Tag Archives: Jordan Spieth

With Apologies to the Winner . . .

It was the roar that got me.

It emanated from one of the deepest parts of the golf course; the 16th hole, in fact. It was a sound that reverberated through the tall Georgia pines, a cheer that might be in response to a Jack or an Arnie or a Seve or a Spieth making a Sunday charge.

In fact, it was a big name – Rory McIlroy had made a hole in one on 16. But it was during a practice round. A Monday practice round.

Non-golfers and cynics like to poke fun at The Masters, and some of it is merited, particularly from the broadcast perspective. The schmaltzy music, the forced lingo (there are no spectators at the Masters, there are “patrons”), and the hushed commentary (particularly from Jim Nantz, who often sounds like he’s reading from a papal encyclical) often seem over the top. The tournament’s racist past is not easily dismissed – and it shouldn’t be.

And the TSA could take some lessons from the Masters as far as security measures are concerned – there are black-suited Pinkerton agents in abundance, one must pass through metal detectors far more sensitive than those found at airports, and there is a long list of prohibited items posted. My friend Dave Weisman, a retired 3-star general and former member of NATO’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a 2-inch pen knife confiscated when he checked in for Wednesday’s Par-3 event. The General has no love lost for Phil Mickelson, but I doubt he planned on using said weapon on Lefty.

But all that aside – one would be hard pressed to find a better way of spending a spring day in Georgia than walking the hilly grounds of Augusta National during a practice round. The course is dizzying in its assault on one’s senses. The turf is an almost impossible shade of green – unlike most courses in the deep South that feature Bermuda or zoyzia, Augusta is turfed with cool weather grasses that do not go dormant in the winter and is offset by the pure white sand in the cavernous bunkers. Virtually every kind of flora and fauna can be found on the course (there’s even a palm tree near the 4th green).  When asked by friends in the DFW area what it’s like there, the best description that I can muster is to imagine if someone has placed a golf course in the midst of the Dallas Arboretum. And even that’s not adequate.

My friend Chet (who had secured tickets for us) and I paused along our trip around the course to imagine some of the shots we’d witnessed on TV (or in Chet’s case, in person – he’s attended the tournament many times and played the course, a benefit of his friendship with Charlie Yates, the son and namesake of one of the greatest amateur golfers of the 1930’s). When we got to the 10th (which resembles the upper portion of a downhill ski course), we sought out the spot from which Bubba Watson pulled off this incredible shot. All we could do is laugh.

I had to do all those things one does at Augusta – eat a pimento cheese sandwich (still only $1.50 and ludicrously delicious), buy souvenirs, sit in the stands in back of the 12th tee which gives one the opportunity to view play on different parts of Amen Corner, watch players skip shots across the pond at 16. And what struck me the most was how downright happy people were to be there. There were a group of Argentines clad in blue and white shirts inscribed Vamanos! Fabian – a tribute to their countryman Fabian Gomez, who they cheered during his practice.  Asians, Indians, and yes, a fair number of African Americans were mixed into the gallery. Spouses and significant others marveled at the azaleas.

And that roar from 16.

Sorry cynics. I’m a believer.


This year’s Masters will undoubtedly be remembered as The One That Jordan Spieth Gave Away, which is unfortunate for Danny Willet. He is hardly a flash in the pan, coming into the tournament as the 12th ranked golfer in the world and the winner of four events internationally. His final round 67 was pretty much a flawless piece of work – the closest he came to being in trouble was when he missed the green with his approach on 17 and was left with a pitch-and-run shot that had more twists than an Adam Sworkin plotline. He made it appear much less difficult, the sign of a true champion. But if anyone mentioned the Englishman as a pre-tournament favorite, it was the best kept secret since the Manhattan Project.

Willet almost didn’t make it to the Masters. His wife was due to deliver their first child this past weekend, but agreed to be induced two weeks early so that her husband can make it to Augusta and is the unofficial heroine of Danny’s victory.

And while he was lighting up Augusta on Sunday, his brother PJ was doing the same on Twitter.

There were plenty of roars from 16 on Sunday, as three competitors holed out for aces, including the ever-popular Davis Love III and the irrepressible Louis Oosthuizen, whose ball was tacking toward the hole before striking that of J.B. Holmes – and then continued on to its final destination.

The cheering was certainly welcome, as the playing conditions for the first three days of the tournament were nothing short of brutal, with winds gusting over 25 mile per hour and turning Augusta’s back nine – usually a source of exciting play – into a chamber of horrors. The 15th is a hole in which par usually gives back a stroke to the field; on Friday and Saturday, it was a pretty damned good score.

For the first three rounds (and the first nine of the finale), Jordan Spieth held off the field, which was somewhat surprising. It was Jason Day who, among the New Triumvirate, was a heavy favorite, having come off consecutive victories at Bay Hill and Austin. Adam Scott and Ricky Fowler were also bandied about as possible victors; others felt that Phil Mickelson was, at age 45, ready for one final charge. As it turned out, Fowler and Lefty missed the cut, Scott was far back in the field, and Day could never quite get it going.

Spieth came into the tournament as a bit of a puzzlement. Aside from a comfortable win at the Tournament of Champions in Maui, his play had been somewhat indifferent for most the season. Some observers felt that with the opportunities presented to him by virtue of his sensational 2015 season, he had spread himself too thinly among international tournaments and endorsement appearances. His ball striking was rather pedestrian and his putting alarmingly inconsistent.

But he fashioned an opening round 66, a remarkable round given (by his own admission) some ragged iron play. At the same time, one could sense that this was not going to be an easy week for Spieth, as each time he separated himself from the field, he inexplicably let it back in – particularly on Sunday, when he saw a four shot lead evaporate to one over the spectacularly named Smylie Kaufmann. Meanwhile, Willet lurked three shots back at even par.

Spieth was adequately concerned to fly in his swing coach, Cameron McCormack, to oversee his warm-up for the final round. And it seemed to work, as Jordan fashioned a front-nine 32 (including four straight birdies to close out the side) and opened up a 5 shot lead on the field. But a careless bogey on 10 and another (caused by a poor tee shot) on 11 were disconcerting.

Anyone who’s played the game has experienced the wrenching events that occurred on #12 for Spieth; however, watching it in real time was equivalent to seeing the wide-open receiver drop a perfectly thrown pass or the 90% free throw shooter clank two important attempts off the rim.  The difference is that when it happens to a golfer, no matter what the stage, there is no place to turn, – no apologies or excuses to be rendered. Dumping a second shot into Rae’s Creek left most of us – including the golfer himself – saying to ourselves, “Are you [fucking] kidding/shitting/yanking me?”

It’s to his everlasting credit that Spieth, after that quadruple bogey disaster, came back to birdie 13 and 15 while parring 14 (the latter two despite a couple more wayward drives), and had a chance to close to within one on 16 after a good tee shot. He missed the slippery downhill putt, however, and when his approach on 17 caught the front bunker (the microphone picked him up moaning, “That’s not nearly enough!”), that effectively shut the door on any chance he had of coming back.

How damaging this is to Spieth in the long term remains to be seen. It’s evident that there’s some work to be done on his swing, and perhaps even more so on that 6-inches of space between the ears about which Bobby Jones so famously talked. My take is that he’ll be heard from again, but it won’t be an easy process.

Congratulations, Danny Willet. And my apologies. I’ve seemed to have spent more time on the runner-up here.









A Year That Didn’t Totally Suck

Another year without a hole in one. But golf has other rewards and foibles . . .


Travel Tales . . .

In January, The Golf Nerd Goddess and I trekked to the Diamante Resort in Cabo San Lucas, home to Davis Love III’s acclaimed Dunes Course and Tiger Woods’s initial foray into course design, El Cardonal. It was the latter that proved to be a pleasant surprise, as Woods has created a linksy track that is both playable for the high handicapper while presenting a challenge to better players, particularly around its wildly contoured greens. This takes nothing away from The Dunes, which features holes that play along the Pacific, and its magnificent par 3 11th – an uphill beast whose green is carved into a dune – provides a breathtaking vantage point.

Beyond all of that, golf at Diamante has a vibe all its own – after checking in, one heads for the smoothie/slider bar for a pre-round snack, and then proceeds to the practice range, which features salsa music and comfortable lounge chairs. Once on either course, one can enjoy margaritas or mojitos, black bean soup, outrageously delicious tamales, and other local delights at various stations – all of which are included in the greens fee. Add to that a mountainous desert landscape that dips into the ocean – which, during January, features frolicking whales – and it’s hard to imagine a more unique setting for golf.

Quite the opposite was our trip “up nort” to Eagle River, WI, the most aptly named town in the US.Flocks of eagles flew overhead as we navigated our way through a couple of modest but thoroughly enjoyable tracks, one in the host town and another in nearby St Germain.


We hosted and became friends with Julie Yang, an aspiring LPGA player. It was a tough year for her, as she failed to make a single cut, but she returned to Qualifying School and achieved full status for the 2016 season. Look for a much better year from this talented (and wonderful) young lady.


I weighed in on erstwhile Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foray into the world of golf. Things have not gone particularly well for The Donald on that particular front, as the R&A has removed his recently acquired Turnberry from the Open rota in reaction to his rants regarding immigration and refugees in the US. He also lost a court case in an effort to block a proposed wind farm that would overlook his course in Aberdeenshire, and had his name (briefly) removed from the signage for his course in Dubai. The PGA tour is considering moving its World Golf Championship away from Doral (also owned by Trump), which would be roughly akin to having the Kentucky Derby being run at Aqueduct. Stay tuned.


While Spieth and Day dominated the news on the PGA Tour, the most exciting event of the year was The Presidents Cup, an event I admittedly decried for its seeming irrelevancy. The teams were separated by a point going into Sunday’s final day singles play, in which 7 of 12 matches went to the 18th hole, including the final decider, which was contested between the home country’s instant national hero and the American team captain’s son.  I was one of perhaps dozens in the US who stayed up to watch the live overnight coverage from Seoul, and it will likely be forgotten by the time the 2017 match rolls around.

And for some, the most poignant Tour moment may have been what might be Tiger’s last stand at The Wyndham tournament in Greensboro. Records crowds turned out as Woods seriously contended for three rounds before fading on Sunday. A month later, he was undergoing yet another surgery, this time for his back. His press conference at his own tournament in December was downright painful, as for the first time, he seemed to acknowledge his own mortality – at least as a golfer. If he is able to come back, I hope it is with realistic expectations from everyone concerned, and that he can make his way to some tour stops that he’s not frequented in the past so that all golf fans can pay tribute to this remarkable player.


And finally . . .

Readers may recall the seemingly unrequited romance between the Golf Nerd Goddess and a certain golf club. Happily, Santa heard her urgent pleadings and delivered said club under the tree Christmas morning. The GNG tried it out that afternoon; the resulting tee shots were impressive. That trip to Pebble Beach may be forthcoming, after all.

Also on Christmas Day, I got to play golf with my sister Lisa and her boyfriend Chad.  Lisa’s interest in the game has been somewhat recent, and Chad (despite my concerns) has been a willing enabler. I was wowed by her tee shots; she drove the ball over 200 yards a couple of times. Moreover, despite some major work required on other game skills, she truly enjoys playing – and is actually watching golf on TV. If nothing else, this has made Christmas shopping for her a helluva lot easier.

The Next Triumverate



Jason DayThe signs have been there for longer than some folks might want to admit, but the past two seasons on the PGA tour have definitely established the post-Tiger Woods era in professional golf. We’ve seen a genuine tussle at the top of the rankings between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth (along with multiple major wins for both), second major wins for Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer, and Zach Johnson, and, this past weekend, a convincing major win at the PGA Championship for Jason Day. If there is a player on tour whose background could be described as Dickensian (Shane Ryan covers it brilliantly in his essential chronicle of the 2014 PGA Tour season, Chasing the Tiger), it would be this young man. His hard road to this moment was evidenced on the final hole; he could not hold back tears even prior to holing the tiny putt that sealed his victory.

Day had come close before in major championships in the past, and this year was shaping up to be another year of disappointment. At the US Open, he started very strongly before collapsing to the ground as he attempted to exit the 9th green at Chambers Bay, a result of an inner ear virus that caused vertigo-like symptoms [NOTE: The Golf Nerd has suffered in the past from this malady, which, among other things, makes a simple act like getting out of bed a struggle]. He managed to finish out the tournament quite respectably, but had to wonder what might have been.

Rory McIlroyMore vexing was his finish at the Open Championship. He came to the final hole needing a birdie to tie for the lead, only to leave a makeable downhill putt woefully short. The look of self-loathing on his face after that miserable roll was almost too much to bear.

But he came back the following week to win the Canadian Open, which seemed to galvanize him. He arrived at Whistling Straits full of confidence and simply pulverized the course; his 20 under par total set a major championship record and sprung him to #3 in the World Rankings. While talk of a new “Big 3” of Spieth, McIlroy, and Day may be a tad premature, it’s definitely worth contemplating.

Meanwhile, Spieth’s runner-up finish allowed him to take over the world #1 ranking from McIlroy, which I’m sure rankles the Irishman, and sets up a nice future rivalry. The two were paired in the opening rounds last weekend, which had the TNT/CBS broadcast team salivating. Round one found them both at a rather pedestrian -1, but after a somewhat indifferent start to round two, Spieth holed a bunker shot for birdie and began leaving Rory in the dust. To be fair, this was Rory’s first tournament since his ill-advised pickup soccer boondoggle, and while he certainly seemed physically able, the rust on his game was evident.

It’s been a frustrating year for McIlroy – big wins in Dubai and at the WGC Match Play and Wells Fargo tournaments coupled with some inexplicably poor performances, including a jaw-dropping 80 while on his way to missing the cut at The Irish Open. But there’s no reason to think that he won’t return to top form.

Jordan Spieth

As for Spieth – despite coming up (just) short in the last two majors of the season, the young Texan has become must-see viewing. While not possessing the length off the tee of a Day or McIlroy, his skills around the green are ungodly, and there is the added bonus of his conversations with caddy Michael Geller and his commentary/evaluation of his in-flight shots (“DUDE!” he’ll scream at a misdirected effort. Although my favorite observation of his came during Sunday’s final round when, faced with a nasty lie in one of Whistling Straits 1,000-plus bunkers which required a splay-legged stance in and out of it, he muttered, “Man, this is a tough shot” – and then proceeded to nearly hole it out. ).

At my advanced age, I’ve learned not to completely give my heart over to any athlete, but Spieth is severely testing my cynicism. One scribe describes his demeanor at press conferences thusly – “He is the young man who has come to your house to meet your daughter and wants to make an impression.” He answers every question earnestly, gently correcting an interrogator when he thinks said individual has gotten something wrong rather than wearing a look of constipation, and manages to acknowledge his own special talent with honesty and humility. One would be justified in wondering if there’s a bit of Eddie Haskell in him, but he seems pretty well grounded.

But what’s obvious and most refreshing is his sense of sportsmanship and decency, particularly in defeat. His embraces of Zach Johnson in St Andrews and Day this past weekend were sincere, and more than once he’s been seen giving a thumbs-up to a fellow competitor’s good shot.

Quite simply, he’s the most likeable golfer since Arnold Palmer and the most gracious runner-up since Jack Nicklaus, while being as fiercely competitive as Tiger Woods ever was.

Be still, my heart.

The Ridiculous and the Sublime


The Golf Nerd Goddess and I dutifully awoke at 1:00 AM Saturday to catch the delayed finish of the second round of the Open Championship. Well, that’s not exactly true – the GNG woke up while I remained in a semi-conscious state. In any event, this particular circumstance was driven by a deluge on Friday morning that resulted in pushing off the start of round 2 by three and a half hours. This led to about 20 groups unable to finish, although the good officials of the Royal & Ancient (the ruling body of golf in that part of the world that is not the United States) were urging the participants to play on in what looked to be rapidly diminishing daylight.

Whether or not the R&A would admit it, this decision was largely driven by the desire to have Tom Watson finish his round and receive his final sendoff. This was to be his final Open Championship and he was by no means going to make the cut. Again, whether or not the R&A would admit it, I’m sure they had no interest in making Tom Watson, five time Open Championship winner, crawl out of bed early Saturday morning and finish his round in front of 20 or 30 spectators.

[Earlier in the day, Sir Nick Faldo made his final Open bow, taking time to pull out from his bag the sweater – or “jumper,” as the Brits call it – that he wore during his first Open victory in 1990. While still fitting, it was also a reminder of the hideous golf fashion of the era. Then again, when ISN’T there a hideous golf fashion era?]

But the explanation given by the R&A – at least as it was translated from the official working with the ESPN broadcasting crew – was that players “had the option” of playing on or marking their place of play and continuing the next day, which seemed a somewhat malleable ruling. This had some players walking off the course while others pressed on. Pre-tournament favorites Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, paired with Hidecki Matsuyama, decided to vacate the premises after their second shots on the par-5 14th . Matsuyama chose to finish the hole. It was all very confusing.

Meanwhile, up ahead Tom Watson was, by his own admission, hacking his way to a bogey on 18. The grandstands had been long vacated, but the street bordering the 18th fairway (called, appropriately enough, “The Links”) was jammed with spectators, many of whom left local pubs to watch Watson end his day. He tapped in for bogey, doffed his hat in acknowledgement to the crowd, found his wife, kissed her and whispered in her ear, “It’s over.”

Not so for those who were trying to finish their second round – and as I shook the fog off from my sleep, I could make out commentator Paul Azinger stating that he thought what was going on was not fair. For a moment I thought he was referring to the previous evening’s activities, but no, this was a brand new issue.

It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the wind can blow quite severely in Scotland, particularly by the seaside. Five years ago, play was stopped for about an hour and a half due to winds blowing balls about on the putting surfaces, which can be unnerving to a player standing over a crucial putt. Apparently, the same scene was playing out on the course now, except for the fact that no one from the R&A seemed willing to make a decision. Brook Koefka, part of the group that started on the 11th hole (which happens to be the highest point of the course) refused to putt. He was engaged in a lengthy conversation with an R&A official who wasn’t budging.

Meanwhile, on other parts of the course, play continued with farcical results. Spieth and Johnson returned to their positions from the night before, only to be faced with delicate pitches that would be impacted by the howling winds. Both players bogeyed 14. While this was going on, Louis Oosthuizen lagged his putt on 13 to about a foot and a half away from the hole. As he approached his ball to mark it, the wind pushed it even closer. Oosty was confused by how to proceed (in actuality, he could have marked the ball after the wind had blown it to the more favorable decision, as he had done nothing to make it move), and was waiting for an official to explain how to proceed. At this point, Azinger and fellow commentator Curtis Strange were imploring Oosty to mark the ball, but it was too late – by the time the official arrived, the ball was blown another 6 or 7 feet past the hole, at which point poor Louis doubled over in a combination of laughter and tears.

Finally, the R&A stopped play, but were roundly criticized for allowing the round to begin (Dustin Johnson was particularly agitated). The argument from the majority players was that once the complaint by Koefka was lodged on the 11th, play should have stopped all over the course. The R&A response was that the greens had been tested prior to the start of play and were deemed “challenging but fair,” but that the wind speed picked up once play began. In any event, play did not resume until almost 5:00 PM local time; the 2nd round finally completed, the cut line established, and the 3rd and 4th rounds rescheduled for Sunday and Monday.

The great Dan Jenkins had the last word on the whole mess when he tweeted, “I’m glad these R&A officials weren’t in charge of anything during World War II.”

Upon seeing Oosthuizen’s putt lip out on the last playoff hole, a putt that would have further extended an already exhausting 144th Open Championship, Zach Johnson seemed not to have any sort of reaction at all, other than maybe a grimace over poor Oosty’s misfortune. His caddy Damon Green – who earlier on in the day celebrated Johnson’s 18th hole birdie that put him in the playoff thusly – turned to high-five his man, but Johnson was in such a state of shock that he left poor Damon hanging for what seemed an eternity. Johnson could barely complete a post-round interview with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, so overcome with emotion was he.

I’m sure one could have gotten pretty long odds on a Zach Johnson win from the local punters. Since winning the 2007 Masters, Johnson has been a solid, if unspectacular presence on the tour. He’s not a big hitter, but on courses that require superior shot making, he’s always a threat (2 of his 12 career wins have come at Colonial, which was the domain of Ben Hogan). And he is very good at controlling his shot trajectory (or “flighting the shot,” as Azinger would put it), which is absolutely essential in negotiating the windy conditions that typically prevail on an Open course.

But with so many story lines coming into this year’s Open (Can Spieth continue his quest for the Slam? Can Dustin Johnson recover from his US Open disappointment? Can Tiger re-claim a semblance of his game? Who will get the bigger ovation, Watson or Faldo? Can Ivor Robson survive another Open without leaving his starting post?), Zach was pretty much overlooked as a serious contender, despite his opening round 66.

DJ was the main focus of the first two rounds; his driving prowess allowed him to blow by most of the trouble that the Old Course presents, and many pundits were ready to crown him after the elongated second round even though his lead was only one shot. He faded badly on the weekend and was never a factor afterwards.

Or maybe he did a body swap with Marc Leishman, who after just finishing inside the cut line, went on an historic tear by going 64 – 66 and might have won the thing outright had he not stumble with a bogey on 16. Still, he made his way into the playoff, along with this space’s pick, Oosthuizen.

Yes, our boy Oosty came back from that nearly 6 hour delay on Saturday to make that wind blown putt. His final round 69 was at times excruciating to watch – his swing, normally one of golf’s most elegant, wasn’t quite right; on at least half a dozen occasions, his right hand came off the club after impact. But he came to 18 needing a birdie to tie Zach and Leishman, and made a clutch 5-footer to join the playoff.

To some, the playoff seemed anti-climactic, due to the absence of one Jordan Spieth. Not that he didn’t try. He followed an indifferent second round with a scintillating 66, and, after backing up a nightmarish double bogey on the 8th (where he improbably 4-putted ) with a pair of birdies to put himself back in range, he arrived at 16 a shot behind (at that time) Johnson and Leishman. When his 40-foot birdie putt dropped there, it looked for all the world that Destiny (large “D”) had tapped the young Texan on the shoulder.

Of course, it was not to be – The Road Hole got Spieth, as it’s gotten so many before him. And he made a bit of a mess of the last hole, where a birdie could have gotten him into the playoff.

I’ve heard some claim that Spieth “choked,” and that without him, the playoff was anti-climatic. As to the first point, that is pure, unadulterated nonsense. Choking is a complete breakdown; Greg Norman blowing a 6 shot lead at the 1996 Masters and ultimately losing by 5 is a textbook example, as is Jean Van de Velde’s meltdown on the 18th at Carnoustie in 1999, where he totally took leave of his senses. Spieth’s missed putt on 17 and misplayed wedge shot on 18 were both thoroughly discussed and thought out; unfortunately, the execution in both cases was lacking.

As far as the 4-hole playoff being anti-climatic – well, Spieth stuck around to watch it, as did a lot of us, and it was classic, coming down to Oosthuizen’s try for birdie on 18 that would have sent he and Johnson back to the 18th tee had it gone in, which may have been indeed too much for a lot of us to comprehend.

So Zach Johnson joins a very short list of golfers who have won at both Augusta and St Andrews, and we’ll have a short respite before the season’s final major at Whistling Straits. Last year’s PGA Championship was the year’s best tournament. Given what’s gone on with this year’s majors, it will do well to be included in the conversation.

In The Eye of the Beholder

I loved this year’s US Open, and I loved its venue, Chambers Bay – warts and all.

Yes, perhaps the contours are overdone. And the greens would make any self-respecting municipal course blush. And the various course configuration changes from day to day (changes in hole par and radical relocations of teeing grounds) lent no sense of continuity to the proceedings. And an on-course spectator likely found the course viewing areas difficult to navigate.

Jason Day collapsed on the course, causing Greg Norman to turn into a TV doctor.

Tiger Woods shot 80 in the first round and was not the high man in his group.

The eventual winner, Jordan Speith, finished birdie/double-bogey/birdie.

A fire broke out in a nearby warehouse.

And while we’re at it, FOX’s debut as a golf broadcasting entity was decidedly mixed. There were certain aspects of the coverage that were welcome, such as extensive use of the shot tracker and sharp graphics depicting distances to hazards and greens. Additional microphones were able to pick up player/caddy conversations – and at time one could hear the ball rolling across the crusty greens. On the other hand, the camera person handling approach shots to the greens at times seemed to be taking advantage of Washington State’s marijuana laws, and the commentary team showed its inexperience throughout the week. Norman was at his best in analyzing individual player swing traits, but was otherwise a rather bland presence. Too much time was spent following players from hole to hole and not enough on actual golf shots. And – while this may have been somewhat cruel – I thought Joe Buck and company lost a golden opportunity when Dustin Johnson suffered his inglorious fate on the final hole in not querying Norman on what Johnson might be feeling, as the Great White Shark’s own meltdowns have been well chronicled.

Most US Open courses are par 72 courses that have been converted to par 70, featuring fairways so narrow that the participants almost feel the need to walk single file through them. The rough is often grown to calf-length (and sometimes more), more often than not leaving players no other option than to hack their way back into play. And the USGA pretty much mandates that by the conclusion of the tournament, the greens are, if not dead, certainly on life support.

Ah yes, the greens at Chambers Bay were the topic of many an unpleasant discussion. Their fescue grasses were invaded by poa annua and resembled a really bad countertop over which a potential homebuyer on HGTV would have a conniption. Players could not decide if the putting surfaces resembled broccoli (Henrick Stenson) or cauliflower (Rory McIlroy). Billy Horshel threatened to beat one green into submission, and after his round said he was “disappointed” with the USGA (this, by the way, after a closing round of 67). Ian Poulter, never one to hold back, accused the USGA of “lying” about the condition of the greens (and included a photo on his Twitter feed as evidence). Brent Snedekker, making a late charge on Sunday, struck a putt that, after cruising along for about 15 feet, hit something that caused it to take what looked like a 3 inch hop before stopping well short of the hole. And Gary Player called the whole thing a “disgrace.”

And by the way – with the possible exception of Player, who may have been using the event to take a dig at course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr.- the players had every right to bitch about the greens. If someone comes into your workplace and defecates on your desk, you wouldn’t be happy about it. One could make the “it’s the same for everybody” argument, but what happened to Snedekker was criminal.

Having said all that . . .

If the goal of a US Open course is to test a player’s patience while protecting par, then Chambers Bay fit the bill and then some. It just didn’t do so in the conventional sense. Its deceptively wide fairways invite aggressive play, but much like The Old Course, there are preferred target lines to set up the best possible approach shots. The wild green contours made for some creative greenside shot making. I watched Ricky Fowler and Louis Oosthuizen (who, after an opening round 77, came back with consecutive rounds of 66 and on Sunday, damn near stole the title with an outrageous 29 on the back nine) play from the same greenside area and take two completely different circuitous paths to the hole; both of them wound up about 5 feet away. And – much like at Pinehurst #2 last year – unless a player was extremely wild, one could usually play from the massive fairway bunkers and scrubby rough if he missed the fairway.

And, taking a page from Augusta National, the back nine setup on Sunday definitely encouraged some daring play, with the two drivable par-4’s and particularly 18 (set up as a par 5 on Sunday, as it should have been all tournament), which produced Speith’s full tilt 3-wood from 286 yards to set up his go-ahead birdie . . . and for poor Johnson (who is quietly becoming this generation’s Greg Norman), who hit two perfect shots (a booming drive and a 5 iron on the 608 yard hole) to within 12 feet. The putt he faced was slippery, and he had had putting issues throughout the back nine (caused by faulty stroke that was pretty visible even to a casual observer). But he also made a clutch birdie at 17 and at worst looked to force an 18 hole playoff with Speith by two putting. He even got a look at Jason Day’s comebacker, which was on the same line as his own putt that proved to be his undoing. He . . . just . . . plain . . . missed.

Fox failed to show Speith’s immediate reaction when Johnson missed the crucial putt (although they did get a nice shot of DJ holding his infant son while walking with fiancé Paulina Gretzky, which I suppose was something of a salve for him), but all Jordan could say was “I’m in shock.” He’s also half way to golf’s Grand Slam, although he refused to take Holly Sonders’s bait regarding that topic. The kid is amazingly grounded, but you can tell that the Open had taken its toll on him. Which it should.

Hazeltine National hosted the US Open in 1970, where Dave Hill proclaimed that “they wasted 80 acres of good farmland building this course.” Improvements were made, and it has since hosted another US Open and two PGA Championships. Next year, the Ryder Cup will be played there. Fix the greens and shave off a few rough edges (but not too many), and Chambers Bay should get another shot as a major championship venue. It’s too damned entertaining not to. And any course that gives you a view of Mt Rainer and Puget Sound can’t be all bad.

Augusta Postscript

Jordan Spieth had barely rolled in his last putt when the Interwebs were lit up with all sorts of criticism of this year’s Masters; in particular, there were a lot of comments about how “easy” the course played and that the membership has tried to “neuter” or “defang” it. And of course, there were numerous allusions to how Jack or Gene Sarazen or Ben Hogan or countless other relics “would have had their way “ with the current setup. We’ll get to that in a moment, as well as young Spieth’s remarkable performance.

As a child, I used to resent the implication from my elders that their generation produced better athletes (never mind the empirical evidence otherwise), that their version of various sports was better, that the players of today have it easier and better than those of their youth, etc. I vowed that I would never strike that particular attitude (to which I lovingly refer as “old fart-itis.” ).

I have to admit that it’s been a bit of a struggle. Obvious rule changes have altered the landscape on which basketball and football are played. Other than the DH, baseball has remained mostly unaltered (although to hear National League fans talk, the DH is the equivalent of Satan’s Jewel Crown) except for the fact that strategies and specialization have stretched out game times to almost interminable lengths.

With golf, it’s been a number of factors – the technology constantly changes, not only for equipment, but with the way that courses are maintained. This latter factor cannot be overestimated. Mowing and grooming equipment has become much more sophisticated, and today’s greens-keepers are likely to have advanced degrees in turf-related matters – the superintendent at my current club has a Ph. D. in Agronomy and can wax poetic on topics like Accumulated Degree Days and Evapotranspiration.

Augusta National has led the charge in creating pristine playing conditions; of course, it has the financial wherewithal to do as it pleases. And it has done a pretty decent job of keeping up with the challenge of addressing technology advances. At the same time, Augusta National has never been intended to be a punishing golf course, at least not in the sense that a typical US Open course set up would entail. It has always featured deceptively wide fairways and greens that are usually of such speed that Curtis Strange used to joke that he would prepare for the Masters by practicing putting in his bathtub. It is a course that encourages golfers to take risks and applies the appropriate result based on how well the golfer executes – which explains how both swashbucklers (Seve Ballesteros, Phil Mickelson, and Arnold Palmer) and methodical plodders (Nick Faldo and Ben Hogan) could win there multiple times.

Over the years, the course has undergone many changes – the 10th hole was lengthened to the point where the original protective greenside bunker is now virtually out of play (and remains one of the few remaining features of Alistair Mackenzie’s original design). The 16th was originally a pitch shot over Rae’s Creek; Robert Trent Jones was brought in to turn it into the treacherous hole that we see today. In the ’70’s, the greens were changed over from their original Bermuda grain to bent grass. Overall, the course has been lengthened from its original length of 6,800 yards to its current 7,435.

Having said all that – the most notable fact about Augusta National and the Masters tournament has been its almost uncanny ability to produce a wide variety of winning scores, regardless of era. Spieth’s winning score this year was more than twice the number under par as was that of 2014 winner, Bubba Watson. As recently as 2007, the +1 number by Zach Johnson was good enough for a win.

There’s all kinds of theories as to why there is such a disparity in scoring; my own is that it’s generally dependent on the weather. Springtime in Georgia is fickle – this year, most of the state was under a foot of snow and ice a month ago, and rain (which was in abundance before and during the tournament) can certainly impact the speed of the greens, which is the course’s major line of defense.

Nonetheless – to suggest that today’s Augusta is easier that past incarnations is laughable. Better conditioned, perhaps, but just ask Martin Kaymer, Padraig Harrington, and Jim Furyk, all major championship winners who missed the cut.


The obvious strength of Jordan Spieth is his short game. For all the hoopla over his performance over the weekend, the most impressive shot he made during the tournament was the tricky pitch he had to execute on 18 in the 3rd round (Dan Jenkins tweeted that Greg Norman would have killed for that shot at the conclusion of the 1986 Masters). He managed to get himself to a spot where he had a chance to make par, and purged the memory of an ugly double bogey on the previous hole.

The not- so-obvious, but equally impressive, aspect of his game is his course management. Spieth possesses maturity far beyond his years, and has a relationship with his caddy (a former 6th grade math teacher) that is similar to that of Phil Mickelson to Bones McKay. Similar, but different. Whereas Lefty is generally trying to convince Bones that he can pull off an impossible shot, the partnership between Spieth and Mike Greller seeks out the best possible option; oftentimes, that might mean not shooting at a particular hole location or even the green. It helps, of course, to have the aforementioned short game to have those options available.

The inevitable comparisons between Spieth’s performance and Tiger Woods in 1997 have cropped up, and I’ve gone back and forth between the two. Tiger’s was unquestionably more dominant, and famously introduced the phrase “Tiger-proofing” courses. But Spieth’s was at least equally impressive; his game is very well rounded, and that putting stroke is the genuine article. I’m not going to proclaim him the next Tiger, but the kid has game and fire. He stood in the ring with Justin Rose the final round and didn’t blink. Maybe at the US Open it’s he and Rory going toe-to-toe. Now that would be fun.