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BROOKS KOEPKA WINS TWO MAJORS, FINAL WORLD NUMBER ONE RANKING
The amazing emergence of Brooks Koepka is all the more remarkable given the 2018 start he had at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. Koepka injured his wrist and did not play at The Masters. But, by late May he had returned with a solo second behind Justin Rose at the Colonial event. Going into the US Open at storied Shinnecock Hills most eyes were looking elsewhere. Koepka showed true resolve and unflinching grit by playing the final round knowing full well that any major misstep would result in Tommy Fleetwood snaring the championship.
Koepka sealed the win with a definitive birdie at the 16th hole — thereby allowing him to play the final hole with a bogey five and win the championship in back-to-back years. The last golfer able to do so came back in 1988-89 when done by Curtis Strange.
Koepka solidified his year by winning the PGA Championship at Bellerive just outside of St. Louis with a new scoring record of 264. His 3rd career major win came in grand fashion in holding off a final round charge from Tiger Woods. The last golfer to do such a similar two-major success was Jordan Spieth in 2015. The Floridian also becomes just the 5th to have won the US Open and PGA in a single calendar year.
The 28-year-old ended the calendar year at the top of the world golf rankings and the expectations have certainly climbed a good bit.
Amazingly, Koepka earned his professional stardom in starting his career by heading to the European Tour where he literally started from the bottom with no status. Even after his solid performance in winning the 2017 US Open at Erin Hills, there were many critics who simply viewed that success as a one time thing given the generous set-up provided by the USGA for the Wisconsin layout. There were even media people who routinely sought out other players to interview and thereby pushing Koepka to the rear of the line.
With the breakout year in 2018 earning the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year Award it’s clear that Koepka is here to stay and intent in adding more hardware to his growing trophy portfolio.
THE HANSE ASCENDANCY
Determining the best in any field is no easy task especially when the topic of golf architecture is involved where both art and science are woven together. But over the last several years it has become obvious to those with eyes to see that Gil Hanse sits on the top of the design pyramid. The 55-year-old started his career as a design associate with another top tier talent Tom Doak — both Cornell alums.
Hanse moved on from Doak and opened his own practice — Hanse Golf Course Design, Inc.,, in 1993 and made his initial successes in updating leading courses — mostly in the Northeast area of America with such efforts at Plainfield, Fenway, Essex County, Ridgewood and Sleepy Hollow, to name just a few. Hanse also was one of the very few Americans to have designed a course in Scotland with Craighead Golf Links for the Crail Golf Society. A return to Scotland would happen again and this time his effort at Castle Stuart with co-designer Mark Parsinen has been hailed as one of the finest modern courses to have opened in the UK in the last 50 years. Hanse’s break through moment came when he was selected from a highly competitive field to be the lead designer for the Olympic Course in staging the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Hanse personally lived at the location to get things up and running.
His star has continued to rise with such notable new efforts with the 3rd addition to the highly successful Streamsong project in central Florida with the addition of the Black Course design. The layout features an impressive array of holes highlighted by generous fairway widths encouraging different playing angles and bolstered by putting greens massive in size with a range of different internal contours. The holes are framed in natural sandy corridors and is completely free of any housing intrusions.
Hanse has also been active in strengthening courses used by the PGA Tour. Efforts at TPC Boston and Doral Blue are examples of that. In addition, he updated two classical courses — Winged Foot / West and LACC / North which will host the US Open in ’20 and ’23 respectively.
Internationally Hanse has had successes with Trump International Golf Club in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates which opened in 2017, and a planned opening in 2019 in Thailand with the Ban Rakat Golf Club is forthcoming. Just this past October, Hanse was selected to design the second course at the Les Bordes Golf International in France. In short — the global reach for Hanse is clearly intensifying.
There’s also been his active involvement with the St. Andrews of American golf — Pinehurst. Hanse completely reinvigorated a much changed #4 course and provided a much more in tune natural look for the layout. His effort in Pinehurst went even further with his creation of The Cradle — a 9-hole short course that just completed its first full season.
And just to make sure every minute is accounted for Hanse continues in his role as architectural analyst for Fox Sports – the network for the US Open. In short — the Hanse rocket has clearly left the pad and is heading for even greater heights.
NEW RULES FOR THE ROAD
After much debate and plenty of feedback throughout 2018 the Rules of Golf will have major changes in the new year ahead. Given the incomprehensible breakdown in numerous high profile events over the last few years, the USGA & R&A opted to cleanse the pedantic clutter of the Rules of Golf that for too long was more akin to a verbose legal dictionary. The new rules provide a clearer sense of direction for players to better comprehend their rights and responsibilities.
Among the major changes will be allowing players to leave the flagstick in the hole even when on the putting green. Lost ball searches can only last three minutes now instead of five. Balls to be dropped will be carried out from knee height. The out-of-bounds rule can be amended by clubs to avoid stroke-and-distance penalty. This provision will not be carried out during elite competitions. If one’s ball moves accidentally on the green you can replace it with no penalty. Players can substitute a new ball in all drop situations. One of the major changes will permit players will be permitted to smooth irregularities including spike marks.
Simplicity has never been a common thread with the Rules of Golf and over the years the amount of various details has caused situation to happen where players did not fully realize the implications of their actions.
To the credit of the USGA and R&A the two major associations realized something of a major sort was needed because various snafus were showing how discombobulated matters were becoming.
For regular players the streamlined amendments will clearly be an improvement from what existed previously.
One major element that bears watching — is just how much time professionals spend on ensuring putting greens are smooth prior to their putts. Without real effort on this front the pace of play for such rounds could very well exceed from what is happening now. Such an unintended consequence could easily pass down to recreational play and stretch out the total time needed to complete a full round.
Nonetheless, on the whole, the changes are a plus and most welcomed.
THE KEISER KINGDOM
When architecture is often discussed the focus quite naturally goes to the respective courses and the people responsible in designing them. But, when Bandon Dunes opened in May , 1999 — many leading authoritative figures in the golf industry were chuckling that owner Mike Keiser would secure a land site immediately next to the Pacific Ocean and hire a relatively unknown Scotsman named David McLay Kidd for the task.
Fast track to 2018 and whatever chuckles were present then are no longer happening. Keiser has demonstrated a clear desire to create courses that embody the character from the land they occupy and do so by engaging talented architects who can create holes with a direct connection to architectural elements embodied from the classical courses of Scotland and Ireland.
Prior to Bandon, Keiser initially created his own 9-hole private facility called The Dunes Club and located just across the Illinois Stateline in Michigan. Keiser has long been proponent of golf which favors a meaningful connection with both aerial and ground game options woven together. In addition, Keiser has steadfastly eschewed the involvement of power carts — promoting the benefits of walking and how the game is ultimately enjoyed more because of it. Go to any of the facilities he’s involved with and the only way you’ll be using a power cart is with a doctor’s note.
The 72-year-old native of East Aurora, NY moved to the Chicago area to create his own business — recycled greeting cards — with a college chum. After selling his business Keiser opted to get into the golf industry. Two years after Bandon Dunes opened a second course — Pacific Dunes opened. The Tom Doak design received rave reviews and the Keiser golf game plan was now in full swing — no pun intended. Several other courses would follow at Bandon Dunes and each of the 18-hole layouts is ranked among the top 15 public courses in America. No other multi-course operation comes remotely close to what Bandon has achieved in such a short time.
Keiser’s reach extended beyond the borders of the USA with follow-up successes in Tasmania with the opening in December ’04 of Barnbougle Dunes — again by Doak. Six years later a second course spawned called Lost Farm — the handiwork of the talented twosome of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. Both layouts are routinely rated among the top ten courses in Australia.
The wave of success went north of the American border on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Once again Keiser was a lead figure in bringing to life both Cabot Links by Rod Whitman in 2011 and its counterpart Cabot Links by Crenshaw and Coore which opened shortly thereafter. Both of these layouts, located next to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, are consistently mentioned as being among the top ten courses in all of Canada.
Keiser added to his American portfolio a development in north central Wisconsin. The first of these efforts called Sand Valley opened — again with a Crenshaw and Coore connection. The naturalness of the property features sand waste areas with holes that work through the site. A follow-up effort called Mammoth Dunes opened in 2018. Once again Keiser reunited with Kidd and the reviews have been impressive. A 3rd course is eventually going to be designed — this time with Doak at the helm.
There’s little doubt that Keiser has provided a clear and unmistakable voice in what he believes is the kind of golf that real golfers crave. His sense of judgement and the wherewithal to over deliver has been utterly remarkable. given how the overall golf market looks to be facing lean times in the years ahead. In short, Mike Keiser is clearly playing a song that core golfers are dancing up a storm and enjoying.
IRISH EYES ARE SMILING
It was not too long ago when the words Irish Open would likely have not received much attention and likely a shrug of the shoulders save for those who call The Emerald Isle home. The event was struggling to keep its existence going in a positive manner. Although the championship dates back to 1927 and has been won three times each by such distinguished players as Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie the event was seen more in terms of what it accomplished in the past than anything the future might provide. Fortunately, the likes of Rory McIlroy opted to lend his considerable support in resurrecting an event now part of a three-event swing along with the Scottish Open and culminating with The Open Championship.
While the sponsorship name is a mouthful — Dubai Duty Free Irish Open by the Rory Foundation — the net result has been a shining light on a golf product that’s truly among the world’s finest.
McIlroy’s involvement opened the door for world renown players to compete in the event and matters were no doubt helped considerably when Rory won the ’16 event at The K Club.
The ’18 event was played away from Dublin and the event showed the world the magnificence of the Wild Atlantic Way and a first timevisit to the renowned Ballyliffin Golf Club. While Ballyliffin served nobly as host it was the considerable spotlight that showcased the range of Irish golf gems that make up the northwest corner of the country.
The ’19 event will be played at another of Ireland’s grand clubs — Lahinch. Moving the championship to different parts of the country has clearly boosted the event’s attendance and stature. Amazingly, Lahinch will be hosting the event for the first time and the professionals who encounter this delicious links will be exposed to such stellar holes as the Dell and Klondyke. Lahinch is a glorious entertaining links that will receive global attention when staging the event.
But the fanfare of Irish golf will attain an even greater level when The Open Championship returns to Royal Portrush for an encore visit — the first having happened in 1951. How successful will the event be? For starters, if you have not already booked your ticket your only wherewithal to see the event will be from television. All tickets are sold out.
The emergence of Portrush as a host to golf’s oldest major championship came about because of the convergence of a number of factors and it helped matters that such proponents of the course — Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and McIlroy all won major championship in such a short period of time in 2010-11.
The Dunluce Course has been modified and strengthened in spots for The Open but the architectural genius is vintage Harry S. Colt. The tumbling dunes land showcases fingers of closely cropped grass with a slew of bunkers artfully positioned to catch any ill-conceived shot executions. While the vagaries of Irish weather is well known it is unmistakably clear that Irish eyes are indeed smiling with what’s to come.
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