Category Archives: tournaments

2019 U. S. Open Preview

The 119th United States Open will be played from June 13-16 at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California. Defending champion Brooks Koepka will try to make it three in a row, last done, and only done, by Willie Anderson in 1903, ’04, and ’05.

Many people say that Pebble Beach is the quintessential U.S. Open venue. I am partial to Oakmont, but PB isn’t a bad choice.

It first hosted a national tournament in 1929 when the USGA held the U.S. Amateur there. East Coast opinion was that the USGA had lost touch with reality as the best courses were, naturally, in the metropolitan (New York) area.

Bobby Jones was the co-medalist in the seeding rounds, but lost in the opening round of the championship to Johnny Goodman, who would later become the last amateur to win the U.S. Open, in 1933. Goodman also won the U.S. amateur, in 1937.

Forty-three years later, the first U.S. Open was held there, the first of now six, the debut won by Jack Nicklaus on the wings of a 1-iron that hit the pin the 17th hole the final day for a kick-in birdie.

See the USGA’s hole-by-hole flyover of the course.

Part of my life in golf involves Pebble Beach. During WWII, my mother was in the Navy, stationed in Hawaii. One of her close friends there had a brother who became a physician in the Bay Area later on, a very successful one, and who had an apartment on the Monterey Peninsula a sand wedge away from the 18th green at PB. Maybe I should have said a VERY successful doctor.

It was in one of the white buildings behind the green in this picture, copied from the flyover video at 11:38.

In 1962, my family went to visit my mother’s friend and family, who were living in San Jose. While we were there, we took a trip to that apartment for a few days. I went out on the course and walked the front nine all the way to the eighth fairway. Believe me, you just don’t know how beautiful that little peninsula in the photograph below is until you have been there.

There are no significant upgrades to the course for this tournament. The last time, the USGA used mowing to shift the location of some of the fairways, most notably the 9th and 10 holes, two seaside par 4s. Wouldn’t you guess, they put the fairways closer to the ocean. But as some people say, you have the entire North American continent on the left, so there is no reason for you to go right.

(Click to enlarge)

It is said that Pebble Beach consists of eight memorable holes and ten holes that are, well, not so memorable. The ocean holes are indeed spectacular, especially the stretch from 6 to 8 (above).

Number 6 launches you uphill into what the weather is doing that day, with a splendid ocean view. No pictures or the television show you how big this hole really is. Number 7 is the shortest hole in major championship golf at 109 yards, but it can play anywhere from a flip wedge to a 5-iron, depending on the wind.

Number 8 rises uphill with a tee shot blind to the landing area, and then perhaps the finest second shot in all of golf—over a cove to a tiny green well below the surface you’re standing on.

Watch them putt on 16, a green that slopes noticeably from right to left. Players finding themselves with a long uphill putt seldom reach the pin. They just can’t bring themselves to hit the bill hard enough.

The course is quite short by modern standards at 7,072 yards. That means shorter, straighter hitters, such as Jordan Spieth, who is playing much better now, are in the hunt if the USGA finds a way to neutralize the uber-long game while not being stupid about it.

Traditionally, the U.S. Open has been a survival contest that favors the straight hitter who can keep his mind together for four rounds of golf on a course that punishes every mistake. That’s not what the tournament has been for a while, but it was the reason why the U.S. Open was once my favorite tournament. It can be again, with inspired leadership.

Who is going to win? Phil could. He plays well on this course. He had better play well, because this might be his last serious chance to add a first to his six seconds. One thing for sure, he won’t be wearing these pants.

But if I knew who was going to win, I would keep it a secret and head down to Vegas to put down a TON of money on a sure thing.

Since I don’t know, I’ll retreat to Ben Hogan’s advice to Nick Faldo on how to win the U.S. Open: “You shoot the lowest score.”* That’s who’s going to win.

The final round of the Open is on Father’s Day. If golf is part of his life, what better way to spend the day than watching the Open with him? I always did.

* Vasquez, Jody. Afternoons With Mr. Hogan.

2019 PGA Championship Preview

Winner: Brooks Koepka by two shots over Dustin Johnson.

A major championship comes back to Bethpage Black in Long Island, New York. On May 16-19, the 101st PGA Championship will be contested on, what can I say, a ferocious golf course.

Official website.

I spent two days in 2010 walking around Oakmont. If you hit the ball straight and putt, you’ll do alright. I’ve seen the Pine Valley flyover on Youtube. Same thing. But Bethpage Black, that course scares me. Watch this.

The U.S. Open was played here in 2002, won by Tiger Woods by three strokes over Phil Mickelson. Woods was the only competitor to finish under par. In 2009, Lucas Glover on the Open by two over Mickelson, Ricky Barnes, and David Duval, in the most dramatic final round at the Open I have ever seen. Only those four and Ross Fisher finished under par.

The PGA likes birdies, though, and the rough will definitely not be U.S. Open style. I’m guessing the winning score will be -10.

Read this fascinating article about why The PGA at Bethpage will be different from a U.S. Open at Bethpage.

(Click to enlarge)

Moving the PGA to May was a stroke of, well, not genius, but of common sense. It was once a highly respected major championship, and can return to that status by being in the middle of the majors crunch instead of on the tail end. Playing it at the finest courses will help, too.

Patrick Reed has commented that this course challenges every club in the bag. I believe him. The winner will be determined by who makes the fewest big mistakes.

One thing everybody is hoping for is that Phil doesn’t wear these pants again. (Who dresses him???)

2018 PGA Championship Preview

Winner: Brooks Koepka by two shots over Tiger Woods.

The 100th PGA Championship will be played this coming weekend at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Mo.  Missouri.  August.  Maybe the best reason why the PGA is being moved to May beginning next year.

Bellerive has hosted a major championship only two times before.  In 1965 Gary Player won the U.S. Open to become the 3rd player to win the career slam, following Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan.  In 1992, Nick Price won the first PGA played here.

Official website.

The 7,329-yard par-70 course is built around a creek that winds through the grounds.  Water comes into play on eleven holes.  The championship course normally plays at 7,547 yards par 71, but 54 yards were shaved off the par-5 4th hole, turning it into a 521-yard par 4.

The 10th green is shown below.


The PGA lacks an obvious identity the other major championships possess.  The Masters has a fine course everyone recognizes.  The U.S. Open takes a difficult course and turns it into an impossible one.  The Open Championship takes a fine course and lets it stand on its own, which it never fails to do.

But the PGA? Its identity is subtle.  It has the finest field of the four majors, club pros notwithstanding.  Winning it is difficult because there are so many players in the field who are capable of winning.

So who are my picks?  Justin Thomas can repeat.  Tommy Fleetwood is due.  Xander Schauffele plays well in majors.  Jordan Spieth needs this one to win the career slam.  Dustin Johnson hasn’t gone away.

What this tournament means to me is this.  Starting next year, golf ends in July with the Open Championship.  I’ll just take a break from sports for a few weeks afterward nd then get ready for college football without my attention being divided.

2018 Open Championship Preview

Winner: Francesco Molinari by two shots over Kisner, McIlroy, Rose, and Schauffele.

The USGA takes difficult golf courses and makes them even harder for the U.S. Open.  And you know how that’s working out.

The R&A takes difficult golf courses and leaves them alone.  Welcome to the Open Championship, which this year is being played at Carnoustie, one of the hardest golf courses in the world.  See the Open Championship website, click on Spectators/Course Guide, for a hole-by-hole description of the course.

(Click to enlarge)

This amateur course guide features photographs. Not all the holes are reviewed, but the photos give you an outstanding look at the course and make you wish you could try your hand at it.

By the way, the name of the course is Car-NOOSE-tee.  Car-NASTY was clever the first three million times we heard it, but has become as tired as “Get in the hole!” or “You da man!”  Please don’t say it that way.

The fairways are baked out and hard.  Some players have said the fairways are faster than the greens. During a practice round, Padraig Herrington drove into Barry Burn (creek) fronting the 18th green, which is well over 400 yards from the tee.  Were it not for the burn, the 499-yard par 4 would be drivable for more than a handful of contestants.

That means players have to decide how much roll-out they are willing to have lest the ball rolls into places it shouldn’t go.  For example, Jockie’s Burn fronts the 3rd green on a 350-yard par 4, and can easily be driven into even on a layup.  And the fairways are not flat. A ball catching s slope can roll out 20 to 40 yards farther than planned.

Might it be that length off that tee will not be a factor this year, because course conditions mean everybody has it?  If so, players who control the ball off the tee wisely should have lots of short irons and wedges into the greens.  If the weather is benign for four days, the winner should have a very low score.

But let’s not leave out mention of the wind.  The course does not lie on the ocean, but the sea is only a 5-iron away.

Carnoustie will be brutally hard this week, and no one can blame the setup.  It’s all Nature’s doing and that’s the way golf should be.

Notable holes include the 248-yard par-3 16th hole (see photo).  You think the 12th at Augusta is hard?  Try this one on for size.  The green is domed, which can throw errant shots off to the side.  The green is also long and narrow, making it a difficult target.  The hole often plays into the wind, making a back pin difficult to get to.  The 16th gave up the second-fewest number of birdies the last time the OC was played here, in 2007.

Another hole to pay attention is the 580-yard par-5 6th.  This is the famous Hogan’s Alley hole.  In 1953, Hogan chose the line between the bunkers and the out of bounds stakes on the left–a narrow target, but the best line for a clear shot into the green.

One of the courses quirks announces itself at the very start.  The green for the first hole is not visible from the tee, and not even from some parts of the fairway.  A tall pole marks its direction.

Players complained last month about Shinnecock Hills being different in the morning and afternoon on Saturday’s third round.  It is not unusual in the OC for a storm to wipe out the chances of groups playing in the morning, with clear, calm weather prevailing in the afternoon.  Or vice versa.  That’s one of the things I like about this tournament.

Get up early and watch golf played in a way like no other tournament requires. Whatever you think of the other major championships, this one is the most fun to watch.

2018 U. S. Open Preview

Winner: Brooks Koepka by one shot over Tommy Fleetwood.

This week the USGA will host the 68th U.S. Open that I have not played in (but I can say my name is on the trophy four times) at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.   This is the Number 1 tournament of the year and I can’t wait for it to start.

There are golf courses and there are U.S. Open courses, and Shinnecock Hills is one of the latter.  Though there aren’t really many hills to speak of on it.  But it does have wind.

Sited next to Long Island Sound, the wind will be a factor if blows, and every hole will be affected differently.  If all the holes were lifted and set down with the tees on top of each other like the hub of a wheel, every hole would be a spoke reaching out in a different direction.


In the wind, expect par to be a very good score.  If it is calm, low scores will abound.  The prevailing direction can be seen in the photograph as a line connecting the word Range and the number 14. (Click to enlarge)

Get a close look at all the holes at the U.S. Open web site.  You’ll easily see for yourself where things can go wrong.  

The par 3s are considered to be the best collection at any major championship site.  There are several short par 4s, but they play into the wind and the safe landing zone is not generous if a player wishes to take on the hole with one shot.

The course looks like it will be a throwback Open course.  Though it’s long, 7,445 yards, the big hitters had better be straight because the fairway is very narrow when the long drives land.  But then, the tee shot is the key to scoring here.  A short, straight hitter has a very good chance at winning.

Shinnecock Hills is one of the oldest course in the country, built in 1890 and hosted the 1896 U.S. Open.  At 4,423 yards and so little of a challenge, many players shot scores below 80.  A redesign in 1931 by Dick Wilson brought the course up the level it’s at today.

For some reason, the traditional 1st and 2nd round pairing of the reigning U.S. Open, British Open, and U.S. Amateur champions will not be featured.  They usually have quirky pairings, but I can’t find any references.  If I do, I’ll update this post later in the week.

Enjoy it.  This is the finest golf tournament on a real U.S. Open course.  Who do I pick to win?  Phil, of course.  I’ll pick him until he gives up trying.

We Visit the U. S. Senior Women’s Amateur

The U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur is being played in Portland this week. The final match is scheduled to begin in less than an hour from this posting.

I went to see it yesterday with one of my golfing buddies. The tournament is being played at the Waverly Country Club, a private course located in SE Portland on the east bank of the Willamette River. It’s one of those clubs that you can’t just pay the membership fee and first month’s dues and you’re set to go. Rather if they want you to be member, they’ll let you know.

So I figured the only way I would ever get to prowl the grounds is if there was a tournament there. Fortunately, the USGA likes this course. They sometimes have local qualifying for the U.S.Open on it. Fairways are narrow (the word “ribbon” comes to mind and is accurate), there are numerous deep bunkers, the lay of the land is hilly–level lies in the fairway are hard to find, and the greens–ridges, slopes, you could get seasick walking on them.

We saw the morning quarterfinal matches, and I swear we were the only people out there who were not relatives of the competitors or involved in some way with the tournament. Only four groups on the entire course.

And it was quiet. Real quiet. Just golf balls being hit. No talking. All business.

We saw some outstanding shots, and some beaner shots. But this we did see: straight shots. Maybe off line sometimes, but straight flight. Balls coming into the green right at the pin. Short game OK, putting outstanding. Players taking their time picking their shot, but once they had it, it was get the club, set up, and swing, all in a rhythm oozing confidence and competence.

Every one of the eight players had a swing that was flowing, graceful, smooth, and to the point. And without an ounce of “hit.” It was all swing, and that’s my biggest golfing takeaway from the day.

When the morning matches were over, we left and had lunch nearby. I had a cup of curried corn soup and a summer risotto. Then home. What an outing.

2017 Open Championship Preview

Winner: Jordan Spieth by three shots over Matt Kuchar.

This coming week, Royal Birkdale Golf Club will host the 146th Open Championship. The tournament has been played there nine time previously.

Royal Birkdale

The first time was in 1954, when Peter Thompson won his first Open Championship victory. He won again there in 1965, for his fifth and last. Arnold Palmer’s win in 1961 was instrumental in returning the Championship to center stage in the golfing world.

Padraig Harrington won the previous visit, in 2008, at three over par, defending the title he won in 2007 at Carnoustie. 2008 was the tournament that aging Greg Norman contended until late on the final day.

In 1998, Mark O’Meara won his the second major championship of the year here, but the big news was 17-year-old amateur Justin Rose finishing in a tie for 4th place. Rose turned pro shortly hereafter.

The course will play at 7,137 yards, par 70 (34-36). At one time, four of the last six holes were over 500 yards, and par was 34-38 = 72.

The fairways are flat ribbons tucked in between dunes. There are cut narrow for championship golf. Nothing other than a straight tee shot will do.

Greens are fairly flat and accept accurate approaches well. They have to be hit, though. Missing will put the ball in a nasty pot bunker or into willow scrub that rings most every green.

Most of the holes are laid out to present a crosswind. While not hard by the ocean, the course is still only a few hundred yards off the Irish Sea. Wind will be a big factor.

One hole to watch is the 346-yard 5th. It has a drivable length, but the risks of trying to cut the corner are great.

The 15th hole has a plaque on the spot where Arnold Palmer played a spectacular shot out of heavy rough with a 6-iron from 140 yards to save his par in the final round. Palmer eventually won by one stroke over Dai Rees.

Another notable hole is the 16th, regarded as the signature hole of the course. The player must find the fairway after a long carry, and an approach the is just a little bit off line will find one of five deep pot bunkers.

The U.S. Open is the major I would like most to say I had won (wish!), but the Open championship is the most fun to watch.


Tuesday 7-18: Phil Mickelson will not have a driver in his bag this week because of the narrow fairways. He plans to use a “hot” 3-wood and a second “driving” 3-iron. There’s also a 64* wedge in there.

2016 PGA Championship Preview

This year’s PGA returns to the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, site of 15 USGA championships and this the second PGA.

Official website.

The club was founded in 1895 on the site of farmland once owned by Baltus Roll. The original course was plowed up when architect A.W. Tillinghast was hired to build a second course. The Upper and Lower courses were the result.

This year’s PGA will be played on the Lower Course, which is shaped something like a dumbbell. After a tight cluster formed by the first four holes, the 5th and 6th take off to connect another cluster of holes, 7 though 16. The 17th and 18th lead straight back to the clubhouse parallel to 5 and 6.

Two holes of note on the course, which will play to 7,462 yards, are the 4th and the 17th.

Baltusrol 4th hole

4th hole, Baltusrol

Robert Trent Jones toughened up the course for the 1954 U.S. Open. Members thought he had made the 4th hole too tough. So Jones went to the 4th tee with club pro Johnny Farrell, the club president, and the chairman of the Open committee. After the first three had hit, Jones teed up, hit on, and the ball rolled in for a hole-in-one. “As you can see, gentlemen,” Jones said, “this hole is not too tough.”

The par-3 hole plays at 196 yards this week.

Baltusrol 17th hole

17th hole, Baltusrol

The 17th hole is likely (I don’t have the data) the longest hole in major championship golf, at 650 yards, uphill at the end. A series of cross-bunkers challenge the second shot, which can be carried only following a long tee shot. Most golfers will lay up short of them. Reaching the green in two will be possible, but who besides the likes of Dustin, Bubba, or Tony Finau might try it?

In general, the course is straightforward. Hit fairways, hit greens, and you’ll be all right. The greens have subtle breaks, a little here, a little there, but are not easy.

The bunkers come in many shapes and depths, are not too plentiful (see Oakmont), but seem always to be in the right place.

The first three major championships of the year all have their devoted followers who say their favorite is the best one. Hardly anyone says that about the PGA. But it’s played on top-quality courses, it has arguably the best field of the four majors, and it has a strong list of past champions.

Maybe the mark against it is that it also has a longer list of what’s-this-guy-doing-winning-a major champions in modern times than any of the others.

Who will win? I know Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson will get a lot of support in the press. The easy way to write an article like that is to be a front-runner.

I’m going to pick Bubba Watson. If it were the U.S. Open being played here, forget it. But it’s not the U.S. Open, it’s the PGA, and the course will more forgiving, the kind Bubba needs to win on. It’s long and so is Bubba.

There’s the limb I’m out on. Make your pick, watch, then rest up for Olympic Golf in two weeks.

2016 Open Championship Preview

The oldest and most respected major championship in golf begins this week at the Royal Troon Golf Club, on the west coast of Scotland in the town of Troon, which is near no place you’ve ever heard of unless you live in Scotland. But that’s what Google Maps is for, so do look it up.

See the official Open Championship website.

This the 145th Open Championship, and the 9th at Troon. The last three winners here have been unexpected champions, Todd Hamilton in 2004, Justin Leonard in 1997, and Mark Calcavecchia in 1989. Tom Watson and Tom Weiskopf won before that, but Arnold Palmer defending his title here in 1962 played a large role in elevating the status of the tournament such that American players began to regard this trip abroad in July as a requirement.

The links course will play at 7,190 yards to par 71. It is designed in an out and in style, with the 9th green and the 10th tee located at the farthest points on the course from the clubhouse.

The 6th hole, at 601 yards, is the longest hole in Open championship golf. Two holes later comes one of the shortest, the par-3 8th, called “Postage Stamp,” because of the very small green, at a mere 123 yards.

Like the 7th at Pebble Beach, the 12th at Augusta, and the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, this hole is a simple short iron in length, but watch that landing! Deep bunkers surround the tiny green, and shots that are a hair off will roll into one. It would take no effort at all to walk off the green with a 5 without having hit a bad shot — just not enough good ones.

Royal Troon eighth hole

8th Hole — Postage Stamp

Overall, the first three holes are unchallenging, providing players with a comfortable warm-up. The next three holes feature two par fives surrounding a demanding par 3. Holes 7 and 10 run through a series of sandhills, and then begins the test. From 11 to the finish, excepting perhaps the 12th, a golfer is taken to the limits of his or her technical skills and composure.

The course was, without coincidence, built next to a rail line. Expect to see trains race by as players play the 11th hole, with the tee and green right next to the rack. Something like Chambers Bay last year.

As the course is separated from the Firth of Clyde by only a thin strip of sand dunes, the wind plays a prominent role, coming generally from the northwest. It will be behind the players going out, and against them coming in.

Who will win? It’s easy to pick the popular stars, but I’m going with Branden Grace. He has won twice this year, once on the European Tour and once on the PGA tour. He has three top five finishes in major championships since 2015. A victory here should not be a surprise.

Because of the Olympic Games, the PGA Championship will be played only two weeks after this one, at Baltusrol Golf Club on New Jersey. A golfer who gets hot and stays hot could win both!