Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ratings & Rankings IIa

Recently we had the week of The Memorial the tournament that Jack built; his own private Masters Invitational Tournament.  Once can argue about MVGC as a personal Augusta National, but not only Mr. Nicklaus (Castle Pines GC, Shoal Creek, etc.), but Rees Jones(LedgeRock, Red Stick, Piedmont Driving, ), Tom Fazio (The Alotian), and Lester George (Kinloch) for three have built lovely Modern Augusta National Model based clubs in various states around the nation. One might argue that Friar's Head in its own way is of that model, but I think it is too different so I won't include it in this discussion.

The Muirfield Village GC is probably the most like ANGC because it has its own now lengthy history of an invitational tournament and ANGC-like list of revisions, something on the order of 5 of them this year alone.  A completely new par 3 16th with a pond is as notable as any change and as with 16 at ANGC, it has ... wait for it  ... a pond now, just like the real one.  to me the saddest (upcoming change) is the planned clubhouse demolition and new clubhouse.  There was something special about that MVGC just as the originals at The Ocean Course at TPC Sawgrass - a special simplicity (although Ocean Course did a much better job on that clubhouse re-build).

But American Corporate Golfers just love that awe-inspiring clubhouse re-build that somehow AGNC has avoided.  The presence of these large, top quality construction clubhouses do little to nothing to decrease the presence of these exclusive clubs in the mind of those seeking to play great golf courses, play Top 100 lists and just play travel and member-guest tournaments.

But this is the week of the USGA Open or The Open or The National Open, I prefer the USGA Open.  It is at Olympic, a seminal venue for the USGA Open and a great example of the courses that host this tournament. It is relatively charming for a USGA Open site and has provided us with some of the best theatre ever in US Golf History - Fleck beating Hogan with his own clubs to deny Hogan the fifth he so deserved - and not the first or last time that happened.  The foreshadowing of Payne Stewart as US Open Champion - then he was lost to us forever.  What would his effect have been in the age of Tiger? I for one think he would have been able to perhaps understand and deal with Woods of that era as well as anyone due to his strong mental character which he forged, not unlike Hogan, pity he didn't get back-to-backs.

But there is the Greek Tragedy of 1966 if written by Dan Jenkins we would have rejected as preposterous.  The King indeed - redeeming himself from the embarrassment of losing to Jack in his proverbial back yard at Oakmont in 1962.  Seven up with 9 to play, he dared to break Hogan's Open record score and failed miserably - failed again on the sixteenth for any chance of redemption for a win in regulation also taking six on the seventeenth to tie only to fall apart again on the second nine in the playoff Monday round (this time only from two ahead). Read it as fiction, never believe it as plausible, yet it was real life golf.

We're hearing that it's the dawning of a new Age of Tiger and he's in for a walk off win.  Remember, it's at the O this week.  The bunkerless wonder with reverse cant fairways, still too many trees, too narrow fairways, bent greens that should remain pure bent until the playoff Monday is over and site of the loss of two very charming par 3 holes - most recently the lovely blind 8th (bearing no resemblance whatsoever to its origins) and previously at the hands of Weiskopf design the short 15th.  We won't talk of number 8's creator and just sit back and watch.  As Medinah #3 was my first "Open Course", O Lake was the first that I played as many as 50 times - and still the most played Major Tournament Venue for me - built on the most interesting terrain, certainly.  I can't really praise O Lake architecturally as greatness, but it is near the top for where the USGA has left its mark.

As the hangover now begins we look back at yet another USGA Open of attrition.  To be fair Simpson did win it shooting the only sub-par round in the final 18 players and Furyk uncharacteristically made a mistake and gave it away.  He was flummoxed by a move of the tees on #16 (an awkward slog at best) of nearly 100 yards shortening which brought back into play the same sharp left turn than nicked Palmer back in 1966.  The old story of 16 at O Lake is that Bob Jones easily hit it in two but of course there were no trees and there was technically an elbow hole rather than a dog-leg (Tillinghast made the distinction very clear).  I don't know if that is lore or fact, but it is true that Sam Snead, the great bettor as well as great champion indeed suckered a younger long-hitting pro in a similar spot by goading the player "When I was your age, I used to just hit it over those trees there and cut the dog leg."  When the younger player failed to do so, Snead of course finished the story ... "When I was your age, those trees weren't nearly as tall."

Hard to believe from TV but over the years many thousands of trees have come down at Olympic.  Very good stroke play minded players like trees as they are "fair" and similar to water clearly reward "good" shots and punish "bad" ones.  Golf is a bit cut and dried that way but it works for the USGA thus they love Olympic and plans are already being aired to return.  Hopefully in their pursuit to find west coast courses for the USGA Open they will create new courses or ruin mediocre ones such as was done at Torrey Pines rather than doing any more of Fazio's "magic" to Riviera or one of the few other remaining golden age courses left anywhere near L.A. Basin.

So as the major season enters its overseas leg we can leave the single file fairways preferred by American golfers as "great tests" and return to the "unfair" links and fouil (proper golf) weather.  My last Saturday's round was played in 20-30 m.p.h. winds and heavy overcast with 60 degree temperatures - just as I prefer - proper golf weather.

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