Friday, June 29, 2007

Observations during another weather delay at the Open

Observations from the U.S. Women’s Open, at least that part of it that has been played between three weather delays:

-Michelle Wie has some serious problems in her golf game.
She sounds like someone on the verge of developing the driver yips as she talks about how uncertain she is of her ability to hit fairways off the tee. It’s not her wrist but her confidence and that’s harder to get back than a healthy wrist.

-When Wie said Thursday there was a thin line between 69 and the 82 she posted, you had to shake your head. She saved herself several strokes by holing medium-length putts in the first round.

-However it happened, it’s a very good thing she won’t be playing in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic.

-I’m surprised by how high the scores are at Pine Needles. The rough is not killer but the greens and the areas surrounding them have extremely demanding. Players are having trouble getting the ball close to the hole and really struggling to save shots when they miss greens.
They’re getting the full Donald Ross effect.

-USGA officials knew they were gambling with the weather by playing the Open at this time of the year but this has been a bad draw.

-The two previous Opens at Pine Needles were played about a month earlier when the chance of afternoon storms is not as great. The trade-off for playing the Open now is to have the Bermuda grass fully grown in, making the course play as it was designed to play.

-The weather delays are a nuisance but they don’t mean the Open won’t return to Pine Needles in another eight to 10 years.

-It’s fun to watch Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel play golf. They have a style about them that so many players lack. What a story it would be if they could get in the mix here on Sunday – or whenever this Open eventually ends.

Ron Green Jr.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

PGA needs drug-testing

Last week, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the PGA Tour intends to adopt a drug-testing plan to alleviate any concerns about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional golf.


And why has it taken so long? For the record, let me admit that stories and chatter about drug-testing makes my eyes glaze over. To borrow a line from a Dan Jenkins book, put the words steroids, deficit or committee in a
headline and it's guaranteed to make me read something else.

But since we live in a justifiably skeptical sports world, there's no reason the PGA Tour shoudln't adopt a drug-testing policy. I understand it's not as easy as just saying you're going to do it and having it done but the tour has been slow to act, believing -- probably correctly -- that it doesn't have a signfiicant problem.

Still, when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and others say the tour should be pro-active, they're right. The LPGA tour will begin drug-testing next year as will the European Tour, though the details on the whats and hows and whys are still vague.

David Fay, executive director of the USGA, said Wednesday that drug testing is "inevitiable" but he couldn't say exactly when it will arrive. He put the onus on the professional tours to take the lead but said the major golf organizations, including the USGA, need to be involved.

Most of golf's testing has been directed at equipment, aimed at identifying non-conforming drivers. The PGA Tour needs to get a strong plan -- with strong penalties -- in place and eliminate any questions about what players may or may not be using. Golf does not lend itself to the kinds of abuses we've heard about in other sports but it would be naive to think golf hasn't had guys who have experimented with performance-enhancing drugs.

There are gray areas with golf. Do beta-blockers count? I have a friend who's a sports psychologist who has worked with tour players for years and when the subject of having a couple of beers on the golf course came up one day, he said they probably help allevate tension by working as beta blockers.

John Daly, however, proves that's not always an effective way to deal with your demons.

It's time for the PGA Tour to get on with its drug-testing plan. Make it as tough as Oakmont and no one will dare test it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's hard not to like Angel Cabrera

Trying to make sense of a U.S. Open that managed to be compelling despite fewer birdies than an Optimist Club outing:

· It’s hard not to like Angel Cabrera. I mean, here’s a guy who can absolutely mash a golf ball and isn’t afraid to light up between shots. That was perfect for Oakmont, in Arnie’s back yard, considering the King was always being photographed with a cigarette dangling from his lips.
“There are some players that have psychologists,” Cabrera said. “I smoke.”

· And I wonder, does El Pato (the duck) always wear yellow on Sundays?

When Tiger Woods reflects on this near miss, two things may come to his mind - how much better his Saturday score could have been and the skulled pitch shot he hit from behind the third green Sunday that led to his only double bogey of the week.
The 69 he shot in the third round was as high a score as it could’ve been and it easily could’ve been three or four shots lower.
He didn’t play particularly well Sunday - he never seemed to find his rhythm - but he relied on his heavenly short game to continually bail him out of trouble. But the skull he hit at the third hole was shocking and, as he said so many times, you can’t win the Open if you make doubles.

In his last four majors, Tiger has finished 1-1-2-2.

And consider this stat: In his first 21 majors as a pro, Tiger won seven and never finished second. The next 21, he’s won five and finished second four times. Sound like Nicklaus?

Bubba Watson impressed me. I didn’t think he had it in him to be as consistent as he was at the Open.

Really now, other than Tiger, who’s going to look good wearing that red shirt he had on Sunday afternoon? I know Nike isn’t trying to sell shirts to those of old enough to remember Orville Moody but I don’t see a big rush coming for those Tiger shirts.

Aaron Baddeley. Oh no.

You can bet that the Open will be back at Oakmont in about 10 years. And it should be. But make it just a little bit easier, please.

Did Jim Furyk learn anything from Phil Mickelson’s mistake last year at Winged Foot?
Why did he hit driver at the 17th hole, knowing it brought bogey into the equation? Hit an iron off the tee, wedge it into the green and try to make birdie that way. That was a crushing way to go after birdies at 13, 14 and 15 were writing a classic comeback story.
Furyk said he didn’t know he was tied for the lead at the time and he’d hit driver again in the same situation. It killed a great story about a western Pennsylvania guy winning at Oakmont.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Woods was teasingly close to flawless

History will record Tiger Woods’ third-round score at the U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club Saturday as a 1-under par 69 and it will look, days and years from now, like just another good score in a long line.

But Woods flirted with Johnny Miller territory Saturday and had he been able to redirect his golf ball a total of, say, three inches, he might have shot 63 himself.

That’s how good Woods was in terms of ballstriking in the third round. When he birdied the third and fourth holes to get the attention of the tournament leaders before they teed off, a ripple of excitement was finally in the Oakmont air.

It looked and felt as if something spectacular were going to happen thanks to the chiseled man in the turquoise shirt. He was in control of a golf course that had been in control of everyone – save Paul Casey on Friday – since the tournament began.

Walking the back nine with Tiger on a Saturday afternoon warm enough to put a sheen of sweat on most faces, it was like watching a master at work. The few fairways he missed – until his tee shot at No. 18 leaked right into a bunker – were by a yard or two.

He kept firing iron shots at the flag, posing after them.

"Very clinical," playing partner Nick Dougherty said.

And the putts kept burning the edge of the hole. An eagle putt at four peeked in. A downhill slider at the fifth singed the lip. A birdie at the 13th played peek-a-boo with the hole.

It was teasingly close to flawless.

And it left Tiger teasingly close to another major championship.

Ron Green Jr.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Is the U.S. Open ready for Bubba?

Well, I missed another chance to retire early.

Imagine the odds I could’ve gotten two days ago on Bubba Watson being one shot out of the lead midway through the U.S. Open at Oakmont.

The Open and Bubba go together like stripes and plaids. But on a course that has dinged, dented and destroyed many of the best players in the world, Bubba and his pink-shafted driver are cruising along like it’s a friendly game back home in Bagdad, Fla.

It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Bubba posts a number somewhere in the 80s either of the next two days, but so far he’s handled Oakmont like it’s no big deal.

He’s throttled back his power, played smart golf and he’s suddenly a factor in a major for the first time, though he admitted Friday evening he’ll "feel like throwing up" all weekend.

He won’t have his buddy Boo Weekley in his pairing tomorrow, which will significantly decrease the biscuits and gravy talk, but in a tournament searching for a personality beyond that of the course, Bubba has stepped forward.

It seemed like every time you looked up Friday, there was Tiger or Phil or David Toms chopping it out of trouble. Then there was Bubba hanging around, letting the tournament come to him.

Bubba has taken to playing early-morning practice rounds with Woods recently, picking the brain of the world’s best player on any number of subjects related to golf. One thing he hasn’t asked Tiger about is how to handle the pressure of being in contention on a major championship weekend.

That’s something, Woods said, everyone has to learn for themselves.
Now it’s Bubba’s turn.

Ron Green Jr.

U.S. Open goes high tech

The U.S. Open, which helped define old school, has gone high tech.

The USGA, which oversees the Open, has made available to the media and some other guests, a neat little gizmo that looks like a Blackberry but isn’t cluttered with all those annoying e-mails.

This little silver magic box is called myLeaderboard and it’s a handheld electronic leader board you operate with, appropriately enough, a golf tee that helps you scroll up and down the screens of information.

No matter where you are on the course - and there are some faraway spots at Oakmont - the contraption lets you know exactly where things stand.

You can look up the hole-by-hole score of any player, find out where that player is on the course, access directions, get scoring statistics and tell you tee times. It does everything but read putts and ask if you’d like mustard on your hot dog.

It’s easy to use, even for someone like myself who has come no closer to a Blackberry than in a cobbler.

The screen is easy to read and it has full color graphics.

That’s going overboard because at the U.S. Open, there’s no reason to have red numbers.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dougherty, leader of the band

Here's what you need to know about Nick Dougherty, the leader after the first round of the U.S. Open:

He's a 25-year old from Liverpool, England, who has one European Tour victory, was mentored by Nick Faldo and learned to play the flute after his father traded one of Paul McCartney's guitars for the instrument.

Seems everyone from Liverpool has a Beatles connection. Dougherty's comes from the fact his father was a friend of Pete Best, the guy who was a Beatle before the group slid him out in favor of Ringo Starr.

Dougherty's dad had one of McCartney's guitars and decided his son should learn to play the flute to keep him occupied on those lonely nights on the road while playing golf.

"His general idea was, 'When you're on tour, it will entertain you, to be able to sit in your room and play the flute,'" Dougherty said. "You can imagine it, can't you? TGI Friday's is much more fun."

Dougherty said he gave the flute to his brother and feels bad about it. Bad enough that if he wins the Open, he said he'd buy his brother a house.
It's too early to think about that but Dougherty insists he has changed in recent years, committing himself to golf more than having fun and he's become a better player.

"It's been two years of evidence that this was the right thing to do," Dougherty said. "You know, I was a young man and young men have fun. I don't regret it. Now I know the right way to run my life and go about my professional career because I know what not to do. "That was diplomatic, wasn't it?"

Yes, it was.

Early impressions from first round of U.S. Open

- The course at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club is as tough as advertised. Arron Oberholser started on the par-4 10th hole, hit the green in regulation and then four-putted. Nice way to spoil your breakfast.

- Sergio Garcia is about to be 0-for-32 in majors. He shot 7-over par 42 on his first nine holes.

- It’s hard to imagine better scoring conditions than this morning. There was plenty of rain last night to soften the course and it’s been cloudy and cool with a little breeze so far. So, yes, over par is going to win this tournament.

- You have to see the hole location on the 18th green to really appreciate it. It’s cut in a small valley on the right side of the green, essentially between two small mountains.

-Zach Johnson had a 60-footer that – and this is no exaggeration – he aimed at least 20 feet left of the hole and 10 feet past the hole. He then watched his ball roll up a slope behind the hole and then gradually slide back down the hill toward the cup. Not close enough. He still three-putted.

- Phil Mickelson is getting minute-by-minute attention because of his injured wrist. He hit practice balls earlier in the day and apparently couldn’t handle hitting a driver. At least that was the word circulating around the course.

Ron Green Jr.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Observations before the U.S. Open

Clearing up a few things before the U.S. Open begins:

Mother Nature must’ve thought Oakmont was too tough for the U.S. Open.
Despite the wishes of the USGA, a heavy thunderstorm drenched Oakmont Wednesday afternoon at 5 p.m., immediately changing the texture of the tournament.

Had it not rained, Oakmont was primed to play firm and fast with the green speeds being measured in nanoseconds.
But the rain changed everything. The course will play softer now, especially Thursday morning when play begins. It will be easier to attack hole locations but the rough, already a gnarly mess, will be more menacing.

Phil Mickelson played nine holes Wednesday at Oakmont, completing his final preparation for the Open, but he still has not hit a driver this week.
Mickelson, nursing inflammation in his left wrist, decided not to test his hand with a driver swing during his practice sessions Tuesday and Wednesday. Mickelson intends to use his driver in the tournament but took a more conservative approach in practice.
He looked just fine when he striped a long iron shot to within four feet of the hole at the 18th Wednesday afternoon, before adjourning to the practice green for some work and, finally, icing his wrist.

By the time the U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst in 2014, Davis Love III will be eligible for the Champions Tour and the Open will seem fresh again at Pinehurst.
It was terrific two years ago at No. 2 but coming just six years after the first Open, it felt familiar. It will be different in 2014.

In case you were wondering, a few players have hit irons into the 288-yard, par-3 eighth hole during practice rounds. Hybrids and 3-woods have been the most popular club choice, however.

Interesting scene on the practice tee Wednesday – Vijay Singh warming up while talking to Chi Chi Rodriguez, who was wearing a black leather jacket despite temperatures in the low 80s. Wonder if Vijay was asking permission to start using Chi Chi’s famous sword dance after birdies?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Oakmont set to bludgeon golf's best

Oakmont is such a pretty place for a massacre.

It’s big and green and standing behind the Tudor-style clubhouse, it’s possible to see portions of 17 of the 18 holes on what club members and many others believe to be the toughest test in golf this side of Carnoustie.

But the U.S. Open is golf’s version of body punching an opponent into submission or intensive care.

That’s where Oakmont is expected to shine – like a really deep bruise.

We’ll of course have to wait and see if all the predictions of ballooning scores come true. There has been idle speculation that someone will post a score in the 90s this week. Since John Daly is not here, it’s tough to guess exactly who that unfortunate soul might be if it comes to pass.

Speaking of Daly, his act has grown tired. What once made him a colorful character has long since lost its charm.

But this Open doesn’t include Daly. It includes Phil Mickelson’s injured wrist, which is getting more attention than Michelle Wie’s bad wrists.

Mickelson had practiced but not played for two days at Oakmont before Tuesday morning, when he played a practice round with no apparent difficulty other than trying not to smile when he’d bust his driver 50 yards past playing partner Fred Funk.

Among the many interesting things about Oakmont is the fact the Pennsylvania Turnpike literally runs through the middle of the course; Nothing quite like hitting a tee shot to the 288-yard par-3 (yeah, right) eighth hole with the rumbling noise of 18-wheelers in your ears.

But then, Oakmont isn’t like anyplace else. The members love how tough their course is, brag about it in fact.

They cut out, depending on whose count you pick, somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 full-grown trees since the last Open was played here in 1994. The course was designed without trees and all those that had been planted to beautify the place had changed the character of the beast, so they were done away with.

Environmentalists may cringe but it a brilliant bit of work with chain saws. The place is spectacular.

Perhaps this Open will be as well.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Of perverse pleasure and four-putts

There will be an overdose of discussion in the next week about the difficulty of Oakmont Country Club, site of this year’s U.S. Open.

That’s not unusual. Every year there’s talk about how tough the Open course is because, for all the chatter about it being a total examination of a player’s game, the Open is about beating the starch out of players with bogeys.

Many fans take a perverse pleasure in watching the best golfers in the world shoot 77 as if there’s some fun in that. If you want to watch bogeys, spend 15 minutes at any course around and you’ll get an eyeful.

I understand the Open wants to be tougher than a $2 steak.

What I’ve never understood is why so many golfers want their home courses to be so hard. Oakmont members take special pride in how their course beats up everyone.

I’ve played Oakmont and it beat me up. The member hosting me said there’s an expectation that every first-time player at Oakmont - regardless of his or her handicap - will four-putt at least once on the diabolical greens. I can’t speak for everyone but I can say I didn’t disappoint my host.

Oakmont’s reputation is built on its difficulty and it’s been well earned. Playing it was maybe the most fun I’ve had getting beat up.

But this is not specifically about Oakmont, which is in a special category.

My question is why club members, who theoretically play golf for fun, want to make their course so hard the fun is buried under thick collars of rough around the greens and on 485-yard par-4s.

They take it personally if someone suggests another course is tougher than theirs as if there’s something wrong with that. Maybe it’s a macho thing.

Golf’s hard enough on an easy course. Why make it more difficult?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Niners' future, Open favorites and more

Spraying a few bunker shots while waiting on the U.S. Open to begin:

  • Don’t expect coach Jamie Green’s Charlotte 49ers men’s golf team to be one-year wonders. Their tie for third in the NCAA championship last weekend may have surprised some people but not Green, his players nor others in the field. Green has steadily turned the 49ers into a formidable force and with four of the five players back from the NCAA team, Charlotte will be invited to several of the high-profile events next season. Andrew DiBitetto, who finished tied for ninth individually, was Charlotte’s first All-American and Corey Nagy made the freshman All-American team. It looks as if the 49ers have only just begun.
  • Phil Mickelson is getting a cortisone injection to make sure his sore wrist is fine for the U.S. Open. It all sounds good but it makes you wonder if it will affect Lefty at Oakmont.
  • Speaking of Oakmont, did you hear about defending champion Geoff Ogilvy’s practice round there on Monday? Ogilvy proclaimed it the hardest course he’s ever seen after shooting somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 and losing, by his estimation, seven golf balls. He said he would take 9 over par for 72 holes and take his chances on winning.
  • Here’s an early list of top five contenders at Oakmont (subject to change, of course, and feel free to submit your own list):
1. Tiger Woods
2. Phil Mickelson
3. Zach Johnson
4. Stewart Cink
5. Sean O’Hair

  • It would be worth your while to spend a day or two at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles later this month. Annika Sorenstam is arguably the best women’s player of all time, the young group of players including Lorena Ochoa, Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer is entertaining and there’s always Michelle Wie. Plus, Pine Needles is a terrific spectator course and a few tickets still remain (

Friday, June 01, 2007

It's not so easy being the big 'Wiesy'

Michelle Wie seems intent on proving it’s not easy being a teenager.

The latest chapter of teen angst came Thursday when the 17-year- old Wie suddenly withdrew late in her first round in the Ginn Tribute at RiverTowne Country Club in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

The official reason for her withdrawal after 16 holes was that she “tweaked” the wrist injury that sidelined her from competition since January when she missed the cut in the PGA Tour’s Sony Open by 14 strokes.

She had certainly played as if something were wrong, making a triple-bogey on a par-3 and a quintuple bogey 10 on an easy par-5 where her first tee shot literally went down a storm drain on a neighborhood street.

Wie’s game is obviously not as sharp as it once was – she hasn’t broken par in a women’s event since last summer – but it’s not as bad as what was on display Thursday morning.

Walking eight holes with Wie, I saw her hit one spectacular shot – an approach shot to within a foot of the hole at the 18th.

Otherwise, she continually lost tee shots to the right (except for a wickedly ugly hooked second tee shot at the disastrous par-5 third where she made 10), was usually shorter off the tee than her playing partners and rarely hit a shot that sounded crisp.

That’s not the Michelle Wie who has six top-five finishes in major championships.

It was so bad that Wie was flirting with losing her privileges on the LPGA Tour this year. Because Wie is not an official tour member, she would have been disqualified from further competition this year had she posted a score of 88 or higher Thursday.

When she withdrew Thursday, she was 14-over par with two watery holes to play. Two pars would get her in at 86. In other words, there was little margin for error.

Wie seemed surprised when her manager, Greg Nared, stopped her as she walked to the eighth tee (her 17th) Thursday. She seemed intent on finishing her round, but Nared and Wie’s parents had been talking for a couple of holes and Nared had been on the phone with LPGA officials.

They knew the 88-stroke rule was in play and there’s no way Wie could post a number that would essentially gut her season before it started. She would have been able to play in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles and the Women’s British Open because she had qualified for those events run by different organizations.

Otherwise, her remaining LPGA starts this year would have been zapped. Wie isn’t making multi-millions from Nike and Sony and others to sit at home. If you were managing Wie’s career, you’d have made the same decision allowing for the fact she hadn’t played in almost four months while letting her wrists heal.

There was more at stake than one tournament. Michelle Wie is a business and a brand as much as she’s a golfer.

It has not been easy for Wie. Though players publicly say they like her playing in LPGA events because of the attention she brings, tour insiders will tell you there’s an undercurrent of animosity among some players toward her.

Wie has chosen a unique path, testing herself in men’s events while playing only a few women’s events (she’s limited to seven per year on the LPGA Tour until she becomes a member). She is winless in 34 starts in women’s events and has never made the cut in a PGA Tour or European Tour men’s event.

She has had rules violations in competition and one of her playing partners, Janice Moody, questioned during Thursday’s round whether Wie’s father, B.J., had offered her advice after she hit a ball into trouble on her first nine holes.

She said swing coach David Leadbetter was “misquoted” last month when he said Wie would not continue playing against the men. Leadbetter was not misquoted – he said so this week - and was just kept out of the loop on Wie’s plans and, therefore, made to look foolish.

Wie left the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic on a stretcher last summer after the heat wore her down and the public fascination of her efforts against the men has begun to dull.

Now she pulls out of Annika Sorenstam’s tournament citing injury but says she expects to play the LPGA Championship next week, knowing what she needs to work on in her swing.

It all looked so easy a year or two ago.

But now, it’s not so easy being the big Wiesy.

Ron Green Jr.