Spieth seethes at soft conditions

Writing from Town and Country, Missouri

Friday, April 10, 2018

Remember Jordan Spieth?

The guy who’s won the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open – or Open Championship, if you wear a monacle – and needs only the PGA Championship for a career grand slam?

Yep, that guy.

Where is he this week?

Seven strokes back of 36-hole leader Gary Woodland, that’s where.

On Friday, Spieth added a bogey-free 66 to Thursday’s 1-over 71 to stand at 3-under 137 before the thunderstorms doused Bellerive Country Club with more of what Spieth didn’t want to see in mid-afternoon.

Like most top players, he wants conditions harder, not easier. So far this week, Bellerive has gotten softer and softer. The summer-long heat wave – humid even by St. Louis standards – started it, putting the greens on the edge of dying. Downpours on Tuesday soaked the fairways and rough. Now came Friday’s monsoon, and while Bellerive isn’t ready to host a regatta, nor does it remind anyone of Carnoustie, where the British was played on baked-out fairways that resemble the tarmac at Lambert Field.

Any more rain, and the place will be so soft, Twinkies will be signing up as the PGA’s title sponsor.

This, Spieth didn’t want. His 66 was accomplished in the morning, when it went from warm to steamy, but hours before the rain came. No matter, as he was ornery about the entire situation, calling himself “a little frustrated at this place in general.

“It’s tough to come to a venue with bentgrass greens and this kind of weather,” Spieth said. “This course would be phenomenal, probably is, if it’s not playing so soft. And it’s not the rain that came on Tuesday. It was like that on Monday.”

Credit global warming for that. It changes the game plan because fairways where the ball would run through – the dogleg is alive and well here – now stop the ball that might otherwise scoot into the rough. More fairways hit equal more greens hit, which means both lower scores and more players in the chase.

Players not as good as Spieth.

“You can fire in and get away with more,” Spieth said. “You don’t have to be as precise. That’s frustrating in a major championship. That’s frustrating to be because I feel (precision is) an advantage I have. Personally I would prefer more difficult and firmer, faster conditions on the greens.

“I still really like the golf course. You just can’t possibly have firm, fast bentgrass greens in this climate.”

St. Louis is in that tweener zone between bentgrass and bermuda. There are more exotic options that have been created in recent years, but an elite club will tend to pick bentgrass even in extreme climates north of Florida. Augusta National Golf Club, for instance, though that famous course is closed from mid-May to early October. It’s too humid for bentgrass in Augusta then, too hot overall, and that’s when the home of the Masters remakes itself.

Bellerive doesn’t have that luxury. Maybe it should chase the next available PGA. It will be played in May.

Tim Cronin


Woodland leads rain-delayed PGA Championship

Writing from Town and Country, Missouri

Friday, April 10, 2018


It was great until the thunderstorm played through.

Birdies and eagles were plentiful at Bellerive Country Club. There was a festival atmosphere in the swollen gallery of over 40,000 fans.

Then, five minutes after the first of many insistent rumbles of thunder, and with a cloud blacker than night looming to the north, PGA of America officials blew the hooter.

It was 3:33 p.m. That, as it turned out, was all the golf for the day. The second round in the 100th PGA Championship will continue on Saturday at 7 a.m., followed by Round 3.

But, while it lasted, what golf! Seven-under-par 63s, tying the PGA Championship record, from Brooks Koepka and Charl Schwartzel. A 64 from two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka. Critically, a 66 on top of Thursday’s 64 by Gary Woodland, good for 10-under 130 – a PGA Championship 36-hole record – and the lead at the unscheduled break.

Woodland’s a stroke ahead of Kisner’s 131, two ahead of Koepka’s 132, and three ahead of the 133s of Schwarzel, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, and erstwhile Illinois standout Thomas Pieters, the latter duo posting matching 66s. Rickie Fowler is also at 7-under, 2-under through 10 holes of his round.

All that happened on a golf course that remained soft from Tuesday’s downpours with greens that were deliberately cut to run slower than the typical major championship pace to keep them alive.

In other words, conditions ripe for scoring.

“The golf course is trying to dry up a bit,” Woodland said hours before the latest deluge. “Get in the fairway, the greens are still soft enough you can still attack. The key is get the ball in the fairway and attack from there.”

Woodland was splendid all morning, hitting 15 greens, but best hole was the par-5 17th, which ran every bit of 597 yards on Friday. He hammered a 321-yard drive over a bunker to cut the dogleg right, hit what he called “a little cut 3-wood” from 265 yards to about five feet, and ho-hummed the putt home for an eagle 3.

“It was nice to make that eagle because Kis was on a little run there,” Woodland said.

Who wasn’t?

Kisner started on the back nine, went out in 6-under 29, and appeared to be aiming for a score in the 50s. Parring the first six holes on the course stopped those dreams, and a birdie-par-bogey finish gave him 35 for a mere 6-under 64.

Koepka, in the group ahead of Kisner, opened with three straight birdies and played the back nine in 31, and made three more birdies on the front for 32 and a PGA-tying 63, one off Jim Furyk’s 10-year-old course record.

Fowler opened with a bogey but played 3-under golf after than and was at 7-under at the horn. He could make hay on a softened course Saturday morning.

Brandon Stone is alone in eighth place at 6-under 134, with a host of players at 5-under, some of them still to finish. Nobody in the 78-player afternoon wave has finished. When play resumes, the caboose groups in the field will have 14 holes to play.

Around the PGA

Wheaton native Kevin Streelman was 3-under for the round and 1-under for the tournament when play was suspended. ... Tony Finau had a roller-coaster round that resembled the old Mad Mouse ride. Five straight birdies to open his round. A triple-bogey on the sixth hole. Two more birdies and then a bogey to tour Bellerive’s front nine in 4-under 32. A par – a par? – on the 10th hole followed by another birdie, when he drove the green, chipped close from the back fringe, and knocked in a shortie for his sixth three in 11 holes. Then the horn blew with him 4-under for the day and back to even for the PGA. It had to impress fellow competitor and Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk. ... When play was suspended, the cut was expected to fall at even-par 140, which would be a PGA Championship record, but the continued softening of the course might bring it down a stroke.

Tim Cronin


Woodland leads PGA, Fowler one back, Zach two behind

Writing from Town and Country, Missouri

Thursday, August 9, 2018

One of these years, almost everyone with a whit of knowledge about golf and golfers believes, Rickie Fowler will win a major championship.

If you believe the Players Championship is a major, then it’s already mission accomplished.

Most people think it isn’t, never mind the deeper field than any of the four majors, so Fowler is still considered in the no-major wilderness. He’s been close, but close doesn’t get to kiss the trophy, Wanamaker or otherwise.

Maybe this week is the week in one of those years. Fowler, wearing a yellow shirt to honor late pal Jarrod Lyle, tore into Bellerive Country Club early and scored a 5-under-par 65 before anybody could stop him. Of the other 155 players in the field, only Gary Woodland, who grew up a state away in Topeka, Kan., could surpass that.

Woodland, who has never contended in a major championship, poured in enough birdies to score 6-under 64 to take the lead in the 100th PGA Championship in the steambath of the afternoon heat. Fowler is right behind, South African Brendan Stone and two-time major winner Zach Johnson follow at 4-under 66, and eleven players, including world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Justin Rose, Stewart Cink and Ian Poulter, are tied for fifth at 3-under 67 entering Friday’s second round.

Before the humidity wick was turned up to infinity, a goodly number of the 35,000 or so on the premises had a great time chasing Fowler. He went through the back nine of this Robert Trent Jones-designed classic in 1-under, then birdied the first, third, seventh and eighth holes on the front side to race home in 4-under 31. The feature attraction was a 32-footer for birdie on the par-4 seventh, a dogleg left that, at 402 yards, is short by modern standards.

Bellerive, where Gary Player battled to win the 1965 U.S. Open, where Nick Price conquered to capture the 1992 PGA and where Camilo Villegas raced to victory in the 2008 BMW – the old Western Open – has always been considered a formidable test. As far as the young and old in the field hit it now, no course is a formidable test. Fowler had 157 yards left with no more in his hand than a 9-iron on the seventh because he laid up off the tee. Others dared to hammer their shots over the trees.

“I’ve always been a good mid iron and long iron player, so get me in the fairway and with the soft greens, I feel we can pick the golf course apart as long as we play smart and within ourselves,” Fowler said.

That’s true of much of the field, but Thursday, only he and Woodland truly got the job done. Dustin Johnson tied Fowler at 5-under after a string of three birdies through the 13th, but unaccountably missed the 14th green and bogeyed, as he did the 17th to finish 3-under.

While Fowler said the course isn’t a series of driver-wedge templates, that “some mid-irons” are used, he also said, “If you hit fairways and greens it’s not hard. It’s fairly generous off the tee, you can definitely play back on some areas to where it’s maybe a little bit wider.”

Fowler used that stratagem to hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 greens in regulation.

Dull golf can be great golf in a major if the putts fall.

What Fowler has to do is keep it going. He was up and down like an elevator last week at Firestone, and has too often had at least one bad round in the four weeks a year where everybody cares.

“We took care of what we needed to take care of today, and we move on to Friday and go do what we need to go do tomorrow,” Fowler said.

Woodland left a 15-footer for birdie inches short at the 18th or he’d have tied the PGA Championship record with a 63. Regardless, 64 to lead when making 152 feet 5 inches of putts is more than a full day’s work. He bogeyed the first hole and birdied seven of his last 11. Clearly, adjustments to his putting are paying off.

“It’s nice to see results to back up the work you’ve done,” Woodland said. “I hit a lot of putts the first seven holes I thought I made and didn’t go in. It gets frustrating.”

Then they fell like hailstones on a stormy day, including a 44-footer on the par-4 11th, a 23-footer on the par-4 12th, and a 22-footer on the par-3 16th. All for birdies, and all to the delight of what he estimated were 75 to 100 backers from back home. All on greens that are patchy in parts and deliberately slowed up to survive the week.

“It’s so hot here in the summer, the greens are soft and slow, and that sets up for me,” Woodland said.

Zach Johnson was a handful of groups behind Woodland and only two strokes behind at day’s end, after a brilliant par save on the 17th. He nearly knocked the flagstick down with his approach at the 18th and signed for a saucy 66.

“I’m trying to eliminate the big, big number,” Johnson said of the save.

Stone, who closed the show at the Scottish Open with a 60 to win, had only one bogey in an otherwise-impeccable round, including birdies on two of his last three holes to nudged within a stroke of Fowler.

“It comes down to confidence, really,” Stone said. “I’d played well coming into the Scottish. My game feels fantastic. I hit it really well, the rhythm was spectacular, and I saw the putting lines all day.”

That was the reverse of last year at Quail Hollow, site of the 99th PGA, which Stone said “chewed me up and spit me up.”

Changing to a blade putter from a mallet, he said, improved his putting “leaps and bounds. I got one made by the guys at Ping the Monday of the Scottish Open and haven’t looked back since.”

Streelman opens 2-over

Kevin Streelman, the only Illinois-connected player in the field, arrived at Bellerive on Monday, but didn’t know for two days whether or not he would be able to tee it up when the bell rang.

He played nine holes on Tuesday to reacquaint himself with Bellerive, where he finished in a tie for 22nd in the 2008 BMW Championship, and another nine Wednesday, after which he got the word. Thomas Bjorn’s back injury hadn’t improved, and he withdrew. Streelman was in.

The result: A 2-over-par 72 thanks to a solid par save at the last.

“It’s a course where, if you have a great nine holes, you can get right back in it,” Streelman said.

Off the course, Streelman recently visited the White House with a number of other PGA Tour pros, dropping by during the week of the Quicken Loans Championship at nearby TPC Potomac. He ended up chatting up President Trump on golf topics. Calling himself a centrist, with strong views of issues on each side, Streelman said the visit was as much to honor the office as anything.

Around the PGA

Zach Johnson, seeking a PGA to go with his Masters and British Open titles, birdied the last from two feet after a spectacular approach for 2-under 33 to match his outward nine and jump into joint third. ... Tiger Woods had a ho-hum Bellerive debut, scoring even-par 70, with four birdies, two bogeys and a double-bogey. He opened with bogey-double and clawed his way back to even par with a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 8, his penultimate hole. Woods had only played practice rounds at Bellerive before Thursday. The 2001 WGC American Express tournament was cancelled after the September 11 attacks on Tuesday of tournament week, and Woods missed the 2008 BMW Championship because of his post-U.S. Open victory knee surgery. ... Phil Mickelson opened with a 3-over 73. ... The course record of 8-under 62 was set by Jim Furyk in the rain-delayed second round of the 2008 BMW.

Tim Cronin


Vince India wins Illinois Open 

Writing from Glenview, Illinois

Wednesday, August 8, 2018 

Vince India was airborne about two hours after his final putt dropped at The Glen Club to win the 69th Illinois Open.

Yes, he still needed a plane.

India, who calls Deerfield home, added a final-round 6-under-par 66 to rounds of 72 and 64 to finish what became an endurance test at 14-under-par 202 and beat Bloomington football equipment salesman Brendan Holtz by a stroke early Wednesday evening.

“It was a grind,” said India, who had to finish the second round in the morning and then regroup for his 2:10 p.m. tee time. “I had to really talk myself out of thinking too far ahead and pull the reins back in. I did a good job for not being in this position for a long time.”

India’s bogey-free round featured birdies on the first, second, eighth, 10th and 12th holes before he came ever-so-close on Nos. 13, 14 and 15. But a birdie 4 at the last after a cart path-aided drive of almost 400 yards ended up making the difference against Holtz, who was in the final group and also birdied the final hole after an enormous drive, but needed an eagle to tie and force a playoff.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but I’m glad I pulled myself together and made some really committed swings down the final three holes,” India said. “I didn’t really put myself in a lot of trouble out there. My short game bailed me out when it had to.”

For India, the victory was not only lucrative – to the tune of $19,004 – but a mental boost for the tournament starting Thursday. He caught a late flight to San Francisco and expects to be on the tee in the Ellie Mae Classic at 9:06 a.m. Pacific Time.

“I’m going to have a lot of drinks on the plane, which is great, probably a couple Bloody Marys, most likely watch a movie and pass out,” said India, who, battling a wonky back, has made the cut in two of seven starts on the circuit this season, earning $2,964. “My health’s better and I’m able to swing the club a little bit better too. I think the golf swing’s finally coming back.”

Holtz, who tied for second to earn $13,063, and was low pro last year, erred with a bogey on the par-3 17th, hitting his tee shot fat and leaving himself 12 feet for par after a so-so chip. He hit the 18th green in two and had an 18-foot uphill left-breaking putt that broke a little more than he expected.

“That sucker turned real hard,” Holtz said. “I wasn’t going to leave it short, though.”

It was the 17th hole, a vexing par-3, that bit Holtz for the second year running. 

“Bad bogey,” Holtz said. “I did the same thing last year, same situation. That hole, I have some redemption coming. I need to get back here and do it again.

“It’s a roller-coaster golf game I have. I struck the ball really well, but had a three-putt bogey (on No. 8) and No. 17, it’s just kind of kicking my butt.”

India’s birdie on No. 8 just before Holtz bogeyed earned India a share of the lead with amateur David Perkins of East Moline, a member of the Illinois State golf team who captured the CDGA Amateur earlier this summer. Perkins went out in 3-under 33, added birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 to get to 13-under, parred the 16th and stepped onto the 17th tee. Quickly he was pointing east and shouting “Fore left!”

“I hit a ‘you know what,’ ” Perkins said, avoiding the word shank. “First time in competition.”

The ball sailed into the nasty fescue-gorse between the 17th and first greens, and might be found years from now. Perkins had to settle for double-bogey and finished at with 3-under 69 for 11-under 205, tied for third with Brian Bullington of Frankfort, who also scored 69.

“Still a solid week,” Perkins said. “I thought early in the day I was in control, in the lead or close to it. Turned out I was in it all day until 17. But I needed one more birdie if not for the double.”

Around the Open

The second round ended late on Wednesday morning with David Cooke and Holtz on top at 9-under 135, Cooke finishing with a 6-under 66 and Holtz scoring 67.  India’s 64 brought him into a into a six-way tie for third at 8-under 136, along with amateurs Brendan O’Reilly and CDGA amateur champion David Perkins and pros Daniel Hudson, Andy Mickelson and Brian Bullington. ... The cut fell at 1-over 145, with 57 players advancing. ... Defending champion Patrick Flavin finished tied for 30th at 2-under 214 to cash his first check as a pro. ... The tournament’s second ace was registered by Jeff Kellen of Machesney Park with his first swing of the day. He drilled a 176-yard 7-iron into the cup on the 17th hole, a stroke that helped him to solo fifth at 10-under 206. Garrett Chaussard aced the ninth hole on Tuesday with a 226-yard 3-wood, but missed the cut.

Tim Cronin


Logjam at the top in Illinois Open

Writing from Glenview, Illinois

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Daniel Hudson is two months removed from his golf career at Kansas. Now a pro, he has the dreams of any newly-minted professional, and so far, little to show for it.

He qualified for the PGA Tour’s Canadian circuit, the Mackenzie Tour, and play four straight tournaments in June.

Hudson has yet to play a round on the weekend. He missed the cut in all four tournaments.

He’ll make the cut, and money, this week. Hudson held a share of the lead as night fell on the rain-delayed second round of the 69th Illinois Open thanks to a second straight 4-under-par 68 that coulda, woulda, shoulda been better.

Hudson, who grew up in Western Springs and played high school golf at Lyons Township, was 11-under for the tournament standing on the 18th tee at Ravinia Green Country Club. He led by three, but not for long. He sailed his tee shot out of bounds on the par-5 and struggled to make an 8. That dropped him to 8-under to share the lead with Andy Mickelson and Brian Bullington – and eventually with amateur Brendan O’Reilly, who is 8-under through 10 holes of the second round – and brought a passel of players into the mix, and into the final round, which admits the low 50 and ties, or those within 10 strokes of the leader.

“I’d just hit a pretty good shot into 17 and almost holed that for birdie,” Hudson said. “Unfortunately I made one of the worst swings of the week on a hole where there’s trouble in that direction.”

Still, this is better than how he’s fared in Canada. He decided to pull out of this week’s tournament in the Great White North and qualified for the Illinois Open last week.

“It’s exciting I have a chance to win a golf tournament,” Hudson said. “I can’t tell you the last time that’s happened. I played a month on the Mackenzie Tour in June, felt I was playing well but didn’t get much out of it. Even this week I bet I’ve missed eight putts inside eight feet. If you want to win, especially on the PGA Tour, you’ve got to make those putts. There’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

Mickelson, director of golf at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville, added a 2-under 70 at The Glen Club to his opening 66 at Ravinia Green for a 36-hole aggregate of 8-under 136. Bullington, erstwhile Iowa standout from Manhattan in Will County, and aiming for a Tour card in the near future, posted his second straight 68 playing alongside Mickelson.

The gaggle at 8-under holds a one-stroke lead on professional Dakun Chang and amateurs Kyle Irlbacker and Matt Murlick, at 7-under 137, and are two ahead of second-year pro Kyle Kochevar entering Wednesday’s final round.

Bullington admitted to having “a rough spring,” attributing it to going through simultaneous swing and equipment changes. He realized he had to get longer or would be lapped by the field. That meant a higher swing speed with newer technology.

“I put on a lot of clubhead speed,” Bullington said. “That translates to a club or club-and-a-half less on approaches. You’ve got to trust your swing, and then you’ve got to trust it in tournaments.”

Bullington is at that point now. He qualified for the recent John Deere Classic, and while he missed the cut, fighting his way through the four-spot that Monday was an achievement.

Mickelson’s highlight of the day was the eagle that wasn’t on No. 15.

“Had 85 yards, hit a lob wedge, took one bounce, went in and came out,” Mickelson recalled. He settled for knocking in the five-footer for birdie, one of six birdies in the round.

A double-bogey on No. 3 caused by hitting into the gorse and two bogeys hurt his card, but he’s in his best position going into the final round of the state championship.

The horn to stop play sounded at 7:57 p.m., and when it did, Brendan O’Reilly stood at 8-under through 28 holes, building on his opening 67. And 2015 winner David Cooke was at 7-under with eight holes remaining in his second round.

Around the Open

The long delay – four hours at Ravinia Green and 3:42 at The Glen Club, forces the conclusion of the second round deep into Wednesday morning. Only then will the cut to the low 50 and ties be made, and then pairings, and then the final round. If there’s no more bad weather, the finish should come by 6 p.m. ... Scores at The Glen Club averaged 75.85 strokes for the in-progress second round, while the Ravinia Green crowd was at 77.59 strokes when play halted.

Tim Cronin

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