Tag Archives: Whistling Straits

JC Golf: U.S. Open Preview & Picks By The Pros

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          As the year’s second major, the U.S. Open, arrives, storylines abound that, refreshingly, don’t involve Tiger Woods.

Unlike the Masters, Woods’ absence at Pinehurst has been barely a blip on the media radar this week. Instead, players who are actually playing in the tournament have been the storyline and, of course, the course itself.

According to my golf-centric Twitter feed, these are the lead stories going into the tournament.

  1. Can Phil Mickelson complete his career Grand Slam?

After his win at the British Open last year, Mickelson has now won them all, save for the Open, at which he’s finish second an incredible six times, including at Pinehurst 15 years ago. Despite his clout of having won five majors, a Mickelson victory seems a bit unlikely when you consider his atypically quiet year on Tour. And he’s tinkering with his putting grip (going to the claw), which is already drawing doubters. As one columnist wrote, “There goes Mickelson, out-thinking himself again.”

But a Mickelson victory would certain give the Tour season a shot in the arm. As would …

2. Will Jordan Spieth Finally Break Through?

The Next Big Thing in golf would erase the “Next” with a major championship. To do it, he’ll have to learn to close, something he’s been unable to do thus far this season. But after finishing second to Bubba Watson at the Masters, a breakthrough at the U.S. Open would announce an arrival that seems inevitable. But as Jack Nicklaus says of Tiger Woods’ major chase: You haven’t done it until you’ve done it.

3. A Classic Venue Restored

Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore oversaw a $2.5 million renovation of the No. 2 course to restore it to the original Donald Ross design and a more natural state. Among other things, that meant removing turf and restoring bunkers and waste areas. As a result, this Open isn’t expected to play like an Open in that it won’t have ankle-high rough. However, in the practice rounds the pros have reported that the greens have been tough to hit, thus the winner’s chance possible riding on a strong short game, which (back to No. 1) … hello, Lefty.

But the course setup has some forecasting controversy …

4.  Could We See A Rules Controversy Like the 2010 PGA?

The 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits is where a rules controversy erased Dustin Johnson’s best chance at a major victory. He grounded his club in what he believed to be a waste area instead of a bunker. He thus invoked a two-stroke penalty that cost him the championship.   

Similar course conditions at Pinehurst abound, meaning the rules official is certain to get a workout this week. Something to watch for, but here’s hoping we don’t have another major overshadowed by a rules controversy.

There’s also the chance for Bubba Watson to notch a second major and really put some sizzle into the Tour season. But none of our JC pros chose him. Their picks are listed below.

Erik Johnson, General Manager, Encinitas Ranch

Rory McIlroy – I think he has momentum on his side and his game 9and mind) are now sharp enough to return to top form

Adam Scott – He has become one of the most consistent players on the planet (hence his No. 1 world ranking), he is one of the best ball-strikers in the game, so if the putter is working he should be a favorite

Long Shot…..Webb Simpson – Wait a second, a former champion as a long-shot?  After the 2012 championship, his game has fallen off, but he is getting hot at the right time and has the experience to prevail.

Jay Navarro, Tournament Director, Temecula Creek Inn –

Webb Simpson – Played well in the FedEx.

Troy Ferguson, Head Golf Professional, Twin Oaks –

Graham DeLaet. Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Blake Dodson, Director of Golf, Rancho Bernardo Inn

Jordan Spieth – Too young to be scared of the U.S. Open.

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Reidy Creek and Oaks North

Sergio Garcia – My wife’s favorite.

When I Knew I Wanted To Write About Golf

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My work space this week

Please excuse the personal post, but this week is a fairly big week for me professionally in that it’s one of those rare times where vision and dreams become reality.

I picked up my press passes and various other media materials for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines today and started to plot my week.

Seeing as I was a sportswriter for about 15 years to start my career, and I did cover a string of tournaments on the Nationwide Tour, this whole experience isn’t entirely new to me, but we are talking about the PGA Tour here and that is new, and that’s also part of the dream that brought me to California.

The dream began when a friend from high school who now lives in Chicago invited me to the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights in Kohler, Wisc., in 2010 – you know the one where Dustin Johnson had his “sand trap” trouble?

I’d dreamed of going to be a PGA Tour event, any event really, so having a Major fall into my lap was fairly incredible and exciting even for someone who normally doesn’t get that excited about attending sporting events anymore because of burnout from my career past.

Anyway, before Dustin Johnson made some unfortunate golf history, he changed my life.

The day of the tournament, we walked on to the course in the morning and spent the first part of the day trying to get the lay of the course and get any glimpse of the top Tour talent – Tiger, Daly, Phil, etc. – we could.

We had a pretty good luck, but our best luck came in the afternoon after the crowds had cleared a bit and we had sat down alongside the fairway of a par-4 along Lake Michigan.

We watched about five groups come through and then suddenly two tee balls landed well beyond where any group had been before. Kind of like the tremors in the water glasses in “Jurassic Park,” we knew big hitters were coming over that hill.

It turned out to be Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson.  It was doubly good fortune in that Els was the hot guy at the time and making a run for the day one lead.

Well, we watched them play out the hole and then decided to follow them.

Having birdied the previous hole, Els teed off first on a dog-leg par-5 that was routed around a pond, some scrub and, it being Whistling Straits, naturally some sand traps.

Els played the hole straightaway and fired his tee shot down the fairway. Our group of four had taken up a position to to the right of the tee box. We were talking amongst ourselves when we simultaneously relived we were in imminent danger: Dustin Johnson’s tee shot was aimed at our heads.

One thing to know about watching Johnson live: Don’t blink. He plays fast and hardly takes practice swings.

On this beast of a hole, unfathomably and unpredictably Johnson was aimed to cut the corner. Before any of us could say a word or breath, much less move, Johnson fired. His ball shot straight overhead and it was like we’d just all had our towers buzzed like in “Top Gun.” We heard the ball spinning furiously overhead.

We all exhaled, realized we were still alive and then laughed a bit nervously about the hole ordeal before group curiosity set in about the destination of Johnson’s tee shot.

We tromped through the grassland around the pond before finally emerging at the fairway to discover one very bewildered spotter looking at the golf ball at her feet. She pointed and asked, “Where did this come from?”

We answered, “The tee.”

She asked, “Who?”

We replied, “Dustin Johnson.”

She simply gave an understanding nod.

I asked, “Anybody else try that?”

She said, “Yeah, one guy. Tiger.”

Me: “Where did he go?”

She pointed back up the fairway and into the pond, OB.

Here’s what Johnson had just done: He carried a ball an insane distance of 375 yards into a 25-yard landing strip. He was about to play a heavy duty par-5 on a major championship driver/wedge.

We missed it that night, but apparently the Golf Channel did an entire segment about this shot.

My all-time list of awesome athletic displays I’ve witnessed live reads like this:

–       John Elway throwing a football.

–       Mark McGwire hitting a baseball.

–       Michael Johnson running.

–       Dustin Johnson hitting that drive.

As the awesomeness of what I’d just witnessed soaked in, I decided then and there I needed to be around this great game played at the highest levels a lot more often.

I’d already been traveling to LA regularly to see a friend and was pondering my own California plan when Johnson hit that shot and kind of wrote the script for me.

I looked into the golf industry and jobs within the golf industry and decided it was time to get back into sports writing but in a way totally different than before. And here we are.

Nine months of golf magazine writing and five months of blogging later, I’m more ready than ever to go to work this week.

That work is very much a work in progress as I aim to provided coverage to complement the TV coverage of the tournament, but I have no doubt it’ll work itself out.

I’ll looking forward to a great week and sharing what I can with you during a pretty awesome time for me professionally

Stay tuned.