The Golf Nerd’s 2016 Open Championship Preview

[Before we start – a plaintive plea to the men and women of the Royal & Ancient]

Dear R&A,

While I respect your position as one of the two main rule-making organizations in the world of golf, I have to say that, along with your comrades at the USGA, you seem to be somewhat clueless when running the oldest major championship in the world (for evidence, please refer to Open Championship, St Andrews, 2015).

The Open Championship has become my favorite major to watch. I am an unabashed lover of links golf, and thoroughly embrace its unpredictable nature. Unlike the USGA, you are not necessarily concerned with “protecting par” (although there was that nasty bit of business at Carnoustie in 1999 when the greens superintendent – unbeknownst to you – ran amok, narrowing fairways to a microscopic 12 yards in some cases) and more or less allow the elements to dictate play.

And to your credit, your institution of the 4-hole playoff (as opposed to sudden death or a full 18 the next day) as a tie breaker was a very inspired move. Last year’s denouement was exhilarating.

Also – we get that there is no replacing Ivor Robson. Don’t even try.

But for the love of Old and Young Tom, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Peter Thompson, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnie, and Sir Nick – PLEASE do not muck things up this year. Make decisions decisively and in a timely manner, and make sure the field understands them.

There’s no need for you to be the story.

Thanks for listening,

The Golf Nerd


This will be the 9th occasion that Royal Troon has hosted the Open. It’s been a mixed bag of prior champions – Arnie, Bobby Locke, and Tom Watson have claimed the crown there. Arnie’s was particularly important, as he almost singlehandedly reintroduced the Open to American golfers and fans. On the other hand, the list of others who have won is not quite as glittering – Tom Weiskopf (who never quite seemed to reach the heights predicted for him), Mark Calcavechia, Justin Leonard, and (gasp) Todd Hamilton.

I played Royal Troon back in 2012, and quite honestly, I don’t recall a lot about it other than the famed #8 hole, a/k/a “The Postage Stamp.” That name is derived from the size of its green, which from the tee box (a mere 127 yards away) seems impossible to hit to begin with. Add the usual stiff breeze off of the Firth of Clyde, and one wonders how the 71 year old Gene Sarazen managed to score 1 and 2 in the two rounds he played at the Open in 1973. George Sutherland, a young friend and excellent golfer who has played many rounds at Troon (and who is also The Golf Nerd’s Official UK Correspondent), tells me that he’s used everything between a three-iron and a 58 degree wedge to try to hit the green.

My friend Ben Hadden managed to birdie The Postage Stamp the day we played there (an event that seems to always come up in conversation whenever we get together). Other than that, no one in our group played particularly well – it was a miserable day, about 48 degrees, windy and damp. Our caddies couldn’t wait to bolt to the nearest pub once we paid them. But there’s no doubt that Royal Troon is a stern test regardless of the conditions.

A few more pearls from my buddy George:

Everything you need to know about the members is summed up by the 6th hole. It is the longest par 5 in the world, and can’t ever be beaten. There is about 300 yards of wasteland behind it, so they can just keep on moving the championship tee further and further back whenever another course tries to take the crown. They NEED to have that damn crown.”

The 11th (Railway Hole), where Tiger took his 11, (something in double digits but can’t remember exactly) is about a 250 yard carry from a blind spot where you just aim at the post. The fairway is also very narrow and is lined by gorse. We could see some high scores there.”

“…it is very fair and old-fashioned, and that’s what I like about it. If you hit good shots, you get rewarded- no shit bounces and crappy rolls. Its real defense are its narrow fairways, deathly thick rough and strategically placed bunkers and greens. Once you get to the greens, the majority are pretty flat and easy to hole puts on compared to your usual course on tour- it’s getting there that’s the problem.”


The current hot commodity on tour is Dustin Johnson, who has fashioned back to back victories at Oakmont and Firestone and needs to be included in the potential victor’s conversation this year, along with the New Triumvirate. Others to watch are Lee Westwood, who since his divorce is playing some of the best golf of his career, and Sergio Garcia, who has a Tour victory under his belt this year and who may thrive on Troon’s relatively benign putting surfaces.

But as we’ve noted, the Open is unpredictable, particularly so at this year’s venue. I’m going to throw out a few names that might be good dark horse picks:

  • Danny Lee – he is one of the Tour’s hardest working players and has seen his effort pay off over the eighteen months. He notched a victory at last year’s Greenbrier Classic, made the Presidents Cup team, and has been a consistent presence on the leaderboards. He had a strong finish this past weekend at the Scottish Open in Castle Stuart. And I admittedly have a local bias in Danny – he’s a member at our home club and lives in our neighborhood. I don’t know him very well, but he will always smile and say “hi” to me and other members, and the young men who work in the bag room tell me that he treats them very well. Finally, he’s a true Citizen of the World – born in Korea, a naturalized citizen of New Zealand, and a current Texas resident.

 

  • Greg Chalmers – ok, this is a real stretch, but hear me out. After over 300 PGA Tour starts, the Australian won the Stableford event in Reno a few weeks ago. Greg has always been a terrific putter; unfortunately, that’s been coupled with being one of the shorter hitters on tour. He’s continued to work on his game, and recently picked up some extra distance. Again, I have a very small connection to him – he was part of a panel discussion at our club a few years ago prior to the Byron Nelson tournament, and spoke frankly about life on the PGA Tour and the struggles he experienced (one of his funnier stories involved his only appearance at the Masters, where on his opening tee shot he nailed a spectator squarely in the forehead – “I could see the imprint of the ball there,” he told us. Fortunately, both patron and golfer survived the incident). It was gratifying to see him win in Reno, which, along with the automatic two-years Tour exemption that came with it, also gave him entre into this year’s Open Championship, a tournament he openly confessed to dreaming of winning. If Todd Hamilton can win at Troon, why not Greg Chalmers?

 

  • Shane Lowry – because we need a hefty Champion Golfer of the Year from Ireland. Plus he dropped one of the all-time great f-bombs at the Honda Classic earlier this year. Those are as good reasons as any, right?

If You Build It . . .

How best to describe Cabot Links and its two (and, apparently, soon to be more) marvelous courses?

Let’s start with its bar; specifically, the outdoor patio, which sits adjacent to the 18th green of the Links Course. And when I say adjacent – there’s less than ten yards between the three-foot high stone fence that borders the patio and the green (amazingly, in the three days we spent there, only one approach shot from the fairway of the 447-yard finishing hole actually found its way to the patio). The atmosphere is congenial among the patrons as we watch golfers finish up, rewarding good shots and putts with golf claps and encouragement and less than stellar ones with good-natured jibes.

The patio, the accompanying bar, and the formal restaurant upstairs (as well as the lodging) all face to the west; a good portion of the Links Course and the Gulf of St Lawrence provide a stunning backdrop.  A steady flow of golfers and caddies (both courses are walking only) make their way around starting at 7:00 AM and continue well into dusk, the players at that point silhouetted against a gorgeous sunset.

IMG_3083

About 50 or so yards up a hill, the Cabot House is serving up pub fare while Celtic musicians from Cape Breton Island perform for a mix of appreciative locals and curious golfers. Fiddlers of all ages rotate with the band; on the night Sharon and I attend, the evening climaxes with a 12 year old girl playing the hell out of a Scottish dance tune. An elderly local woman notes our appreciation – “The youth here – they’re born into this music.” We believe.

Oh – and about the golf . . .

_______________________________________________________________

Cabot Links is located in Inverness, Nova Scotia, an old coal mining town that one would not necessarily associate with golf. But Cape Breton Island is a place full of Scottish immigrants, and along with their love of music, there is also a strong golf tradition. Stanley Thompson’s Highlands Links, located on the Atlantic side of the island next to the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish, was long ranked in various Top 100 lists, and there are several other worthy tracks (Bell Bay in Baddeck, in particular).

And then Michael Keiser came along.

Keiser is the man responsible for Bandon Dunes, the multi-links course paradise located on the southern Oregon coast. Unlike his chief rival in the golf resort business, Donald Trump, Keiser prefers a low-key approach, seeking out sites that have potential despite their remote locations, hiring first rate course designers/architects (Tom Doak, Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore),  and allowing golfers to seek them out.

Cabot Links definitely fits that bill. When we cross the causeway linking mainland Nova Scotia to Cape Breton Island, there is a small blue traffic sign directing the driver to Cabot Links – and then nothing more until one arrives in Inverness, where a washed driftwood sign announces the entrance to the lodge. The town itself is, on the surface, unremarkable – but as we engage the locals, visits the local pubs, consume the fresh seafood and local brews, and drive the Cabot Trail, the place grows on us exponentially.

Oh, right – the golf . . .

_________________________________________________________________

We tackle the Cliffs Course first. A Crenshaw/Coore effort; it’s the newer of the two tracks and has already appeared in Golf Magazine’s World’s Top 100 list.  It’s a dazzling effort, consisting of 6 holes each of par 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s. If I were to compare it to a Scottish course, Kingsbarns would come to mind – not exactly a true links, but with fantastic views of the sea from every hole. There are several forced carries from the tee box that have me reconsidering my tee choice (I played the Cliffs at 6,300 yards, which on the surface seems manageable, but when one considers that 6 of the holes are par 3’s, that number becomes considerably longer).  But I soldier on, accompanied by my faithful caddie Thomas Watts.

Thomas is as every bit as knowledgeable and supportive as any caddie I’ve had in Scotland (Sharon reported the same about her looper, Robert), and when I actually execute his instructions, the results are quite pleasing – we get to the 6th, a medium length par-3 whose green is nestled amongst several dunes.  “Don’t shoot at the flag, Gary,” Thomas admonishes me, “the right side of the green is where you want to be.” Sure enough, my shot catches the right side of the green and, taking a circuitous route, winds up about 6 feet from the hole. I manage to resist the urge to lift my head on the putt and drain it for a nice birdie.

Unfortunately, I don’t heed his advice on the very short par 3 12th, opting to hit a gap wedge instead of a pitching wedge. The wind knocked down what looked to be a perfectly struck shot and left me in a nasty bunker. From there on in I was extremely obedient.

While I could go on about each hole at the Cliffs, the real stunners are the finishing 3, starting with the jaw dropping 16th, certainly the most dramatic par-3 that I’ve played. While not particularly long (176 from the tips; I teed it up from 148), it’s all carry with really dire consequences both short and right, with those jagged cliffs staring you down.

The 17th is a short but deadly dogleg right par-4 that can result in scores that range from 2 to 7 (or more). Depending on the wind and the golfer’s nerve, one can use anywhere from driver to mid-iron off the tee, but the shot needs to be perfectly placed, or it’s either the drink on the right or the junk on the left. I managed to reach the top of the hill, leaving a short, downhill pitch. Sharon’s tee shot was even better; it trundled over the hill, took the contour, and rolled to about 30 paces in front of the green.

The finish is quite worthy, a straight away par-5 that invites one to let out as much shaft as he can . . . but the landing area is the left side of the fairway, which gently slopes to the right and can direct what seems to be a safe shot towards a watery grave (I learned the hard way).

 

IMG_3054

The only complaints that I can make about the Cliffs Course are 1) lack of a warm-up range and 2) immature fescue greens that are at times painfully slow. The first is being immediately addressed and the latter will most certainly improve over time. But as a combination of beauty and challenge, the Cliffs Course is hard to beat.

After our round at the Cliffs, Sharon and I met up with a non-golfing friend of ours at the patio back at the Links Course. It was Canada Day, so in addition to the already convivial atmosphere present there, we took in a marvelous fireworks show.  A lovely end to the day.

_________________________________________________________________

The weather during our first few days in Inverness was, to borrow from Dan Jenkins, dead solid perfect. We had expected much cooler temperatures than the blistering 95-plus degree furnace blasts that we were experiencing in Dallas/Ft Worth; while that was case, it was still warm enough for us to ditch the cool weather gear we had packed.

But when it comes time to tee it up at the Links Course, it’s definitely a day fit for a Scot, overcast and quite breezy, which seems quite perfect for that day’s round. The Links, with its firm, rumpled, and largely treeless terrain and wildly undulating greens, lives up to its name, encouraging the style of golf that one would play on its Scottish and Irish counterparts.

Sharon and I are paired with a couple from Connecticut, Carol and Ray Underwood. Ray is a player of some note on the Amateur circuit in his home state, and is a lot of fun to watch. He and Carol rented push carts while Sharon and I took caddies (Wesley and Tom, respectively).

While serious about his game, Ray is quite friendly and possesses the golfer’s penchant for fatalistic humor. When I hit a good drive on the 6th hole, he tells me that it was a “mother in law shot.”

“What’s that?”

“It looks good going away.”

Meanwhile, Sharon and her caddie seem to be clicking; she’s striking the ball really well and playing some really nice bump and run shots. We get to the par 5 11th – and then the wind really picks up. Number 11 is hard enough as it is at 580 yards, with a tilted fairway and severely uphill second shot. Into the wind makes it seem impossible. Even Ray struggles here, making bogey – the first one he’s made all day.

When we get to the 14th – a par 3 that measures a mere 95 yards – Tom smiles and says, “Ah, I think you’ll find this an interesting one.” It is, indeed, somewhat reminiscent of the famous 7th at Pebble Beach. Bunkered front, left and right, and if the shot is long it’s in danger of sliding down to the beach some 50 feet below the green. The problem today is that the hole is playing dead downwind; all four of us hit what look to be perfect shots . . . and then watch helplessly as our balls run through the green; fortunately, the grass is high enough to keep us from rolling too far down the hill in back of the green.

We get to the 18th – where we’ve been watch folks come in from the patio the previous two days – and all I can think about is not embarrassing myself in front of the guests. As it turns out, I needn’t worry – a perfect drive, a well-struck 4 hybrid that is just off the green pin high to the right, and a nifty chip that winds up less than a foot from the hole ensures a par. Unfortunately, the cloudy, windy weather has left the patio pretty much empty, save for an attendant offering cold post-round towels. I politely decline.

_________________________________________________________________

There’s something pure about Cabot Links; it’s comfortable without being pretentious. Most everyone we spoke to were first time visitors like ourselves, and were utterly charmed by the courses, the surroundings, and the staff.

It’s the latter that is particularly gratifying about our stay. Inverness (and much of Cape Breton, really) has been economically depressed since mining operations shut down back in the 1970’s. Building this resort has brought some much needed (albeit seasonal) revenue to the area (currently, in addition to the restaurant and lodging staff, there are also some 200 caddies employed, and most of them stay pretty busy). The freshness and optimism of the enterprise is evident with everyone who works there.

We are told that Michael Keiser is on property at least once a month to check up on operations while scouting locations for additional courses. A site for a par-3 course has already been chosen, and there is talk of a third 18-hole track as well.  A spa and exercise facility is also in the plan, hopefully ready for next year.

Sharon is ready to go back. And so am I. So should you.

FullSizeRender (3)

Real World Ramblings

 

So potential Olympic golf participants are dropping like flies – ok, maybe that’s an unfortunate simile given the Zika virus threat in Rio de Janeiro. But so far, 11 top ranked players have pulled out, many of whom have cited Zika as a compelling factor (Jason Day is the latest to announce).  To be fair, athletes in other sports have similar qualms, but in the case of golf, I think Adam Scott was maybe a bit more forthright in his reasoning; that being that it doesn’t fit his schedule. Scott took a beating from former Olympian Dawn Fraser and Jack Nicklaus (“a sad, sad day for golf”) for bypassing the Olympics, but truthfully, professional golf has no place there. The game has its own major championships and international competitions. In order to accommodate the Olympics, the golf tours had to compress their schedules so that there is now a two week gap between the Open Championship and the PGA Championship, with the Olympics following two weeks later. It’s a lot of travel with no tangible return for the golfer, other than a piece of gold, silver, or bronze.

The Olympics are a showcase for folks like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and the like – names to which the greater population pay attention every four years and then recede in the collective unconsciousness. While professional basketball and ice hockey have somewhat embraced the Olympics, they are team sports with recognizable names that glitz up the competition. The qualifying rules for Olympic golf pretty much guarantee a weak field, and the format (72 hole individual medal play) is not particularly compelling.

If golf is to remain in the Olympics, make it strictly for amateur players and design the competition to include some team aspect.

Although the thought of Miguel Angel Jimenez strolling through the Olympic Village with a cigar in one hand and a fine port in the other is intriguing.


The recent “Brexit” vote (and is it just me, or are these compacted references – “Bradjolina”! – just a bit too precious?) had USA golf fans wondering (or perhaps it was wishful thinking?) about UK golfers’ continued participation in the Ryder Cup on the European side. European Tour officials were very quick to respond that Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy et al  are still in the mix. Davis Love III and the US team will still have their work cut out for them at Hazeltine this September.


Given the horrendous devastation and human cost from the flooding in West Virginia, the PGA’s decision to cancel the Greenbrier Classic was essentially a no-brainer. The event will certainly be missed, as it’s become a Tour favorite ever since Jim Justice took over the historic resort in 2009. The Greenbrier has hosted over 20 Presidents, and its Old White course, a C.B. MacDonald/Seth Raynor favorite, is as fine an example of classic architecture that can be found in the United States.

Many years ago, four of piled into a rented Ford Pinto (complete with automatic transmission) and made a mid-semester break trip from Milwaukee to Charlottesville, VA. At that time, Interstate 64 ended in Charleston, WV, which meant that we had to take US 60, a meandering route cut through the Allegheny Mountains where we alternatively encountered breathtaking views, strip mines, and small towns that looked to have been abandoned.  We would get stuck behind 18-wheelers climbing mountains. The driver would stick out his arm to wave us past him; I’d pull into the left lane, floor the accelerator, and nothing would happen for what seemed to be an eternity until the transmission kicked in.

This all went on for almost three nerve-wracking hours when from out of nowhere, a verdant green valley appeared and a sign read, “Welcome to Greenbrier County.” We all collectively exhaled as we drove past the majestic resort. I had never seen such beautiful country – nor seen so many businesses that posted photos of Sam Snead, who was the resident pro at the Greenbrier for years. Restaurants, car dealerships, real estate offices – the Slammer was ever-present, including the place where we stopped to eat. A kindly older waitress took a look at us as we walked in– we all sported a ‘70’s post-hippie look – and sweetly noted, “Y’all aren’t from here, are you?”

I ache for the folks of West Virginia, and hope there is a road to recovery for those most impacted. And that folks can tee it up at Old White again in the not-too-distant future.

Arbor Daze

Want to start a lively discussion/potential fistfight among your golfing brood? Bring up the topic of trees. Or more specifically, tree removal.

Aside from the USGA tripping all over its collective self in an attempt to extricate itself from the Dustin Johnson ruling [Executive Director Mike Davis is now saying that while the penalty was the proper decision, it should have been applied immediately. On behalf of all golfers, Mr Davis: Bite me], a major topic of discussion among many folks has been the removal of some 15,000 trees at Oakmont. This apparently has given a number of folks a case of the vapors.

One needs to understand that Oakmont, like many older courses in the United States, was originally designed as a Scottish-style links course, with broad vistas and nary a tree to be seen. At some point – I believe it was after the 1962 US Open – Herbert Warren Wind referred to Oakmont as “an ugly brute of a course.” The membership at Oakmont took great offence at this, and an aggressive tree-planting initiative was enacted.

The character of the course eventually changed, with each hole framed by what eventually became large trees. While this gave the course a wooded, parkland-like feel, it also created a ton of course maintenance issues, particularly around the greens. Heavily wooded courses result in air-circulation issues, which result in turf-killing mold and fungus. Tree roots create additional risks for players, and let’s not even get into leaf removal. Moreover, the excessive planting of trees altered the original strategic intent of the course.

This is not to say that trees do not have a place on a golf course. A strategically placed tree can make or break a golf hole. Pinehurst #2 would not be Pinehurst #2 without its native pines (duh). The giant Douglas Firs and red cedar that line the fairways of Sahalee Country Club are native to the Pacific Northwest and are a major design consideration. Harbor Town’s native, moss-draped live oaks play into shot making on almost every hole.

But in the case of Oakmont, the overgrowth of these trees became enough of a concern that the tree removal effort began; at first clandestinely and barely noticeable (after all, 15,000 trees do not disappear overnight). Eventually, word got out to the greater membership what was happening, and the sparks began to fly (The Golf Channel ran an excellent feature about this evolution during US Open week).

This same scenario has played out at other classic courses like Winged Foot and Shinnecock Hills (the latter of which should really benefit; it’s as close to a true links course as can be found in the USA). Other courses are following suit and reaping the benefits of improved turf conditions and expanded vistas.

We had a similar situation at my old club in Virginia, which was the centerpiece of a housing development built across the James River from Richmond during the mid 1990’s. The community and course were carved out of a dense forest of oak, hickory, beech and pine trees; even after construction there remained tens of thousands of trees, many of which framed the course.

Within several years, roots from the larger trees had cracked the cart paths, and the air circulation around most greens was so poor that it was an annual battle to keep them alive during the hot, humid Virginia summers. There were other areas where turf was never able to be established because it simply did not have the means to grow.

Our greens superintendent went to the club owner and requested that 500 trees be cut down, which, given the density of forest land on the property, seemed like a pretty small number. Based on the reaction of some members and community property owners when this new was announced, one would have sworn that the Amazon rain forest was being wiped out.

“Why, some of these trees are over a hundred years old!” cried one resident, to which some wiseacre (maybe it was me) responded, “Did you think about that when they were clearing the lot for your house?”

Maybe that wasn’t the most mature response. But the initiative went forward. All I know is that I returned to play there last year, and it was hard for me to tell where any trees had been taken down. And the course was in the best shape that I had ever seen it.

Too many times, well-meaning members want to “beautify” a golf course without taking into account the long term ramifications of what they are doing.  The best golf courses work in harmony with their natural surroundings, and the best architects and designers figure out the best routing for that course and allow nature to work its magic. I think Oakmont has it right.

DJ Gets One Back

The USGA does a lot of good things for golf, but running the US Open isn’t necessarily one of them.


By now, most everyone with a mild interest in this year’s championship is aware of the rules fiasco involving eventual champion Dustin Johnson. His ball moved a millimeter backwards between the time he completed his practice swings and when he was about to place his putter behind the ball. He immediately stopped, called over a rules official, explained what had happened, and apparently was given a clean bill of health to continue play with no penalty.
About an hour or so later, the FOX announcing team reported that USGA rules officials were “reviewing” the Johnson Incident, and had notified DJ to essentially report to the principal’s office once his round was completed.


This sent Joe Buck and company, most of the golfing community not associated with the USGA, and yours truly into a state of apoplexy. Johnson, who years ago at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, had been the unfortunate victim of a rather harsh ruling, followed every correct protocol and was told to proceed without penalty. Now, in addition to having to negotiate one of the toughest tests of golf known to mankind, there was the distinct (and as it turned out, very real) possibility of being penalized in an ex post facto fashion.


Twitter lit up with posts from Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Ricky Fowler, all vilifying the USGA. Golf’s greatest curmudgeon, Dan Jenkins, had a field day, finally commenting, “If I were Dustin, I’d ask for cash instead of a check.”


Fortunately for all of us, this all became moot thanks to DJ’s steady play down the stretch, along with third round leader Shane Lowrey doing his best imitation of a cheap suit. Still, the fact that this became a major talking point of the tournament is a black eye for the USGA.


Johnson had knocked on the door of major championships before, most recently at the US Open at Chambers Bay last year when, after hitting two of the most incredible shots on a closing hole in a major that I’ve ever witnessed (although yesterday’s finish came close), he inexplicably three putted from 12 feet, handing the trophy to a stunned Jordan Spieth.
He has also had something of a past during his career on Tour, have been sent twice on “leaves of absence” (PGA Tour weasel-speak for “suspended”), allegedly to deal with substance abuse issues. Johnson is a very guarded individual and has chosen not to speak of any problems he’s had.


At the same time, DJ is one of the Tour’s popular stars. A pure athlete, he prowls the course with an appealing insouciance. His partner and mother of his child, Paulina Gretzky, is a head-turning beauty (I witnessed this first hand at the Byron Nelson Classic a few years ago, when a golf cart carrying Ms Gretzky out to the course whizzed by the 10th tee where one Jordan Spieth was getting ready to hit. It was probably the only time all weekend that Spieth did not command the attention of the gallery). He routinely pounds accurate drives of over 300 yards, a result of a swing that, at first glance, has the apparent ease of a Freddie Couples; when seen in slow motion, the contortion of his torso is wince-inducing, an evidence of the source of his tremendous power. When it comes to golf, chicks and guys dig the long ball.


If there’s been a knock on Johnson’s game, it’s been around his short game. His putting can be erratic, and statistically he’s one of the worst bunker players on tour, two factors that frankly had me convinced that he would not be able to stand up to the diabolical greens and cavernous hazards that are the main defenses of Oakmont.


But, as several folks pointed out to me prior to the start of the Open, bombers tend to do well at Oakmont (Nicklaus, Els, and Cabrera certainly fit that bill), and DJ is nothing if not a bomber. He drove the ball well for the majority of the tournament and handled the labyrinth of greens complexes as well as anyone could have.


And most importantly, Dustin Johnson displayed the discipline and mental toughness required to win the US Open. And given the unexpected and totally farcical injustice perpetrated on him by the USGA’s ruling, this has to be particularly gratifying for him.


And – considering that seven of the eight previous US Open champions crowned at Oakmont are multiple major champions, it won’t be surprising to see DJ bag another one in the not too distant future. I’d love to see it. And I hope the USGA, or the R&A, or the PGA, or the Masters Rules committee sees fit to leave him the hell alone.

No Complaints This Year – The Golf Nerd’s US Open Preview

Last year’s US Open brought howls of indignation from most of the golfing world, citing everything from Fox’s spectacularly awful initial attempt at golf coverage to the site of tournament (apparently my opinion of Chambers Bay was outside of the mainstream).

Fox has addressed at least part of its issues, removing a surprisingly bland Greg Norman from its broadcasting team and replacing him with straight-shooting Paul Azinger, whose presence on TV has been limited to the Open Championship over the past few years. Azinger is honest, funny, and fearless in his commentary, and should make Joe Buck much more comfortable as a lead commentator. On the other hand, we’ll still have to suffer with the inane on-course comments of Natalie Gulbis, whose best assets won’t be seen on camera very often, much to the chagrin of the male population  viewing at home.

As for this year’s site – it’s hard to argue with Oakmont, a course which most folks would acknowledge to be the gold standard for US Open tracks; a tough, penal layout, with greens so slick that Sam Snead once remarked that he couldn’t mark his ball because the coin that he used to do so kept sliding off of the putting surface.
Yes, Oakmont’s greens are legendary for their speed; so slick are their surfaces that the USGA asks the club’s superintendent to slow them down to run at 13 on the Stimpmeter (the greens at most tour events run between 10.5 and 11.5; a member at Oakmont can typically expect to experience a speed of 15 for daily play). To achieve such green speeds at most any other club would amount to committing agronomical suicide, but the makeup of Oakmont’s putting surfaces is unique, consisting of a rare strain of heat tolerant poa annua (most of us know poa annua as a cool weather grass that can be either a blessing in areas like the Pacific Northwest or a blight on bent grass or Bermuda greens in other parts of the country) that can be rolled as often as one likes.

If that’s not enough to give one pause, Oakmont offers up over 200 bunkers, including the notorious “Church Pews,” which stretch over 100 yards and invokes language that would most assuredly would not be welcomed in any self-respecting parish, as well as the requisite US Open wrist-shattering rough. And you will not see any short par-5’s being turned into brutish par-4’s in order to conform to the USGA’s maddening efforts to “protect par” at Oakmont, a course which could readily host a major championship at a moment’s notice.

Oakmont has hosted the US Open eight times, the most famous of which was in 1962 when a young Jack Nicklaus bested a heavily favored Arnold Palmer in The King’s own backyard. Arnie’s Army was extremely inhospitable to the Golden Bear (which Palmer hated to see) but that did not seem to bother Jack very much. It was his first professional victory, and far from his last.

In 1973, Johnny Miller carded what was to become one of the most spectacular final rounds in major championship history that hardly anyone saw, torching Oakmont with a 63 that several possibly bitter Oakmont members attributed to a rainstorm that blew through the night before to “soften” conditions. Miller was so far back going into the finale that he was only televised for a few holes. He then had to wait another hour before the final groups made it in, none of whom were able to catch him.

The last time that Oakmont hosted the US Open was in 2007. Like Johnny Miller, Angel Cabrera, the eventual winner, finished well ahead of his two closest pursuers, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods, both of whom missed birdie putts on the final hole that would have forced a next day playoff. Cabrera seemingly went through a pack of cigarettes on each nine he played during the Open; when asked about this, he replied, “Some guys consult with psychologists. I smoke.”

Other Oakmont winners include Tommy Armour, Ben Hogan, Ernie Els, and Larry Nelson, who along with the aforementioned, are all multiple major championship winners [NOTE: One could win a lot of bar bets by posing the question, “Who has won more majors, Larry Nelson or Greg Norman?”]. It’s not a course for the faint of heart, and whoever survives this weekend will most certainly be worthy. I look for a big hitter who can muscle the ball from the rough and negotiate those slick greens.

It says here that Jason Day will tack on another major this weekend. And the winning score will be even par.

But the star of the Open will be Oakmont.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Poppy at Crail

The 14th at Crail

I have weighed in on the past on the topic of golfing couples. But some marriages/relationships are able to embrace the “he/she golfs, I don’t” situation. Doing so requires a lot of negotiation and compromise (that is, if the relationship is to thrive or, at best, survive), not to mention having shared interests that supersede golf.

It’s interesting how this gets handled. In some instances, the golfer simply leaves the events of his round at the course with his buddies, arrives home, and resumes normal domestic duties. Some – my father comes to mind – return home and describe their entire round in excruciating detail, including what club was used on each shot, course conditions and wind directions. And of course, there are those who are so disgusted or depressed by the events of the round that they either over-imbibe or over-emote. In either case, the latter is not a particularly healthy response.

I like to believe that most non-golfing spouses indulge their mate’s passion for the game; however, there are certain events that a golfer experiences that may, shall we say, go underappreciated.

Take my friend Dave, for example. This past weekend, after over 30 years of play, he made his first hole in one. We were all happy for him – and for ourselves, as it’s a tradition that he who holes out also buys the drinks at the end of the round – and he immediately called his wife with the news. Her initial reaction was, “Hey that’s great!” Then she thought about it for a moment and asked, “Geez, why didn’t you do that in a tournament so you could have won a car?”

A number of years ago I had split up with the former Mrs Golf Nerd and had been laid off from my job after 19 years of service. Golf was very therapeutic at this time. I also was dating a woman (we’ll call her Sonia) who was a terrific tennis player and had something of a passing interest in golf.

During this particular period, my iron play improved dramatically, and one happy coincidence was that I managed to hole out from the fairway three times in a two week period. The first time was in a tournament; I nailed a 5-iron perfectly from 175 yards to make an eagle. I called Sonia after the round to share my good fortune, and she seemed quite happy for me.

About 4 or 5 days later, I was faced with a 110 yard wedge shot, the third on a long par 4. This one landed about 5 feet to the right of the hole and spun in. Birdie! Again, I rang up Sonia; again, she was quite happy for me.

A few more days passed. I was on the par-5 14th hole at my old home course. My buddy Todd had planted his third shot close and was quite pleased with himself. I looked at him and said, half-jokingly, “I hate to break your heart, Todd.” And proceeded to knock a 130-yard nine iron into the hole.

This time after giving this news to Sonia, there was a bit of a pause at the other end of the line. “Well,” she replied, “you’re playing every day of the week.”

I started to explain that I had a better shot at winning Powerball than what had transpired over the past few rounds, but stopped myself. Things kind of went downhill from there.

Luckily, these days I have a loving partner, both at home and on the course. And I can’t wait to tell her about my first hole in one. For one thing, she’ll no longer have bragging rights in our house.