also provided a low-maintenance track that could springboard golf participation in Brazil.

Or so we thought. Reports from several publications indicate that the Olympic Golf Course is dying a slow but inevitable death. Reasons cited are the high greens fees ($74 – $82 per round), resulting in very few rounds being played (on the bright side, no pace of play issues!) and the continued financial crisis is Brazil, which has resulted in the course’s maintenance crew not being paid for at least a couple of months.

A friend of mine pointed out that many Olympic venues become white elephants after the Games closing ceremonies (really, how much use would a cycling velodrome or kayaking course get post-Olympics?) and that one should have expected this outcome.  He’s probably correct, but unlike the other structures, a golf course has a life, and the good/great ones have a distinct character. Rio’s Olympic Golf Course has the latter in spades, what with its wide fairways, strategic bunkering, and seaside linksy qualities- in other words, the type of course that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.

It will be missed.


In the meantime, one of my home courses, TPC at the Four Seasons, will hold its final Byron Nelson Classic next year. This is only a mild surprise to us, as AT&T took over sponsorship a few years ago and announced its intention to move the tournament to a new Crenshaw-Coore design in a currently depressed area that is being gentrified (and in which AT&T has a vested interest) in 2019 The course has been announced ready to play; hence, the move date was bumped up by a year.

I’m of mixed emotions about this, as I think most members of courses who host a professional event would be. While there is a certain prestige of holding a tour event as well as an emphasis on course conditioning, there’s also some inconvenience involved, primarily loss of access to the facility (although in our case, we’re fortunate in being a  36 hole complex, so our members can continue to play).

And I’m not sure how the professionals will feel about the move. At one time, “The Byron” was a must play, particularly when Mr Nelson was still with us. Our course has hosted the event since 1983; the list of past winners is a veritable who’s who of golfing greats. In recent years, the field has been somewhat diluted due in part to a PGA Tour schedule change that moved the The Players Championship from March to May, occurring a week before “The Byron.” Many big name players choose to take off the week following The Players Championship.

As stated above, The Byron’s new venue, Trinity Forest Golf Club, is part of a redevelopment project in a somewhat depressed area of Dallas. The course was built on top of a landfill, and has a decidedly links-like feel. My guess is that the pros will enjoy the course, but will miss the convenience of the current site, which features a 4 star hotel on premises and easy access to both DFW and Love Field airports. And from a spectator’s standpoint, parking and transport in and out of The Four Seasons is pretty straightforward. Not so much for the new venue.

I won’t miss having cart-path only access to TPC for three months, nor will I miss the disruption of grandstand and concession stand construction/deconstruction that accompanies the tournament. But the atmosphere at The Byron has always been quite festive, and the golf remarkable. Plus there was always the opportunity of a chance encounter with Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, or Paulina Gretsky.

It will be missed.


After months of conjecture and near-misses, it appears that Tiger Woods will finally make his return at his Hero Challenge in the Bahamas, a very limited field event (20 players) that doesn’t count as an official PGA Tour event but somehow counts in the World Golf Rankings. When Tiger began his layoff in late 2015, his ranking was 247; it’s now somewhere in the 800’s. Golf writer Jason Sobel wanted to know how such a fall could occur while The Big Cat wasn’t playing; my response to him was that either position was not particularly desirable. [To his credit, Tiger, when asked by one reporter what his expectations were for the season, joked that if he could be in the top 1,000 in the world rankings, he’d be happy].

In a year that’s seen a US Ryder Cup victory, a number of notable celebrity deaths and a political campaign that has gone beyond surreal, I am not even going to hazard a guess as to how Woods performs this week. He did proclaim that he can now hit “any shot, any time on demand,” which hopefully translates to him being able to find the fairway off the tee more consistently. I’ll leave it to Peter Kostis or Gary McCord to analyze his swing changes; to my relatively untrained eye, he seems to have come up with a move that puts less stress on his back.

I wish him well. That may come as a surprise to some who know my past feelings about him, but he seems to have developed some perspective during his layoff. Last year at this time, he spoke of being “vulnerable,” something that most folks would have never expected from such a dominant figure. I think his involvement as a vice-captain in the Ryder Cup was well-received by the US team, and he’s already been tapped for a similar role for the Presidents Cup next year.

But please, please, please – let’s temper our expectations. This will not be Tiger circa 2007. He will no longer show up on Sunday wearing red and scaring the shit out of the competition. He won’t make every putt inside of 6 feet when it matters the most. And he won’t catch Jack Nicklaus’s major championship record.

Then again, I never thought Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States. Stay tuned.

 

The Trouble With Being Monty

Ever since the rest of Europe was brought into the Ryder Cup fold, several of its players have served as lightning rods for American fans. Seve Ballesteros was the original, of course, but other Cup antagonists have included Nick Faldo, Sergio Garcia, Jesper Parnavik, Ian Poulter, and, now, apparently, Rory McIlroy. It’s curious to note that when playing on their own on the American PGA tour , most of these guys are (or were) at worst respected, and in many cases very well-liked. Sergio’s win at this year’s Byron Nelson Classic was quite popular, and McIlroy, when he is not puffing his chest in response to slights perceived or otherwise, is generally well received by US spectators.

There was one man, however, who brought out disdain from us Yanks regardless of circumstance. I’m speaking, of course, of one Colin Montgomerie.

Monty never won an event on US soil until he got to the Champions Tour, although he came agonizingly close in a couple of US Opens (both times bested by Ernie Els) as well as in the 1995 PGA, when Steve Elkington beat him in a playoff. But he was a beast in Europe, having won the Order of Merit a record 8 times, and was absolute kryptonite in the Ryder Cup, posting a 20-win, -9-loss, -7-tie record, and was never beaten in a singles match. He also captained the European team to a win in the 2010 cup at Celtic Manor in Wales.

But what was it about Monty that brought out the wrath of American golf followers? Some pointed to his doughy physique. Others mentioned his facial expression, which seemed to be in a permanent cross state of despair and disgust. He earned the moniker Mrs. Doubtfire as a result of this.

But primarily – Monty suffered from what we call “rabbit ears.”  It’s only a slight exaggeration to state that he could stand on the 16th tee at Firestone and hear a mosquito land on the green some 625 yards away.

I witnessed this phenomena at the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot, where Monty was in a group with Greg Norman and Tom Lehman. By the second hole, Monty had already berated the fairway marshal for “partisan behavior” – the poor guy applauded after Lehman hit a nice approach shot – and was bemoaning the lie he had in the rough, circling his ball while clomping his feet like a Budweiser Clydesdale. He finally was ready to address the shot when suddenly he glared skyward. A jet plane was flying overhead. Apparently, someone forgot to explain to Monty that there are 3 major airports in the New York city metropolitan area.

In any event, once Monty’s Achilles heel became evident, American fans were merciless. He was heckled so badly in his singles match against Payne Stewart at the 1999 Ryder Cup that Stewart conceded the point to Colin.

In advance of the 2002 US Open at Bethpage, Golf Digest mounted a “Be Nice to Monty” campaign, passing out some 25,000 buttons to a raucous New York crowd. Most of them found their way into trash bins.

My first visit to Scotland was in 2001, which happened to be the year that David Duval won the Open. While staying at a b&b in Dornoch, my host commented that he was quite taken by Duval’s acceptance speech, as it didn’t fit his perception of the champion. Now, in the proper setting,  Monty can be surprisingly charming as an interviewee. I tried to point this out to my host; however, he was having none of it. “Ah, he’s a spoiled brat, that Monty!” he replied. “He can piss off!”

Poor Monty – even in his own country, he gets crapped upon.

On Twitter, there’s a poster whose handle is Darth Monty, who assumes a comic Monty persona. Sample tweets

“Just 15 minutes until the greatest show on earth. The #RyderCup accompanied by my commentary. All credit to me.”

“Congratulations USA on your #RyderCup win, a great feeling. I should know –  I’ve won a shit load of them. All credit to you.”

By the way, Darth Monty has over 16 thousand followers.

Montgomerie has been enjoying a successful campaign on the Champions Tour, and for the most part, the spectators who attend those events have treated him kindly. Maybe both he and we have mellowed.

Or maybe it’s just a loss of hearing.

Post Cup Check

 

Some quick thoughts on the Ryder Cup . . .

 

How is it that at any other tournament held in the US, spectators will cheer Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, or Justin Rose, but behave like an audience at the Roman Coliseum when the same guy show up to play for Samuel Ryder’s trophy? Sadly, Danny Willet’s brother was proven correct. While Euro Ryder Cup audiences are loud and boisterous, there’s not the vulgarity or outright breaches of etiquette that was on display at Hazeltine.

Speaking of Danny, his post-Cup presser was quite succinct. When asked how to describe his initial Ryder Cup experience, Willet, who finished 0-3-0 and suffered insults from the crowd, responded, “Shit.” When asked to elaborate, he replied, “Really shit.”

Patrick Reed was the uncontested star of the US team. Phil Mickelson was likely the most relieved. And Brent Sneddeker was the most underrated. Every time the latter showed up on a TV screen, he was draining a crucial putt.

If I ever somehow get in a match with Lee Westwood, I’m making him put everything out. After stuffing his approach shot on 18 in Saturday’s contest vs JB Holmes and Ryan Moore, his jabbed attempt barely touched the lip of the hole. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it cost Europe the Cup, but it was a critical point lost.

Reed/McIlroy was a corker for sure, but Phil/Sergio was pretty damned compelling as well. Their halved match was a worthy outcome. Meanwhile, Lefty’s vertical leap after sinking his birdie putt on the final hole seemed to rival that of his 2004 Masters victory. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.

Interestingly, the Euros did not comment about crowd behavior nearly as much as they did about the course set up. Justin Rose complained about the “lack of proper rough” and that Sunday’s pin positions were “way too accessible” – the implication being that this favored the longer-hitting American team. It’s probably a valid critique, but it’s all part of the home-team edge. When the Euros host, they are afforded the same luxury. And Rose and his teammates can only blame themselves for not taking advantage of the conditions.

As it turns out, Johnny Miller’s assessment of this year’s European time was accurate. With six rookies on this team, Euro captain Darren Clarke was left with precious few options as how to deploy them. Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera-Belo performed admirably – the former played all 5 matches and accumulated 4 points, while Rafa and Sergio will likely become the next version of the Spanish Armada. Unfortunately, Willet, Andy (the so-called “Smiling Assassin”) Sullivan, Mathew Fitzpatrick, and Chris Wood went a combined 1-8-1. One can question Clarke’s choice of Lee Westwood, but given the inexperience of the team, it’s understandable that he went that way; Westwood came into this year’s matches with a 16-11 record.

Apparently, Patrick Reed did not patent the “shush,” a move that he pulled out at the 2014 Ryder Cup in Gleneagles after birdying to win a hole. Pieters made the same gesture when he birdied to halve the first hole of his Saturday morning match with Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. Phil actually laughed when he saw what Pieters was up to.

Reed was interviewed by Dan Patrick this morning. When asked what was the coolest part of the post-Cup festivities, Reed mentioned the two teams and their captains getting together afterwards. The cup was passed around to each player; each of them used it as a microphone to talk about their experience (one would guess that Danny Willet was much more expansive in this setting). Reed claimed he didn’t have anything to drink, but having screamed himself hoarse during the previous three days (as well as not getting to bed until 4:30 AM), he could have fooled a lot of people.

What most fans don’t realize is that the post-Cup get-together between the two teams is a tradition, one that I hope never dies. Being able to celebrate and commiserate after three days of intense competition is one of the most admirable aspects of the Ryder Cup. I wish more golf fans understood that.

And finally . . .  Ricky, work on it.

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Magnificent Distractions – Two Ryder Cup Snafus

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There are three certainties in life. Death, taxes, and Phil Mickelson verbally lighting someone up at the Ryder Cup.

Let’s go back to 2014, when in the pre-competition presser, the lefthander, when asked how the team was getting along, answered, “Not only are we getting along together, but we also have avoided filing lawsuits against each other,” this pointed at Rory McIlroy and Gram McDowell, who were on opposite sides of litigation against the former’s former management company.

And after another colossal US failure, Lefty left so many tread marks on captain Tom Watson that the latter got endorsement offers from both Michelin and Greyhound.

So it should come as no huge surprise that at this year’s opening presser, Phil, as only he can, gave Watson some company under the bus in the person of 2004 captain Hal Sutton. While extolling the virtues of current skip Davis Love III and the newly formed Ryder Cup task force (an idea Mickelson championed), he brought up the ill-conceived partnership of himself and Tiger Woods. Among other things, Mickelson cited that Sutton had informed the pair that they would be playing together two days before the start of the matches. Woods prefers a high spin ball, Lefty a low spin ball; ergo, Phil claimed that rather than getting familiar with the course, he had to spend an inordinate amount of time on the range get familiar with the unfamiliar balls characteristics, which hurt his preparation.

(Sutton, reached later in the day, was not amused by this:

“Somebody has to be the fall guy. If it needs to be me, I can be that,” said Sutton. “The world saw what happened. They saw it. I didn’t have to cover it up. I find it amusing that that’s an issue at the 2016 Ryder Cup. I think Phil better get his mind on what he needs to have it on this week instead of something that happened 10 years ago. If I still need to shoulder the blame for Phil’s poor play then I’ll do that.”)

Mickelson has never shied away from speaking his mind. This has been noted by many of his Ryder Cup teammates, and in particular by captain Davis Love III.

In our recent Three Club Wind podcast, my partner Brian Robin spoke of the pressure put on the Ryder Cup captain, particularly on the US side, which has won exactly once in this millennium. One gets the sense that this year, Phil Mickelson is assuming the de facto role of captain. If so, the pressure falls squarely on his shoulders. He better deliver.

 

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Meanwhile, on the Euro side, a controversy was brewing in the person of one Pete Willet, the brother of Masters champion Danny Willet. Pete gained a good bit of notoriety during Danny’s Masters victory with his hilarious in-stream tweets. Based on that, he has become a columnist for something called the National Club Golfer, and wrote this less than complimentary piece about the US team and spectators. Among other things, he had this to say:

Team USA have only won five of the last 16 Ryder Cups. Four of those five victories have come on home soil. For the Americans to stand a chance of winning, they need their baying mob of imbeciles to caress their egos every step of the way. Like one of those brainless bastards from your childhood, the one that pulled down your shorts during the school’s Christmas assembly (f**k you, Paul Jennings), they only have the courage to keg you if they’re backed up by a giggling group of reprobates. Team Europe needs to shut those groupies up.

They need to silence the pudgy, basement-dwelling, irritants, stuffed on cookie dough and pissy beer, pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘Baba booey’ until their jelly faces turn red.

They need to stun the angry, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm, desperately gripping their concealed-carry compensators and belting out a mini-erection inducing ‘mashed potato,’ hoping to impress their cousin.

They need to smash the obnoxious dads, with their shiny teeth, Lego man hair, medicated ex-wives, and resentful children. Squeezed into their cargo shorts and boating shoes, they’ll bellow ‘get in the hole’ whilst high-fiving all the other members of the Dentists’ Big Game Hunt Society.”

News of this piece spread like fire at Hazeltine; naturally, it reached Danny, who was forced to make a hasty apology for his brother. But I can already see the “great, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm” making life difficult for the Masters champ this weekend.

Oh, this is going to be fun.

The Ryder Cup Comes to Hazeltine

 

My old college buddy Z-Man is a member at Hazeltine National, a past US Open and PGA Championship site, and the host course for this year’s Ryder Cup. Z invited me to play there a few years ago. We originally planned on three rounds; at the conclusion of the second, I felt like I had gone 15 rounds on consecutive days with Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier. We spent out what was to be our third round hanging out at Lord Fletcher’s on Lake Minnetonka eating pan-fried walleye, downing Bloody Mary’s, and watching young ladies of Scandinavian descent hop on and off various motorized nautical vehicles. It was one of the few times I did not regret making a planned tee time.

Hazeltine is one of the three most difficult tracks that I’ve played – Carnoustie and Bethpage Black being the other two. There’s nothing unfair about Hazeltine – but as noted course designer Tom Doak has said about Carnoustie, Hazeltine is depressingly efficient in drawing out the deficiencies in one’s game. Miss a fairway, play from 2 ½ inches of bluegrass rough. Get on the wrong side of a pin location, face a slick downhill putt that regularly stimps at 11 ½ for the members.

The course’s first foray into major championship golf was to host the 1970 US Open. To say that it played to less than stellar reviews would be roughly akin to acknowledge that Donald Trump may be prone to hyperbole. Tony Jacklin was the victor, the first British player to win since 1924; however, the most memorable comment came from runner-up Dave Hill who, when asked what the course lacked, replied “Eighty acres of corn and a few cows. They ruined a good farm when they built this course.”

After fending off bankruptcy, Hazeltine underwent significant renovation and was tapped to host the 1991 US Open, which produced a far more exciting tournament. The late Payne Stewart and Scott Simpson were tied after 72 holes; Stewart prevailed in the playoff to claim the second of his three major trophies.

The PGA Championship has been held there twice and produced two rather unlikely winners, with one Tiger Woods being the equally unlikely victim in both instances. In 2002, Rich Beem, who not long before this was selling mobile phones and the subject of Alan Shipnuck’s raucous “Bud, Sweat, and Tees: Rich Beem’s Walk on the Wild Side of the PGA Tour”, played the golf of his life and performed a victory snake dance on the final hole (Woods, for his part, was pulling off ridiculous shots like this).

The 2009 PGA was even more bizarre, as Woods had the lead into the final round, a position which, as we had been reminded countless times during his career, he had never surrendered in a major championship. But Woods uncharacteristically faltered, limping to a 3 over par 75 while the golfing world witnessed the spectacle of South Korea’s Y.E. Yang becoming the first Asian-born winner of a major championship. And a few months later, Tiger would have an entirely different set of issues to face.

The hole at Hazeltine that stands out the most to my recollection is the par-4 16th , which Johnny Miller has described as the “hardest I’ve ever played in my life”(as an FYI, it should be noted that the 16th is rated as the 9th handicap hole, but Miller is not far off in his assessment).  One must drive over Lake Hazeltine while making sure he doesn’t run through the fairway, lest his ball finds a bordering creek. There is seemingly about a 5 square yard area in the fairway that gives one a good peek at the green, which sits on a peninsula in the aforementioned lake. When I played it the first time, it took the Z-Man a good minute or so to convince me where to aim my tee shot, such was the incongruity of the landing area.

For the Ryder Cup, Hazeltine may not play as difficultly as I’m describing, as the host captain generally has the final say in regards to course setup. From what Z-Man tells me, it looks like US skipper Davis Love III, in an effort to help out the bombers on the American team, has requested that the normally fierce rough be cut shorter to lessen its punishing effect on any wayward drives. This bit of pseudo-chicanery is quite common in this series by both sides – for its part, when the Euros host the Cup, the greens are typically slower and the rough is higher.

This will be DL3’s second crack as the American captain – he was at the helm in 2012 at Medinah when, after taking a seemingly commanding 10-6 lead into the Sunday singles matches, the US team collapsed spectacularly, allowing the Euros to duplicate the US’s improbable 1999 comeback.  But apparently, the players prefer Love’s laid-back personality (as opposed to that of Tom Watson, who Phil Mickelson openly called out in the presser after the last US debacle at Gleneagles in 2014) and to be fair, it was a somewhat improbable comeback by the Europeans.

His counterpart, Darren Clarke, has already set his team (Love still has four picks to make) which will feature 6 Ryder Cup rookies. Past US nemesis Ian Poulter is sidelined by injury, and some eyebrows were raised by Clarkie’s selection of Thomas Pieters over Russell Knox. Luke Donald was also passed over; however, Clarke can still call on Ryder Cup veterans like Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy (although his performance with the putter lately has been abysmal), and the forever irrepressible (or, depending on which side one supports, annoying) Sergio Garcia to make life miserable for the home side.

Meanwhile, Love will have some interesting decisions to make with his remaining slots – he had hoped that Ricky Fowler would automatically qualify at the Barclays at Bethpage (Patrick Reed, who became something of an instant hero/villain at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, did so with his victory there), but ol’ High Tops (who is now sporting a moustache that would embarrass a porn star) faded on Sunday, and is now part of a mix that includes Jim Furyk (making a decent run coming off a wrist injury), Matt (Mr Bronze) Kuchar, Bubba Watson, and J.B. Holmes, all of whom have Cup experience – albeit in a decidedly mixed fashion. Poor Furyk has experienced more frustration in the Ryder Cup than just about anyone, Kuchar has been decent, and who knows what to expect from Bubba, who has more mood swings than the Trump campaign. The wild card may be Holmes, whose only appearance in the Ryder Cup was a brilliant one in 2008, which, coincidentally, was the last year that the US came away with a victory.

In any event, Hazeltine’s history suggests that we should expect the unexpected, which, given the dearth of US wins in recent history, might indicate a victory for the red, white and blue. My prediction will come once the US team is finalized, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to convince me. Maybe Dave Hill needs to convince the powers that be to plant some corn.

All I know is that Z-Man will be there, no doubt knocking back a Grain Belt beer or two and moaning about the lack of rough on the course.