Earl's Recent Past Golf Blog's
July 10, 2018
Carnoustie will be a Test!
The Open Championship this year will be played at my favorite links golf course, Carnoustie. I have been fortunate to have played it in many different conditions; howling winds, rain, high rough, dry fairways, and calm. Each time I have been challenged to the maximum of my game and have loved every minute of it. The reason for the enjoyment was the exacting nature of the course. Each hole presents a different test that requires you to shape your shots to fit the occasion. Each round is different based on the weather conditions and the course setup. But I rate this course my favorite, because for the fairness. You hit the right shot and it will be rewarded. Do anything less and the punishment is doubled.
From 1983 to 1994, I took a group of members from Lakewood Country Club each year to play in the International Four-Ball Invitational. Each year we played the Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoutie, and the King's and Queen's courses at Gleneagles. We made it a two week golf trip by coming a week earlier and playing Turnberry, Royal Troon, Muirfield, Dornoch, and other famous courses. Carnoustie was the least impressive from first glance. Situated in a small blue-collar town, with a non-descript clubhouse, and uninspired landscape, it didn't radiate greatness. However, when you walked the fairways and observed the course layout and strategy, you soon realized this is something very special. The front nine is hard but in reasonable conditions can yield under par scores. Disaster lurks for the errant shot, but not to the extent that is exacted on the back nine. The golf tournament will be won on the final five holes, with the last three holes being the most brutal. Get by the 14th and 15th and you are faced with a 248 yard par three with a green that appears to be only 30 feet wide. Scary tee shot with no bailout. Four is not a bad score on 16. Then if you were frightened of 16, then 17 tee shot is even tougher! Barry Burn winds across the fairway then down the left side and then cross again, creating a small island target area for you tee shot. Navigate that challenge and then you have a long iron into a narrow green guarded by penal bunkers. 18, in my opinion, is the easiest of the three finishing holes. Avoid the OB and Barry Burn on the tee shot and the rest is fairly straight forward. Barry Burn does cross the fairway again about thirty yards short of the green, but it really is not a factor, unless your name is Jean Van de Velde. The 16th at Carnoustie, along with the 16th at Cypress Point, are my two most difficult and favorite par three holes that I have played. The 461 yard 17th at Carnoustie is in my top three par four holes in the world due its unique architecture, length, and exact shotmaking requirements.
The Open winner needs to have length and be a precise ball striker. Only a few errant tee shots will ruin many good players' chances to contend for this trophy. I can see Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth having good tournaments, but none at this moment have the exacting game for Carnoustie to be the winner. Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood or Justin Thomas have the ability to handle this course and a win by them would not be a surprise. But the best suited player for Carnoustie is Dustin Johnson. He is long and straight and can hit a lot of greens in regulation. Putting is always important in a major championship, but with this course it will be ball striking that will be the most crucial factor. Carnoustie will be the winner and Dustin Johnson will hold the trophy.
June 20, 2018
What will we remember about this year's U.S. Open?
We should remember this U.S. Open as a great win for Brooks Koepka and being the first player to win back to back for almost thirty years. But there were so many other distractions that overshadowed this great event. Once again the USGA messed up in their course setup. Then Phil Mickelson made a mockery of the spirit of the game. The New York crowds added a rowdiness that made the atmosphere less championship like. Brooks Koepka should be the story, but the storyline will start with something else.
Since I was a junior golfer, I have played in events officiated by local associations affiliated with the USGA. I have played in USGA qualifiers and tournaments and have great respect for the people associated with them and found them to be experts and the tournaments well run and organized. So I'm surprised with the love/hate relationship with the professional golfers for the U.S. Open. The USGA prides it's self with having the toughest test of the major championships. However, on a national level they have gone overboard at times in protecting par as the gold standard for championship golf. In 1986, Raymond Floyd played a practice round at Shinnecock Hills before the U.S. Open and told his wife that he loved the course and that the USGA couldn't screw this one up. He won that year. They didn't mess up that year, but they did on the same course in 2004 and 2018. The professionals expect something strange and tricked up when they come to a U.S. Open venue. It shouldn't be that way. They pick great tough golf courses. The course should stand on its' own merits. The championship committee has had controversy the past three years. They didn't want another black eye, but somehow they managed. With all good intentions, they missed badly on Saturday and they became the story and not the players. How many mulligans will they give the amateur experts to get it right? The feeling right now for next year at Pebble Beach is, "how are they going to screw this one up?" That's not fair, but they did influence the outcome of a national championship with their bad judgement. Maybe they should consult the PGA Tour and get help on proper course setup. (That will never happen.)
On the last day the course was setup as fair as possible. The wind never exceeded 10 miles an hour and mostly was calm through the day. In fairness, the predictions for the day were for winds at 15 to 20 miles an hour, so the USGA erred on the side of caution. Because of the friendly conditions, there were thirteen rounds in the 60's with the best by Tommy Fleetwood of England. He is a rising star and his round is no fluke. But after making a miles worth of putts, I was very disappointed in his miss on 18 for a new U.S. Open scoring record of 62. It appeared that he misread the break, because it looked like a well stuck putt.
This Open will also be remembered as a Phil Mickelson meltdown. By swatting at a moving ball that was going off the green, Phil committed a serious breach of the rules of golf and golf etiquette. He meant no disrespect, but he did. His explanation on Saturday was juvenile and self-serving. He tried to cover it up, but nobody was buying it. He should have admitted to a temporary loss of sanity and apologized. Today, four days later, he apologized and said all the right words. It will be forgotten, but not when historians replay the events of this U.S. Open.
Brooks Koepka is a worthy champion. He has made the cut in 16 straight major championships and has placed in the top 25 for 11 straight with 6 top ten finishes. His win last year was written off as the right golf course at the right time for the right type of player. Winning this year showed that he truly is a golfer worthy of multiply major titles. Last year I predicted more championships for Brooks, but since then he had an injury that sidelined him for three months and came into the championship with no tournament victories since last year's Open. Steely short game nerves and brilliant clutch putting made the difference in the end. The USGA bogied the golf course, but they didn't bogie the winner. At least they got that one right!