Friday, January 19, 2007

The last two weeks have seen two prestigious major championships played at terrific golf courses: The U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and the U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills. There were successes, surprises and more than a few stumbles along the way (that's just the way the USGA likes it). Here are 10 observations from the past two weeks:

  1. The USGA was widely applauded for the course setup at Pinehurst, and it certainly was mostly fair. But several pin placements, especially on the weekends, were pushed to the extreme far edges of the greens. When the world's best players are facing a 30-foot putt and their primary thought is not to go past the hole and roll it off the green, I don't know what that proves.

  2. Pinehurst No. 2 was designed so that in order to fire at certain pins, you had to drive it in the proper parts of the fairways to get an angle. During the Open, many of those proper sections were in the rough, as the fairways were cut up to 10 yards narrower than they were in 1999. This reduces strategic play, as most players simply bombed away with the driver in an effort to hit the shortest club possible onto the greens.

  3. I don't think Retief Goosen choked on Sunday, I think he just had a bad day. However, he also spent considerable time early in the week talking about not getting the credit he deserves, a plea that may have backfired. He has built a nice career winning tournaments while flying under the radar, but during the Open he was under the spotlight and had to answer a lot of questions that he probably doesn't think about very often. That may have weighed on his mind Sunday.

  4. I didn't have a good feeling about Annika Sorenstam's chances at Cherry Hills. I've played that course many times, and it's not a track that can be dissected with precision play. It requires artistry and creativity -- being able to play high and low shots, and work the ball both ways. Annika is a wonderful player, but she excels when she is able to cash in on her fairways-and-greens game. The devilishly-difficult greens at Cherry Hills meant she didn't make as many birdies as she is used to.

  5. It was good for women's golf to have so many teenagers and amateurs in contention at Cherry Hills. Because they are such neophytes at that level of competition, some of the bad breaks that got under the skins of the veteran players simply went right over the heads of these youngsters, who were simply playing grip it and rip it.

  6. Speaking of teenagers, all the attention lavished on Michelle Wie over the last three years looks to have fired up her peers. Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lang, and Paula Creamer are all eager to prove that they have game, too. Whenever Michelle turns pro, she won't have as easy of a time of it out there as some people might think. Competition is a great thing!

  7. Clearly, technology advances haven't impacted the women's game as dramatically as the men's. Many female golfers, talented as they may be, still have a difficult time hitting the ball with enough force to get the spin necessary to hold firm greens. We saw a score of 3-over-par win at Cherry Hills, and the difficult set-up (does the USGA know any other way?) made the players look like 10-handicappers at times.

  8. Davis Love III has tremendous affection for Pinehurst, where his father and I taught countless golf schools. He wanted to win, and the media is getting on him about underachieving, saying he needs another major to validate his 1997 PGA triumph at Winged Foot. This criticism is largely unwarranted. I've been privileged to play several rounds with Davis. Has he won fewer majors than I thought he would have at age 41? Absolutely. But Davis has struggled with back and neck injuries that have curtailed his practice time. If he doesn't win another major, he's still had a fine career. If he's feeling good, I say look out for him when the Open returns to Winged Foot next year.

  9. If I were the major domo at the USGA, I'd buy 10,000 acres of land in Middle America and build the golf version of Wimbledon. Picture it: A championship course for the U.S. Open, Women's Open, U.S. Amateur, and U.S. Junior all on the same site. Then you could design the courses to fit the USGA's perception of the style of play they want to reward of each event, rather than imposing their philosophy on courses around the country, possibly ruining some along the way.

  10. Many people were expecting Michael Campbell to fold down the stretch as Tiger Woods surged with birdies at the 10th, 11th and 15th holes to pull within two strokes. But those people forgot about 2001, the first and only time Tiger played a tournament in Campbell's home country of New Zealand. The sponsors kicked in a $2 million appearance fee to land Tiger, and the cost of a weekly pass for the event consequently rose from $20.50 to more than $200. Campbell spoke out, calling the ticket prices "disgusting" and threatening to boycott the event. Both men, to their credit, handled the awkward situation with class -- and by the way, ticket prices were reduced. The point was made: Campbell wasn't afraid to stand up to Tiger's fame and influence, and he wasn't afraid on Open Sunday.

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