Henderson, Oakmont & the U.S. Open

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Brooke Henderson won her first major title yesterday by beating World No. 1 Lydia Ko in a playoff. What was your takeaway from the Women’s PGA Championship and where does Henderson’s win rank amongst Canadian sports triumphs?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I believe that Brooke’s performance was the greatest round of golf played by a Canadian in the last 50 years, given the circumstances.  Sandra Post’s winning round in the 1968 Women’s PGA was terrific, Mike Weir’s 2003 Masters win was awesome, Gary Cowan and Marlene Streit were great amateur champions… but for an 18-year-old to shoot 65 to tie, then birdie the first playoff hole with one of the great clutch shots of all time… well, I just can’t think what surpasses that achievement.  And it couldn’t have come from a nicer person.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: This matches Weir’s Masters and is even better than Sandra Post’s Major just based on strength of field. It was so magnificent that the LPGA Tour website headlined it: Ko finishes second. And the photo caption read: Henderson snatches win from Ko. On a Tour withering under the domination of players from Korea and China, starving for a winner with personality, the tourney low round on the final day and a brilliant 158-yd uphill 7 iron to three feet in a playoff with the world No. 1 by a charming dynamo brimming with personality is, well, snatching a win. Mercy!

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Since getting rid of cable at home (I know, it was a tough decision, trust me, and only because of the Golf Channel!), I had to find a way to watch the final round on Sunday.  When was the last time I went through that trouble to watch an LPGA event?  That goes to show how excited I was to watch a potential victory for this prodigy.  She is so easy to cheer for, an incredible ambassador for her home country, and will be so for many decades to come.  It doesn’t quite compare to Weirsy’s Masters, but maybe only because we have expected her to win a major sooner than later, and that wasn’t necessarily the case with Weir.  Can’t wait to head back down to my local pub to watch the next LPGA major!

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): LOVED watching Brooke win with grace, and style, stuffing it in there about 3 feet on the first playoff hole, as an 18 year old to win her first Major mind you – who does that? Secondly, did you watch her play that back nine? She was smiling and high fiving fans, her sister on every hole, clearly enjoying the moment….ON THE BACK 9 OF A MAJOR. Who does that? Well she does. This shows me what this young lady is made of. Man is she good for not just woman’s golf, but the game in general. Where does this rank in Canadian sports triumphs? Well let’s not get carried away, its high but we have such a rich sport history (Team Canada hockey wins – Canada Cup, Russia series, Olympic wins (in many sports), World Series wins, a Masters Champion, a female golfer who has 4 USGA titles in 4 different decades, Sandra Post and her PGA win, geez, this is right there, I can’t give it a number, but it is significant.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Thanks to Brooke, I was glued to the Women’s PGA Championship all weekend. In fact, I think it was 1-0 Pittsburgh by the time I switched to the hockey game on Sunday night. It’s always tough to compare accomplishments over history and really tough to compare sports. How does an individual title stack up against the 1972 Summit Series or the Blue Jays second World Series. Or against Donovan Bailey’s 100 metre Gold or the Leafs 1967 Stanley Cup? (or 62, 63 or 64? We Leaf fans need long memories.) In pure golf terms, I’d put Brooke’s win and Mike Weir’s Masters victory ahead of the others.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): What a final round by Brooke! The LPGA really has something here with a now budding rivalry between Ko and Henderson … and we thought the young guns were on the men’s circuit! In terms of the panoply of Canadian sports triumphs, Brooke’s win was extremely significant.  Canada has not done much on the world stage in golf since Mike Weir surprised everyone with a green jacket back in 2003.  Now, we are front and centre once again.  More importantly, however, I expect Henderson’s win to spark significant interest in the sport amongst our country’s youth.  Tiger’s Masters win in 1997 is responsible for turning me into the golf-crazed maniac that I am today.  When we have an army of incredible female golfers dominating the LPGA Tour 10 years from now, we will look back to Brooke’s first major win as the catalyst.

Jim Kenesky, Kenesky Murray Golf services (@JimKeneskyGolf): Brooke Henderson’s win was amazing.  I hope most Canadians that have an interest in golf were glued to the TV as I was. Her win should go down as the highest Canadian female golf victory in history. Keep in mind I think she’ll accomplish many more major victories along the way, but this one will be etched in many minds for years to come.  This win will be popular among junior girls and Brooke will ultimately do what Mike Weir did… inspire an entire generation.

The USGA goes to great lengths to make the U.S. Open a “tough test” of golf and some years they have been accused of going too far. Oakmont is long and tight with punitive rough on a normal day and contoured greens that are ridiculously fast. In fact, Oakmont in 2016 might be the toughest U.S. Open course ever. Do you like the idea of setting up the course so birdies are rare and even pars are hard to make or should the USGA let up a bit?

Mumford: No, I think the USGA has it right. Most weeks on Tour it’s a birdiefest, so to see the best players in the world struggle to make par is a nice change. While the set-up tests every aspect of their skills, more importantly, it challenges them mentally. Nobody emerges from a U.S. Open looking like they just came back from vacation. It’s a war of nerves and a look at past champions and near misses is a pretty clear indication of who has it and who doesn’t.

Quinn: A severe test is okay, just not as a regular diet. The thing about Oakmont is that it is just plain brutal no matter the set up. It is so penal — just keeping it on a fairway can be almost impossible — that it wouldn’t be built today. If it doesn’t rain it’ll be goofy and it won’t be fun at all to witness good shots roll out into disasters, hour after hour. You think the guys play slow at regular Tour events? A five-hour round this week will be a quick one. The USGA won’t let up, so it’s a good thing they can’t stage their Open at Oakmont every year.

Rule: I have gone back and forth on this topic, but in the end, it’s a tradition for this tourney, and it’s ok to have the occasional tournament where the pros aren’t looking to get to 20 under, but just trying to protect par.  Every year it seems that people question how hard the golf course is, but somehow Mike Davis always gets it right and the winner is always right around even par.  I expect the same this year.

Kenesky: After Chambers Bay we need a traditionally tough playing golf course.  Let’s get back to what we’re used to.  Firm, Fast and long rough with tight fairways.  I love to see guys use their brains and earn their par or birdie.  May the straightest and purest man win.  I’m a fan of it and think it only makes for great drama and a true Champion emerging Sunday afternoon.

Loughry: Well, I personally love the setup, but I don’t think it’s a great message to be sending about the game itself at the moment. A 288 yard par 3 if played to its full distance, longest in US Open history? Is that really necessary? Good on them for thinking outside the box. And the rough looks not only long, but super thick. You get any kind of serious wind, and this could turn into a nightmare pretty quick.

Deeks: First of all, it seems to me that every year, the U.S. Open course is described as “maybe the toughest U.S. Open course yet”… so I’m a bit cynical.  That said, I do believe the USGA should lighten up a bit.  They seem to take some perverse delight in making their Open courses diabolically difficult, as if they’re trying to embarrass and humiliate the players.  What’s the point?  The best player in any given week is going to win that week’s tournament… and in the majors, the cream usually rises to the top.  Why force the winner to shoot -2 at best, and have others shooting 82?  By all means pick the best courses, but don’t trick them up to a ridiculous extent.

Kaplan: Personally, I love it. I believe that majors are supposed to be gruelling weeks of fire and brimstone.  That’s why we attach so much significance to winning them.  Also, it makes me feel better about my own game when I see pros struggling to control the ball out of thick rough.  Don’t judge me!

Do you have a favourite U.S. Open memory, either from Oakmont or another venue?

Quinn: I can still see Tom Watson’s jubilant trot after chipping in on 17 at Pebble Beach in the 1982 final round. Incredibly difficult and critical shot made even better when we learned he’d called it. At the other end of the scale, Phil’s driver onto the hospitality tent on the 72nd hole of the 2006 Open at Winged Foot is another tape that can’t be erased.

Rule: I have to admit that the US Open is only my 3rd favourite major, so I don’t have as many memories for this tourney as I do for the Masters or Open Championship, but Tiger’s wins at Pebble and Torrey are up there, as is Mickelson and Montgomerie’s chokes at Winged Foot in 2006.

Loughry: I sure do have a good memory of an Oakmont US Open. Bobby, this one is for you in addition to the Mills’ family. In 2007, I drove down overnight to watch Jon Mills play on the Friday. He played beautifully. Hey Millsy, remember the 2-iron you ripped off the first tee (the 10th) after one of the loudest welcoming roars (he was announced as being from Indiana, PA, which is where he was living at the time, about 40 minutes away). Anyway, Millsy was on the cutline with a ton of other golfers including Mickelson, Lee Westwood, etc. So, this Angel Cabrera guy comes waltzing up the 18th hole, smashes driver, then a 5 iron to about 50 feet (on the WRONG side of the hole). If Cabrera makes par, Millsy and about 14 others make the cut. Well doesn’t that S.O.B make the 50 footer where he had NO RIGHT making it from, NO RIGHT I tell you, for birdie to knock them all out, likely to the delight of the USGA – not having to deal with 7+ extra groups. He was in one of the last groups of the day too. Well Angel, you made the drive back home that night a LONG one. I’ll never forget it. What a golf course though – a MONSTER with DIABOLICAL greens.

Deeks: I well remember Jack Nicklaus’s victory over Arnold Palmer at Baltusrol in 1967. This was, certainly in retrospect, but almost acknowledged at the time, the tournament that really sealed Jack’s eclipse of Arnold’s career, and the time when golf fans started to accept and appreciate Jack’s dominance.  It was also the time that Jack started to lose weight, grow his hair, speed up his routine, and smile… endearing himself to a much wider circle of fans.  He shot 65 in the final round, beat Arnold by four shots, and set a new 72-hole scoring record for the Open.  A seminal performance (much like Brooke’s may turn out to be!)

Kaplan: Torrey Pines, 2008. It was my 21st birthday weekend and I spent a good chunk of the tournament in New York bars watching Tiger Woods hobble his way to a victory.  To this day, it is still the most impressive performance I have seen by any athlete in any sport.

Kenesky: 2008 is definitely my favourite in recent years.  Tiger doing what he did on his broken leg and the ultimate David vs Goliath scenario with Rocco Mediate.  Though now knowing Tiger’s injury at the time was due to his stupidity training with Navy Seals, it still goes down as one of the most amazing displays of perseverance in golf history.

Mumford: I love the story of Johnny Miller’s 63 in the final round of the 1973 Open at Oakmont but I don’t know if anybody except the spectators saw it. I could be wrong. I remember watching the tournament but by the time the telecast came on TV, Miller was done and I don’t think they taped the early players who were presumably out of contention. If they did, I’ve never seen it. A more recent favourite was Graeme McDowell’s win at Pebble Beach in 2010 over a self-destructing Dustin Johnson.

Which player do you think will handle the conditions best and emerge the U.S. Open champion on Sunday evening?

Kaplan: I think it’s Matt Kuchar’s time.  Putting and avoiding three-jacks will be imperative at  Oakmont and Kuch is 20th in Strokes Gained with the putter and 22nd in 3-putt avoidance.  Plus, Kuch has not missed this season from inside three feet, which sounds irrelevant, but will actually come into play with those nasty Oakmont power lip outs. Most importantly, Kuchar is on a hot streak right now with finishes of 6th place or better in each of his last four tournaments.  He is turning 38 in a week and a half.  If he is going to get a major, this is the perfect time for it.

Rule: I like Jason Day because he can hit his 2 iron off the tee to keep it in play, but still hit it far enough to hit mid to short irons into greens, and he hits to ball so high, he can hold the firm greens.  And he’s on such a run, how do you bet against him?

Loughry: Jason Day. I hate to sound like a broken record (is that dating myself), but he’s going to be very difficult to beat with his length and touch on the green. Spieth I like for his putting, but his length may cost him (lack thereof in comparison). Sure shaping up to be a beauty though with the big three all winning in recent weeks. PS, hope the Stanley Cup makes an appearance. That Mario Lemieux guy is a member at Oakmont, don’t you know. Maybe Kessel brings it down the street, apparently he likes to golf and fish.

Deeks: Johnny Miller.  I think he’ll surprise everyone on Sunday.  (What?  He’s not playing?!  Oh.  Well then, that Australian kid from Columbus, Ohio…)

Quinn: As mentioned before around the Table, when Day is on his game he’s the best driver of the ball, has a better short game than Rory, and is as good a putter as the game’s best putter, Spieth. And on Oakmont’s unforgiving fairways, Day can hit it plenty long enough with his driving iron. Not having to hit driver will be a big advantage. If he’s rolling it, Day should win it.

Kenesky: You would think Zach Johnson would be perfect to handle the conditions, but I think Jason Day will be contending come Sunday afternoon.  With the conditions they’re expecting, his towering approach shots will be the deciding factor when attempting to hold greens down the stretch and give him the best opportunity to make rare birds.

Mumford: The smart money is likely on the Big 3 and maybe DJ and Phil. I’ll go out on a limb here and pick Patrick Reed. He’s long enough and his putting has been pretty good of late but more importantly, he’s second in overall scrambling which I think might be the X factor at Oakmont. Getting up and down from that gnarly rough with those slick greens will require consummate skill and Reed looks like he’s got his act together.

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