Hungover doesn’t begin to describe how I’m feeling this week. I’m likening Spieth’s win at the Masters to my (hypothetical) bachelor party: All fun, riveting, balls to the wall (ball striking) fiesta. The U.S. Open came with the stress of a wedding, with many people involved, a myriad of things that went wrong, and the relief that came on Monday when the craziness had passed and the deed was done. There’s a reason people go on a honeymoon after you get married. You just need a break. Consider the upcoming Travelers/Greenbrier combo platter as the much-needed honeymoon. It’s time to decompress before things ramp back up for The Fifth Major (John Deere) and then a fairly decent stretch of golf beyond that.
Somehow we’re only halfway through the major season, yet there are only nine events left in the 2014-15 PGA Tour season before the utterly captivating (Finchy, you’re reading, right?) FedEx Cup playoffs begin. We’re gettting into crunch time, folks. Guys best start jockeying for position if they want a shot at that $10 million annuity OIL they’re giving out in Atlanta. Anyway, on to this week’s event…
TPC River Highlands
What can be said about the fabled TPC River Highlands course that hasn’t been said already, amirite?
The jewel of Greater Hartford stretches to just over 6,800 yards and will play as a par-70. It’s a Bobby Weed redesign (stickiest of the icky) that “meanders over 148 acres, with stately corridors of mature maple, oak, sycamore, and eastern white pine trees framing gently rolling fairways.”
God, that’s so good.
Naturally–you read the linked description, right?–it’s been “named by Golf Digest as ‘One of the Top 10 Golf Courses in Connecticut.'”
Wait, is this a competitive list? I’m honestly asking. I’d think any course hosting a PGA tournament in a state the size of my left shoe would auto-qualify. Amusing they felt the need to highlight this ‘distinction.’
Anyway, it’s an ultra-gettable track that annually rolls over and yields lots and lots of birdies. I’ve seen quite a few caddies and players dapping TPC River Highlands on twitter this week – seems like they genuinely enjoy coming here on an annual basis, and that’s manifested in the relative strength of the field. Speaking of the field, by all accounts the tournament organizers put on a first class event and really outkick their coverage as to the quality of the field. However, it seems another weapon in their arsenal is their propensity for using sponsor’s exemptions on amateurs and guys who just turned pro, seemingly moreso than other events. This year is no different, with Arizona State’s Jon Rahm (#RahmThreat), newly minted pro Cheng Tsung Pan, and UGA stud Lee McCoy. This M.O. seems to pay dividends as guys return here year after year and don’t soon forget who gave them a shot early on. Hell, Patrick Cantlay still holds the course record here (60), which he set a few years back as an amateur.
Here is a more thorough, professional guide to TPC River Highlands, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Hartford is DEEP in the insurance game. And granted we’re discussing a golf tournament here, I’ll hazard a guess and say the people showing up for this party skew to the conservative side. It’s pretty disappointing to have only two par 5’s on the entire course (granted there’s also a sweet short par 4) when there are actuaries roaming the place, practically trolling for risk.
Aside from the prevalent actuary vibe, this week always conjures images of former champ JJ Henry in his patented purple mock turtle dancing in my head (aside from the obvious TCU/K-State distinction, JJ’s gotta be pissed that Bob Streb pirated his look the last eighteen months or so). In fact, JJ Henry is a damn-near perfect past champion for the Travelers. Nice guy, wholly non-threatening, rabid Chris Berman fan, and above all, utterly forgettable.
“I keep the purp by the pound”
Kevin Streelman won last year with the most impressive closing stanza you’ll ever see (birdied the last seven holes to beat Sergio :(, KJ and Badds (before he ejected on 18). But Fil and Tron’s writeup from last year on the 2013 champion was too good to try to top, so I’m leaving it here:
On your feet, heathens…
With an effort that surely had Ollie Cromwell himself beaming with pride, and which held rapt all of Buckingham Palace, Ken Duke held off Chris Stroud in a two-hole playoff to capture his first career PGA Tour win. At 44 years young he became the oldest first-time winner on Tour since (Steady) Ed Dougherty won at the age of 47 in 1995. NLU’s own Fil watched the action at home, draped in a British flag, sobbing at the perfect symmetry of Sir Ken winning the event just months after the passing of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. Life imitating art. A huge boost for all of the United Kingdom. What a special moment it was last year.
It was a moment, though, that didn’t seem to stand a chance of occurring. Bubba Watson was in cruise control, having entered the final round tied for the lead, and standing on the 16th tee box 13 deep. That’s when all this went down:
Bubba made triple, shot 70 (which is really like 74), and missed the playoff by two. NLU, needless to say, was crestfallen.
Chris Stroud holed this chip on 18 to force the playoff:
But was outlasted by Sir Ken Duke:
Justin Thomas (35/1) – Finished T30 in ’13 in only appearance with back to back 66’s on Fri/Sat. Sign me up. He’s pretty much a copy/paste in each preview going forward, because I’m confident he’s going to get a win this year.
Kevin Na (35/1) – Ten Top 25’s in 18 starts this year, he’s due to snag a win.
Graham DeLaet (70/1) – Promises to be well-rested after enjoying a few weeks off, which is key for the oft-injured Canuck. Finished solo 3rd here in ’13 and Tron’s upped his guidance on DeLaet to a strong buy, especially at these odds.
Patrick Rodgers (90/1) – I have a fear that the first week I take him out of the picks he’s going to win so this will just be here for eternity.
Jon Curran (240/1) – New England native, thrives on short tracks, and enjoying a really solid rookie season thus far (90th in FC standings w/ four top 10’s including a playoff loss in Puerto Rico). Short, straight hitter who should thrive on this layout.
Fantasy: On the crappy value end of the spectrum, Patrick Reed (16/1) looks hungry, Serg (15/1) is in form and plays well here, and Bubba (12/1) is always a terrorist in these parts. I’m a little worried about U.S. Open hangover from that group, although Gerry should be well rested considering he punched the clock at 5:00 on Friday and peaced out for the weekend.
- I didn’t get around to a US Open recap, as there were too many other good ones floating around. However, I want to expand on some initial comments I made about the greens:
- The conversation on twitter got a little out of hand on Sunday regarding the greens at Chambers Bay. It was my mistake to try to make my point in 140 characters, because it was way too easy for people to lazily respond “EVERYONE HAS TO PLAY THEM, WHO CARES.” I typically use this rationale when discussing the US Open when it comes to the setup. By all means, I’m fine with the distance, the deeper rough, the firmer greens, and the overall challenge that comes with something different than the typical mass aviation execution that we see week to week on the PGA Tour. However, when it comes to the condition of the course, it’s not fair to just say “who cares, everyone’s gotta putt on them.” The first factors I mentioned add to mystique and the uniqueness that is the US Open. Having your greens roll like cobblestone streets do not help the USGA’s mission of identifying the best golfer one single bit. In fact, it neutralizes the field, and adds a (large) element of luck to the act of getting the ball into the hole. Spieth’s putt on 1 on Sunday didn’t touch the hole from 3′. Since when have we ever seen that from The Golden Child (yes, this should be capitalized going forward people)? Bottom line is, the tournament came down to a 4′ putt from Dustin Johnson that he had to stand over and know that the ball was not going to roll true, and that the outcome was going to be in the hands of the broccoli/cauliflower greens. And we watched in horror as the putt didn’t touch the hole.
- Horschel obviously voiced his displeasure, which he has since apologized for. I backed him up on Sunday, and was accused of playing favorites, saying I wouldn’t say the same if it was Bubba or Poulter complaining. Well of course Poulter couldn’t help himself, and followed suit a few hours later. And guess what: I agree with Poults! The greens were disgraceful, and these weren’t the only two players to voice their displeasure. Even of those that stayed quiet, there wasn’t much defending of the putting surfaces going on, and there were many other veiled criticisms throughout the week.
- The absolute worst argument I heard is “are the players gonna just boycott it next year?” Skip Bayless thinks this is next level trolling. @Pftcommenter thinks that this is a red herring. If you were one of the many people that said this last week, you are inadvertently making my point for me: there is no reason the greens should not be rolling smooth, and you’re just arguing for an unrealistic and irrelevant extreme.
- This worked out well two weeks ago, so I’ll try this again. I’m in Normandy this weekend (so don’t expect much coverage from me). Does anyone have any recommendations for the area?
Tron Carter here:
- This guy Monday qualified in – paging Adam Sarson, is he real? For that matter, are French Canadians real? And at what point do Mike Weir’s exemptions run out? Or is the dream perpetually alive until he turns fifty and menaces the Senior Canadian Tour in perpetuity?
- Off the topic of golf, but pertaining to Connecticut…someone tweeted this piece from the New Yorker out a few weeks ago (can’t remember who, but the article is about seven years old) and I really enjoyed.
- Lastly, this week’s U.S. Senior Open will be appointment viewing for me, partly because I love watching Monty hit the golf ball, but mostly because I want to see if Fox learned ANYTHING from last week that they can put into practice immediately. It will be telling.
Enjoy the week, welcome back CBS (no seriously, NEVER BEEN SO THANKFUL FOR YOU GUYS, WELCOME BACK!!!) and catch us on twitter during coverage @NoLayingUp.