Planet Golf — 16 June 2015 by Bob Sherwin
U.S. Open Notes: Hometown Moore favored?

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wa. – Ryan Moore, the most honored Northwest golfer playing in this week’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, told the media Monday that he draws no home-course advantage from it.

Moore, who grew up just a short distance away in Puyallup and is three-time USGA champion, said, “you’re playing against the best players in the world. These guys are all really good and really good at figuring out golf courses really fast and getting comfortable with them.”

Besides, he said, he hasn’t played the course much since so many changes took place after the 2010 U.S. Amateur. Last week he familiarized himself again, playing several rounds.

“It’s a completely different golf course than any time I had played it in the past. So it’s almost like you can just kind of throw that all out the window and just kind of relearn what the course is going to be like this week,” Moore said. “It certainly doesn’t hurt being from around here, being comfortable. It might have been a little bit more of an advantage if it was going to be cold and rainy, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, which I’m okay with.”

Moore had been critical of the way that old course played, before the improvements. Being a local guy, that didn’t sit well with the local folks who viewed it as a bit of a betrayal. He has since changed his opinion.

“I think it’s one of those courses, the more you play it, the more you get to enjoy it, the more you get to know it. It’s a fun golf course. It’s a very challenging, it’s very tough” he said. “But I feel like it kind of gives you a chance, even when you miss it in certain areas, depending obviously on where they’re going to put the pins. There’s a lot of swales and slopes, and you actually can get in a little bit of trouble and you can still recover because there might be a slope that will kick it back towards the pin.

“It’s fun kind of seeing that and messing around with that on the course and kind of seeing where to miss it, where not to miss it, all that good stuff. I’ve really enjoyed the course, and I’ve actually talked to a lot of people the last few days that have kind of said the same thing, that they weren’t sure what to think, they’d heard some negatives about it, and they love it. So it’s been great to here.”

SPIETH’S IN THE MASTER CHAIR

This year’s Masters champion Jordan Spieth is getting much of the prognosticators attention this week, but for reasons not readily apparent.

Much of it is because of his caddy, Michael Greller.

The reason is because Greller grew up in the area. He has caddied the course and he’s a scratch golfer. He knows the sight lines. He knows where to land the ball and how the greens slope. He has a leg up on the rest of the field, and thus many believe, so does Spieth.

“I think it’s going to help driving the ball, sight lines and understanding when things get firm he’s going to know where it would run off to a little better, maybe,” Spieth said. “I think off the tee it’s really going to help. Into greens, I don’t think he’s seen where the pins are going to be and he’s certainly hasn’t seen the greens the way we’re going to play them this weekend. So we’re going to have to adapt to that.”

Greller also has become somewhat of a celebrity himself, a much-sought after subject by the media before the tournament. He has generally told the media that he’s laying low this week, shunning the spotlight.

Jordan Spieth, the Masters champion, is one of the favorites for the Open.

Jordan Spieth, the Masters champion, is one of the favorites for the Open.

“As far as Michael’s fame, we were putting and joking around saying — people were screaming out, “Greller, Greller,” and we were just practicing on the green” Spieth said. “We’re giving him some smack for it and he’s taking it from his caddy buddies, too. I think he’s on the front page of the sports section, and I just saw a picture of that, so he’s really good going to take heat from that from us.

“It’s really cool. As far as interviews and all that goes, he just tries to stay out of it. He wants to kind of stay under the radar. He’s done stuff for media before but I think this week he’s got so much on his plate, he’s going to throw it away and focus. It’s a major week, so we try to limit everything we do this week off the course.”

Spieth played Chambers five years ago for the U.S. Amateur. He didn’t play well but was 16 years old at the time.

Much has changed since then, holes lengthened, greens re-shaped, rough grown, fairways narrowed.

“ I really liked the changes,” he said. “I thought it made the golf course better. And, yeah, it played completely different. But from the back tees, it was still a really, really difficult challenge.”

Asked to describe the course in one word, he responded, “inventive.”

“It’s nice to kind of get a feel for how it’s going to play and the greens,” Spieth said during Monday’s practice day. “But you don’t know. And we still aren’t going to know. Today it’s going to play very different from Thursday. We don’t know where the pins are going to be specifically. So we don’t know exactly what shots to play on certain holes.

“So it’s just about kind of getting into a good rhythm here, saving your legs and having enough confidence in all parts of your game. And that’s what I’ve adapted here this week at Chambers. I did a better job at Pinehurst than I did the first two. And I feel like I’m doing a better job this week than then.”

Most of the players have not gushed about the course. Some perhaps because they haven’t played it enough. Some perhaps because they hate it. And some because they just haven’t formed an opinion because it’s such a departure from the parkland courses on Tour.

Many of them some simply, “it’s different” or “it’s interesting.” That’s what Phil Mickelson said two weeks ago after a couple rounds on it. That’s also what Jason Day said Monday after his practice round.

“Just going over it looking at the changes of elevation, the way they can kind of trick this course out, it’s pretty interesting,” Day said. “Just thinking about it, it’s obviously not a traditional U.S. Open golf course with regards to that, but with regards to the setup I think they can definitely make it tough or as easy as they’d like to.

“I know that the conditions of the course are pretty steady right now and I believe they’re going to maybe quicken the greens up a little bit. But it’s surprising to me when you’re playing in the morning compared to the afternoon, how quick and firm the greens are in the afternoon and how the pace in the morning is a lot slower, the firmness of the greens are a lot slower, even on the fairways, as well. So it’s a totally different golf course from when you’re playing in the morning to the afternoon.”

Whatever the outcome, how ever he plays, Day said from the moment he arrived he knew “I was going to enjoy the challenge of this course because it’s just one of those courses that just got me excited.

“And it’s very rare to see that because I guess we play kind of similar golf courses out here, especially on the stateside of things. But it’s interesting. I’m excited about it, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

THE NINTH DEGREE

One of the holes that Spieth and Day both brought up in their press conferences was the ninth hole. It’s a 227-yard par-3 with a 100 foot elevation. But it also can be played – and likely will be played at least one round – as 217-yard par-3 with a tee in the lower valley level with the green.

“Yeah, I can see the criticism in it. I can see that with the way they have the setup currently,” Day said. “I mean, you take No. 9, for instance, it can play 37 yards downhill and two uphill on two different days.”

Spieth called the hole “spectacular.”

“I think it’s one of the cooler holes that we’ll play all year,” he said. “You’ve got bail-out, you’ve got ridges. I played both tee boxes now. I played — the first round I played up top. Yesterday we played down below. Down below it seems from that yardage that there can only be one pin and it’s back left from that angle, which would be front left from the top box.

“And that’s actually going to be a really exciting hole location if that’s where it is, because that brings hole in one into play. You start turning it into that green, it’s going to run past that hole and come back off the slope. We were trying to hit it to a front pin from that angle, and three of the four of us hit it right next to where that pin would be on the other side. It can be an extremely exciting hole. It could be a very pivotal hole on the weekend, you can make different numbers there depending on how solid of a shot and what tee box you’re coming from. It is weird to have two completely different looks on a hole in changing tee boxes, and that’s the first time I think I’ve ever seen it.”

RETURN OF THE JANSEN

Two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen is one of the best stories of the tournament. At 50 years old, he qualified for the event through a sectional qualifier in Purchase, N.Y. last week. It’s his first appearance since 2008 and 20th overall.

“ I know there will be a day when I’ll just say that’s it. It’s not even — I’m okay with not playing, I’m okay with not even trying to qualify. So, yeah, I am here on purpose,” Jansen said. “I actually tried to get here.

“Most of the guys — I would say more than half the guys last week, they said, hey, congratulations qualifying, and then added a comment, and it was usually like what were you thinking? Why do you want to go play against all those flat bellies that hit it 350 yards on a course that you have to hit it 350 yards. But ultimately they all said I wish I was going, too.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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