As is regular practice, Gary Woodland was chipping balls out of thick rough during his initial prep at Winged Foot ahead of this week’s U.S. Open. But as his caddie, Brennan Little, retrieved the golf balls and tossed them back to Woodland on Saturday, something became amiss as the defending champion tried to get a gauge on the issue at hand.
“We lost a ball for about five minutes and it was right in front of me,” the defending champion said. “We didn’t find it until we stepped on it.
“There was talk of not having marshals the first couple practice rounds. The practice rounds would have been 10 hours out here trying to find golf balls.”
Welcome to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where, to properly set the stage for the 120th playing of the national championship, one must address the stage — the West Course in Mamaroneck, New York, some 25 miles from the heart of Manhattan.
The particulars? Designed by A.W. Tillinghast and restored by Gil Hanse, the course tips out at 7,477 yards and plays to a par of 70, with one par-3 at 243 yards, two par-4s longer than 500 yards, and one par-5 breaking the 630-yard barrier.
The history? In five previous editions of the U.S. Open on the West Course, only two of the more than 700 players finished 72 holes under par (take a bow, 1984 champion Fuzzy Zoeller and runner-up Greg Norman). The last winner, Geoff Ogilvy in 2006, won at 5 over. In the 1974 U.S. Open, dubbed the Massacre at Winged Foot, Hale Irwin won at 7 over.
“The golf course is big,” Woodland said. “It’s hard. But I think that’s what you expect when you come to a major championship and especially a U.S. Open.”
“It depends on how difficult (the U.S. Golf Association) want to set up these pins, give us a chance at it,” three-time U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods said. “But with the forecast, it’s going to be difficult no matter what. This golf course is going to be one of the more difficult ones.”
“It’s sort of like in boxing where Mike Tyson said everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. It’s the same thing here,” world No. 2 Jon Rahm said. “We all have a plan, but if you hit it sideways, you got to figure it out.”
In other words, seems like some good old fashioned U.S. Open carnage is on hand for the 144 players in the field starting with Thursday’s first round. An 18-hole migraine headache, if you will. What else is to be expected considering the dense rough – six inches and even higher in some places – that will leave egos, wrists and scorecards bruised? The skeleton fairways? The massive, sloping greens that are mindful of the smaller, wickedly difficult putting surfaces at Augusta National?
With the tournament postponed three months due to COVID-19, the West Course was a tad on the soft side on the eve of the championship. But to a man, everyone expects the layout to firm up, especially the putting surfaces, and become a daytime nightmare.
“This place tests every single aspect of your game, so I don’t think I could single out the toughest thing that you need to do or the hardest thing you’re going to have to do this week,” four-time major winner Rory McIlroy said. “It’s all pretty tough.”
But fair, the players say, with even-par 270 a prophesied winning score to chase. McIlroy, for instance, doesn’t expect the course to descend into “goofy” golf. There are no tricks to the track; the confrontation is right in front of you (even if it looks like a dark alley).
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“You’ve just got to step up and hit good shots,” Woodland said. “I don’t think the USGA is going to get too crazy. The golf course is hard enough.”
To the point that a recurring refrain will be called upon by the players this week – take your medicine, whether you’re in the rough off the fairway or near a green; deep in one of the yawning bunkers; or facing a 50-footer with 10-feet of break. Pars are your friend. So, too, are some bogeys.
“It just comes to mental strength, right, who can endure the most and who can endure until the end,” Rahm said. “It’s that simple.”
“Where’s the easiest next putt from and where is the easiest next shot from?” McIlroy said. “There’s a lot of thinking ahead on this golf course.”
“You’ve got to drive it straight, especially at this golf course,” said world No. 1 and 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson. “You have to hit fairways. But once you hit fairways, it doesn’t get much easier from there.”
In all, doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun. Well, it doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun everyone except world No. 3 Justin Thomas.
“I absolutely love,” the course, Thomas said. “It’s probably one of my favorites I’ve ever played, to be honest. It’s hard, so it’s a different kind of fun, but it is fun.
“It’s not a 20-, 25-under kind of fun. It’s a U.S. Open. You know it’s going to be tough, and you know par is a really, really good score.
“I’m not going into this week scared of Winged Foot. It is probably the hardest golf course I’ve ever played. But that being said, I’m not going into it scared. It’s going to be such a grind. You just have to embrace it, otherwise it’s going to eat you alive. You’re going to be put in some uncomfortable places, and you as a person are going to feel uncomfortable. It’s really just how can you manage that.”
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Paul Barber ‘very disappointed we’ve gone backwards’ in fight against Covid-19
Brighton chief executive Paul Barber believes football’s efforts to fight back against coronavirus took “a gigantic step back” when plans to allow fans to return were put on ice.
The Premier League club staged a successful pilot in August as a scheduled limited reopening of stadia loomed, but a delay has since been ordered following a surge in cases.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live as the debate over whether top-flight clubs should help those below them in the football pyramid continues, Barber said: “Football is so important to the country.
“It’s our national sport, it’s a pastime for millions of people right the way from the top of the country to the bottom, and we’re very, very disappointed that we’ve gone backwards.
“On August 29, we staged a pilot event. We had 2,500 people in our stadium for a friendly match against Chelsea, we put in place at great cost a huge amount of mitigation measures, as directed by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and the Government. We complied with every single request.
“We got overwhelming support from the fans that were in the stadium saying how safe they felt, how enjoyable it was for them to be back in the stadium, and now we’ve taken a gigantic step back.
“We’re being asked to support the football pyramid, but what we’re asking for is to be able to sustain our own businesses to put us in a better position to be able to do that.
“We think we can do it safely, we think that we can do it with people’s health absolutely paramount, but it’s absolutely vital that we’re able to sustain our own businesses if we are being asked to help others.”
Barber pleaded with ministers to allow Premier League clubs to given the opportunity to sustain themselves by being allowed to open the turnstiles once again.
He said: “We have not asked for any direct Government support, most Premier League clubs have totally avoided the use of the furlough scheme, we have not benefited from Government grants or loans.
“We have literally tried to stand on our own two feet while also helping the NHS and doing all we can in our community to help them through this very, very difficult time.
“We’re being hit here from all directions. We’re not being permitted to run our own businesses to generate our own income, we’re supporting where we can the Government’s messages and everything else they’re asking us to do, but at the same time, we’re also being asked to help others.
“It doesn’t seem quite right. We’re simply asking to be able to put our businesses back in some kind of shape where we can actually sustain local jobs and continue to support where we can.”
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Rangers to buy out Henrik Lundqvist’s contract Wednesday, ending his historic tenure: report
In an unsurprising but nonetheless difficult move to make, the Rangers will reportedly buy out Henrik Lundqvist’s contract on Wednesday.
According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the Rangers are expected to make the move official on Wednesday, thus ending one of the more memorable tenures in franchise history.
The writing has been on the wall for most of the season, with the emergence of Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Giorgiev as the team’s one-two goal-tending punch.
Lundqvist made 26 starts this past season, posting a 10-12-3 record with a .905 save percentage and 3.16 goals against average, both the worst marks of his illustrious 15-year career with the Blueshirts. His playing time decreased drastically as the season went on.
The two-time All-Star and Vezina Trophy winner in 2011-12 holds franchise records in wins (459), shutouts (64) and postseason wins (61), while helping the Rangers win 11 postseason series, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 before falling to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
Lundqvist has one year remaining on his Rangers’ deal, and while the 38-year-old could elect to make one more run at a Cup with another team (likely in a backup role), he could also hand up his skates as the sixth winningest goalie in NHL history.
No matter what happens next, though, it sounds as if King Henrik’s reign in New York has finally reached its culmination.
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