Dustin Johnson spent last week at home in Myrtle Beach, celebrating his 26th birthday with friends, hanging out on his boat, playing a little golf and letting the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach drift further away.
In a media session at the AT&T National this week, Johnson said he put his final-round 82 at the Open behind him about the time his plane cleared California air space. Nice try. Johnson said he was flooded with calls and messages about his Sunday collapse which kept the memory alive last week even if he'd have preferred to bury it at the bottom of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Johnson said he got a call from Greg Norman, who knows a thing or two about Sunday failures in major championships, but most were from friends, seeking to encourage him. He talked to friends about it and now he's ready to move on, teeing it up in Philadelphia this week in his first start since Pebble Beach.
Asked this week to reflect on what happened, Johnson said, essentially, he played badly at a bad time. As John Fox said about Jake Delhomme's infamous playoff performance, he picked a bad time to have a bad day.
It also goes back to the poor 52-degree wedge approach shot he hit at the 502-yard par-4 second hole (yes, he had a gap wedge for his second shot) that led to a triple-bogey that put everything in motion.
"I hit a poor shot coming in there, so if anything, maybe I should have been a little more aggressive on 2, on my approach shot, and then I wouldn't have been in that situation. But you know, that's golf," Johnson said this week
"The only thing I look back on is that hole, really. I think that hole kind of sets the tone for the tournament. If I hit a good shot in there and have a decent look at birdie, I think it's a totally different golf tournament...
"On 1, I hit a really good drive on 2. I didn't feel any different. I still was very confident, and I still -- even after 2 and 3 and 4, I hit some good shots, really good shots. Even hit a good shot on 5, it just went a little far. But it was just one of those days where I was just a little bit off and it just got magnified. It's the Sunday of the U.S. Open, the golf course was firmer and faster, and it was tough."
After talking with Norman, his friends and reflecting on how it slipped away, what does Johnson take from the experience?
"All of them told me that they learned more from cases they'd lose or from times that they'd lose than they did from when they'd win. Golf is a learning process nonstop. You know, there's a lot of things I think I can take from that Sunday," Johnson said.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Dustin Johnson spent last week at home in Myrtle Beach, celebrating his 26th birthday with friends, hanging out on his boat, playing a little golf and letting the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach drift further away.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Maybe I'm just a sucker for guys getting swept up in the biggest moment of their professional lives but when Bubba Watson won the Travelers Championship Sunday afternoon and started crying like a baby on his wife's shoulder I almost got a little verklempt myself.
When a man named Bubba cries with the whole world watching -- a man who carries a pink-shafted driver just for the fun of it -- it shows how much a Sunday like that one can mean to a person. In the space of a few seconds, Bubba Watson went from being a mind-blowing, long-driving sideshow to a guy with a sick father, a jittery set of nerves and a whole new set of fans.
For all the superhuman distances Bubba Watson can hit a golf ball -- he drove it 396 yards with the aid of a cart path on the tournament's 72nd hole Sunday -- he looked beautifully human when he beat Scott Verplank on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff for the first PGA Tour victory of his career. We see way too many television shots of guys barely cracking a smile when they hole another 30-footer for birdie and we get more than enough muted celebrations in golf so that when Watson let it come pouring out Sunday afternoon, it was sweet.
Watson had just won what may have been the most curious playoff in tour history. It started with 50-year old, short-hitting Corey Pavin, who busted a 219-yard tee shot on his only playoff hole (about 7-iron distance for Bubba) and 45-year old Scott Verplank, one of the most underrated players and professionals of his generation. Pavin bowed out on the first hole after seeing Watson nearly hole his approach shot then Verplank chopped up the second playoff hole, opening the door for Watson.
Bubba's a different dude. He's into collecting sneakers, his hair's a little long by tour standards and he has a homemade golf swing that creates more force than a NASA launcher. He's been tough to get a read on because he flashes on the leader board then disappears. He's blamed part of it on his battle with attention deficit disorder. He's known for how far he hits it, not how he plays. But now he has a victory and, no doubt, the attention of Ryder Cup captain Pavin, who had to be imagining the possibilties of using Watson in alternate-shot matches in Wales this fall.
Here's how Watson, who can amble on in an interview with more gentle curves than a country road, explained his reaction to reporters in Cromwell, Ct., on Sunday:
"I'm a very emotional guy. I cry all the time. When I go to church on Sundays, I'm crying at church. I couldn't get the "yes" or the "I do" out on my wedding day. And the pastor said, you gotta say it. You can't just nod.
"So you know, and just all the -- everybody has issues, but you know, our family had some issues, and my dad's battling cancer; and my wife, we had a scare, we thought she had a tumor in her brain. We got lucky with that one, and now we're battling with my dad. So it's emotional.
"You know, my dad taught me everything I know. It's not very much, but that's all I know. He would agree with that.
You know, I've never had a lesson. My dad, he took me to the golf course when I was six years old and just told me he was going to be in the woods looking for his ball, so he just told me to take this 9-iron and beat it down the fairway. And now look at me after beating a 9-iron on the fairway coming from Bagdad, Florida, I never dreamed this."
Turns out the biggest hitter in golf is just a big softie.
Nothing wrong with that.
Friday, June 25, 2010
What was expected to be a highlight of next month's Open Championship at St. Andrews -- the emotional return of Seve Ballesteros to play in the four-hole champions challenge on the Wednesday before the tournament -- apparently won't happen.
Reports indicate Ballesteros, who is fighting brain cancer, has been advised by his doctors not to make the trip to St. Andrews, where he had hoped to return publicly to the game for what would have been a stirring afternoon in the old gray town. Instead, the event will go on without Ballesteros, whose condition apparently remains very serious.
Ballesteros has never been fully appreciated here for his impact on the game in Europe. The obvious comparison is to Arnold Palmer and it's an accurate one. Like Palmer, Ballesteros brought the game to the public with his style and personality. He had hoped to return to St. Andrews, site of perhaps his most dramatic victory, and to share one more afternoon on the links with other former winners of the claret jug.
Instead, Ballesteros will remain at home, no doubt heartbroken at what he will miss. And, at St. Andrews, Ballesteros will be greatly missed, as well.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
While Graeme McDowell was celebrating his U.S. Open victory, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson were left to think about one that got away from each of them.
Did Tiger Woods throw his caddie, Steve Williams, under the bus Sunday night after his disappointing tie for fourth?
Talking about the mistakes that cost him, Woods pointed to a bogey he made at the 10th hole as a critical error.
"Steve said take dead aim right at it and, in my heart, I said no," Woods said. "There was no chance. I have a sand wedge in my hand and I can't play at that flag...
"I went against my own...I know things and hit the ball to the right and then hit the wrong club at 12...I made just an awful swing."
In a television interview, Woods said three mental errors "cost us the Open." The third was a 3-wood tee shot that ran over the edge of a cliff at No. 6.
He might make technical mistakes with his swing but Woods rarely makes mental errors. A forced driver at the third hole in the final round of the Masters a few years ago comes to mind but it's one of the few.
Maybe it was frustration boiling over. Maybe Woods was angry with Williams. But, as Tiger knows, it's the player who makes the final judgment call and I can't imagine a better guy on the bag than Williams.
What Woods can take away from Pebble Beach is how close he is to being back in full competitive form. He's finished tied for fourth in both majors this year. He will be the favorite at the British Open at St. Andrews next month and I expect he'll win there.
Els melted when it mattered Sunday. It was right there for him to win and he blew a driver down a cliff on the 10th hole to make a double bogey then he added on another bogey at 11 to back away from the lead. Needing to make a handful of key putts down the stretch, Els couldn't make enough of them. Sadly, it didn't come as a big surprise.
Mickelson had another great chance to win an Open but couldn't do it. He was ragged at the wrong time. On a course as severe as Pebble Beach was Sunday, there's no room for ragged. It exposed everyone but it was a chance for Mickelson grab the Open and he didn't do it.
As for Dustin Johnson's 82, you wonder what it does to him long-term. Maybe nothing but that's tough to believe. As good as he'd been for three days, he was almost unbelievably bad Sunday. It broke his spirit and the Open's good at that. It felt almost uncomfortable to watch him trying to finish.
That one's going to leave a mark -- on several players.
Five things to watch in the final round of the U.S. Open:
1. Can Dustin Do It?
Myrtle Beach resident Dustin Johnson looked flawless shooting 66 on Saturday to build a three-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell with 18 holes remaining but finishing a major championship is a huge step. But the way Johnson plays Pebble Beach with his power and confidence, I get the feeling someone is going to have to chase him down because he's not going to move backward too much. Then again, he's never been in this position and it can do odd things to players.
2. The Tiger Beat
We saw the old Tiger Woods on Saturday at Pebble Beach and it will take another classic Tiger performance for him to win today. He was buzzing when he finished on Saturday, a look we haven't seen this year and if he can carry over that vibe today -- and make a couple of quick birdies -- the game could be on.
3. Is Phil Phinished?
The look on Mickelson's face after his third-round 73 left him seven shots back suggested he knows he's missed another chance in the Open. Mickelson just didn't look like himself Saturday. There was a ragged edge to his game that showed with bogeys on the first two holes. It will take something really special for him to win today.
4. DL3 And The Masters
Love has been chasing a return to the Masters for several years now but hasn't found a way to get there. If he can finish in the top eight -- he starts tied for 10th -- he's back in the Masters.
5. Tom Watson
This could be his final round in the U.S. Open. Then again, it may not. If Watson can finish in the top 16 he gets a spot next year at Congressional and he's already said he'll take it. He can get in with a victory at the U.S. Senior Open, too.
Regardless, seeing Watson in his final U.S. Open at Pebble Beach is a scene worth savoring.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Today is the biggest day in Dustin Johnson's golf life.
He starts the final round of the U.S. Open with a three-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell and five clear of Tiger Woods, staring history smack in the face. All he has to do is finish it.
Johnson, who played college golf at Coastal Carolina and lives in Myrtle Beach, looks like he's ready to do it. He's made very few mistakes through three rounds and used his enormous power to overwhelm Pebble Beach at times.
But doing it for three days is different from doing it on the fourth, especially when the greens are bumpy and the nerves are raw. That's not to say Johnson can't get it done, only that this is very different from winning the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach the past two years.
Before the Open started, I didn't put a lot of stock into Johnson's two February wins at Pebble Beach. He'd only played three rounds at Pebble Beach in those two multi-course tournaments and the set-up is so different from what it is this week. It's wet in the winter, firm right now.
Evidently, it doesn't matter to Johnson.
He is so long and strong, that he's playing a different Pebble Beach than everyone else. Even Tiger Woods marvels at Johnson's length, calling him "stupid long."
He drove the par-4 fourth hole, playing a short 286 yards, with a 4-iron Saturday. He hit a 273-yard, uphill 3-iron over the sixth green and hit a 206-yard 7-iron to set up a birdie at the 17th hole.
If you caught the slow-motion replay of Johnson's swing with a driver on Saturday, you saw one of the most athletic rips you'll ever see. He gets the club so wide it allows him to generate enormous speed with his 6-foot, 4-inch frame and then he seems to compress it all as he makes his downswing.
To use one of the most over-used words in the English language, it's awesome.
"He stood up and had no fear," said Graeme McDowell, his playing partner, after seeing Johnson shoot 66 Saturday.
"But he has to sleep on a three-shot lead. We'll see how he feels (Sunday)."
Johnson just smiled when told of McDowell's comment.
"I think I'm going to feel good," Johnson said. "It's going to be very hard. I have to stay patient and keep playing like I've been playing and I'll be tough to beat."
When the inevitable question came about having Woods looming in third place, though five shots back, Johnson faced it like he faces Pebble Beach -- going right at it.
"He's the best player in the world," Johnson said. "It's not a shock to see him right there. All I can do is worry about myself. I can't control what he does. I can only control what I do."
Friday, June 18, 2010
Tom Watson made no secret Friday of how badly he wanted to hang around to play the weekend in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
"Pull for 3-under, will you?" Watson said as his press conference ended Friday afternoon.
Watson knew at lunchtime Friday that if Graeme McDowell's 3-under par total was the 36-hole lead, he would qualify for the weekend by virtue of the 10-shot rule, which keeps every player within 10 strokes of the lead around for 72 holes. Watson made it on the number.
That means Sunday will probably be his final round in a U.S. Open. That will give us all time to celebrate it more properly.
He's a part of this event and this place and he looked like he was having a blast these last two days, playing with Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa. He's of one generation, they're two generations later. Watson, however, remains timeless.
It's amazing to think that Watson has played in all five U.S. Opens played at Pebble Beach.
It was fun to hear him talk about watching Ishikawa putt.
"He reminded me of me when I was 18," Watson said. "Made everything. Drove it in the back of the hole and rattled it in.
"I love to watch him putt. I was trying to learn something from him."
Watching Watson, graceful as ever in what's likely his last Open, we can all learn something from watching him.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
-- Geoff Ogilvy. He shot 79 on Thursday, not what you'd expect from a guy with his game. But he can go flat for long periods at a time. This is evidently one of those times.
-- Tiger Woods. He complained about the greens, calling them "awful." They're poa annua greens, they're never great. But everybody has to play them. He'll get over it, probably.
Quail Hollow Club president Johnny Harris met with Phil Mickelson Wednesday and, among other things, they discussed Mickelson's sharp criticism of the greens during the Quail Hollow Championship in May.
Harris told Mickelson that significant changes are planned for two, possibly three, of the greens that most concerned the world's second-ranked player.
Plans are underway, Harris said Wednesday, to make changes to the eighth, 12th and possibly 18th greens at Quail Hollow.
"We had a very positive discussion," said Harris, who is in the Pebble Beach area this week for the U.S. Open. "We've always encouraged feedback from the players and we appreciate what they tell us."
Mickelson called the Quail Hollow greens among the most poorly designed putting surfaces on tour in comments he made after the third round. He specificied the 12th green, a sharply sloping surface, and the 18th, where he was forced to putt away from the hole in the third round.
The short eighth hole, with its three-tiered green, has been controversial among players and members because it seems out of character with other greens on the course. Harris didn't specify what changes would be made to the greens but various alterations were under consideration before Mickelson's comments.
Course designer Tom Fazio, who did the major renovation to Quail Hollow in the late 1990s, has been on site studying the greens.
Harris also said approximately 60 trees have been taken out on the 18th hole, part of the club's continual process of evaluating the course.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
With the start of the U.S. Open just hours away, here are five storylines that bear watching at Pebble Beach:
1. How tough will Pebble play?
It's only 7,040 yards but with no rain in the forecast, Pebble Beach is getting firmer as the week goes on. Factor in the size of the greens -- they're about the size of your kitchen -- and suddenly the targets get very tough to hit.
The USGA has reshaped some of the cliffside fairways, taking the mowed area to the edge of the cliffs in order to bring the water more into play. Especially on the 9th and 10th holes, that could be a factor.
The rough is deep but not unmanageable. Keeping it in play remains the first objective as it is in every Open. Someone might go low but not likely for long.
2. Is This Phil's Time?
Five second-place finishes are more than enough for Mickelson. He's primed for this Open but he's seemed prime before. He knows how to play Pebble -- he's won three AT&T Nationals here -- and he has the emotional support from the fans who want him to win.
He says his past disappointments don't bother him and I tend to believe him. He's wired to look ahead. I like his chances.
3. What Will Tiger Do?
A decade ago, Woods torched Pebble Beach and the U.S. Open, redefining greatness in a major championship. Now his game is in a strange place, good but not great.
He lives for the majors and he's seen this Open as another one he can add to his collection. Expecting him to win the Masters was too much. Thinking he could win this Open isn't too much.
4. Feeling European
It's been 40 years since Tony Jacklin won the U.S. Open, the last time a player from across the pond won the championship. That could change this year.
Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington come immediately to mind as serious contenders. Robert Karlsson lost in a playoff last weekend. And don't forget about Sergio Garcia. I still think he'll win a major but I don't think it will be this one.
5. The Twentysomethings
No current player under 30 years of age has won a major championship but the under-30 set has already won nine times on the PGA Tour this year. McIlroy, Adam Scott, Bill Haas and Justin Rose are among the winners. Not all of them are here but the youth movement may be on display again this week.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Tiger Woods, by nature, doesn't offer a whole lot in his press conferences and his 30-minute session with the media at Pebble Beach today was no different.
It was longer than most of his question-and-answer sessions have been recently but for anyone expecting a revelation or two, they would be disappointed. The most interesting thing was to catch Tiger's sharp reaction when a questioner with an English accent asked if there has been a resolution about the future of his marriage.
"It's none of your business," Woods said, with a noticeable edge in his voice.
Fair enough. It's not our business even though the gossip world will continue to try to make it their business for months to come. It's part of the price he continues to pay for his personal troubles.
But he's at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open and, without saying a lot, Tiger sounded like a guy who feels a little better about his game. There hasn't been a whole lot for him to feel good about these past few months, given the way he's played or hasn't played (missed cut at Quail Hollow, WD at The Players).
Asked how different the game he brought to Pebble Beach is from the one he brought to Augusta in April, Woods said, "Way different."
He finished fourth at the Masters in large part on emotion and the layout's relatively unforgiving nature off the tee. That hasn't worked since then and a bad neck made everything worse. But there were signs at The Memorial two weeks ago that Tiger may be rounding a corner and he gave off the air of a player Tuesday who feels good about where his game is headed right now.
"I'm just starting to get my feel back," Woods said. "I know I have to be patient with it. It's coming along."
Not to be rude or anything but here at Pebble Beach, where the U.S. Open is coming to life today, it's chilly.
I know, you don't want to hear it as you rub sweat out of your eyes and wonder if it would be possible to cook a turkey in your car while you're at work today. But at Pebble Beach, where Tiger Woods was on the course at 7 a.m., people are bundled up in sweaters, sweatshirts and jackets.
The parking attendants are wearing hoodies and gloves. It looks like a Packers' game.
Depending on how often the sun decides to shine through what they call the marine layer out here -- it's like fog only not quite that low -- the temperature isn't expected to nudge much past 60 degrees unless Phil Mickelson gets it going on low or Clint Eastwood makes the scene. It's what you call atmosphere.
This U.S. Open could have plenty of it. Just playing at Pebble Beach, which has posed for more flattering photos than Julia Roberts, makes it special. Walking its hills and bluffs, feeling the cool mist coming off the water, marveling at its sheer beauty is like looking at the Grand Canyon. It's almost visual overload.
The par-3 seventh hole, which is barely 100 yards long, may be the single best hole in golf anywhere. If we're lucky enough to get a little wind -- just a little -- it will be more fun to watch than 'Caddyshack.'
As with any Open, there are multiple storylines. Phil Mickelson turns 40 on Wednesday with another chance to win his elusive national championship. Tiger's back at the scene of his most dominating performance ever but he's not the same guy, at least not now. Lee Westwood just won in Memphis and seems a threat again.
It doesn't start for another couple of days but Pebble Beach is already a cool place to be.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
What do Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Rocco Mediate, Kevin Sutherland, Jonathan Byrd, Bubba Watson, Bill Haas and J.B. Holmes have in common?
They're among the PGA Tour regulars who failed to qualify for the U.S. Open on Monday. Rose had just won The Memorial, beating Fowler in another event that demonstrated the youth movement in full charge on the PGA Tour. But it wasn't enough to earn either Rose or Fowler a spot in the Open, though both leaped into the top 35 in the world rankings, a few days too late for that to earn them an exemption into the field.
Some people argue that the U.S. Open is too open, meaning its qualifying process costs too many guys who might realistically challenge for the trophy on the outside looking in while allowing guys you've never heard of to play themselves in if they get hot at the right time. Both Fowler and Rose would have been players to watch had they made it -- but they didn't.
I like that about the U.S. Open. They had their chance to get in and they didn't play well enough. Just getting there may be tougher than the Open itself.
Charlotte's Joe Jaspers came within a stroke of making it to Pebble Beach. Imagine the thrill it would have been for him had he earned one of those precious spots. The same goes for Quail Hollow Club assistant Charles Frost, who tied for fifth in his qualifier but needed to be among the top two to quailfy.
It makes you wonder about some of the PGA Tour players who decided to sit out the qualifying process, skipping the Open. Sure it's a grind but if they don't care about playing in the national championship then what do they care about?
Then you see Erik Compton, living with his third heart, playing his way to Pebble Beach, enduring a grueling 36-hole day that had to test him to the limit. That's what the U.S. Open is about.
Monday, June 07, 2010
Thursday, June 03, 2010
Having just spent a couple of days at Muirfield Village Golf Club on the eve of The Memorial Tournament, I was reminded of what a tremendous place it is.