PINEHURST, N.C. – If successfully defending one’s U.S. Open title were an easy endeavor, then it probably wouldn’t be a quarter century since the last man did it. But winning back-to-back U.S. Opens (and becoming the first since Curtis Strange did so in 1988-89) is the task Englishman Justin Rose, ranked ninth in the world, will try to accomplish this week.
“I don’t even like that word, ‘defending,’ because it puts you already behind the eight-ball,” Rose said Tuesday at Pinehurst. “You don’t want to be out there being defensive at all. So I’m just really excited about the opportunity this week presents. Obviously, it is only one guy who has the opportunity to repeat, but I’m seeing that as a pressure-free situation.”
Rose missed the cut at The Memorial two weeks ago, but he’s been in some pretty good form this spring, posting three top-8 finishes (Zurich, Wells Fargo, Players) on the heels of his tie for 14th at the Masters. Rose came in early to Pinehurst and got some quality work in with his putting coach, David Orr, who is director of instruction for the PGA Golf Management program at Campbell University, about an hour’s drive from here.
During his visit to Pinehurst, Rose even employed longtime local caddie Willie McRae as “part of the Pinehurst experience.”
“Everybody around here reveres him, loves him, so I thought it was a special opportunity to be out there with Willie,” Rose said. “His knowledge on the golf course is unbelievable.”
As for his defense, Rose promises to enjoy the week, regardless of his results.
“I really want to treat this major that I’ve won as a gift, and it gives me the ability to now sort of freewheel it for the rest of my career,” he said. “I’ve really got no pressure on me from that perspective anymore.”
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NOT ON THEIR GAMES: Maybe it’s the heat, but a few of the visitors to the media center have committed some gaffes that require mending.
Monday, Jordan Spieth was talking of his memories of the past U.S. Opens at Pinehurst No. 2. He was 5 when Payne Stewart won in 1999 and when “Shaun Micheel won; I do vaguely remember watching the back nine on Sunday.”
Oops, might want to put a black square around that one, because in 2005 the winner was Michael Campbell. Micheel didn’t do much here in 1999 (78-74 to miss the cut), though he did win the 2003 PGA Championship.
Campbell was also involved in a rare faux pas by Kuchar, who was doing well Tuesday when he explained that it could be confounding this week distinguishing between bunkers and waste area. “The rules are complicated,” Kuchar said, and it is difficult to argue against him there.
But he then strayed, unfortunately, and said he’s always been of the opinion that it would be nice if the USGA awarded an exemption to the winner of the previous U.S. Open held at whatever venue is host that year. In other words, Michael Campbell should have been invited this year since he won the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
Ouch, because Campbell was most definitely extended an invite as part of the 10-year exemption that U.S. Open winners receive. The fact that Campbell is not here was his decision; he withdrew several weeks ago, citing his health and struggling game.
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NOT ALL HAS BEEN LOST: Sure, he has missed the cut in each of his U.S. Open visits to Pinehurst No. 2, shooting 76-79 in 1999 and 75-74 in 2005. But Kuchar has not left empty-handed. As the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Kuchar 15 years ago arrived for a practice round accompanied by a Georgia Tech teammate.
He assessed the layout as incredibly demanding and told his friend that he’d wager any amount of money that “you won’t break 80.”
Kuchar smiled at the memory, “because he wound up paying me $10.”
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IN HIS ABSENCE: We will play the sixth major championship since 2008 without Tiger Woods – and if you’re looking for a trend, consider this: Think Irish and think talented.
Padraig Harrington in 2008 won the Open Championship and PGA Championship, before Rory McIlroy (U.S. Open) and Darren Clarke (Open Championship) won in 2011. The 2014 Masters? OK, so Bubba Watson isn’t Irish, but he’s talented, so he fits the trend here: quality players win when Woods sits out, and the Irish aren’t shy about taking advantage.
All of which bodes well for a guy such as Graeme McDowell.
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HARDLY A RINGING ENDORSEMENT: You get the feeling that Pinehurst No. 2 is not high on Jason Day’s list of favorite venues.
Day then gave a glimpse of what was unsettling to him, that being the way “it browns off on the side of the fairways.” The Aussie envisions balls getting to the edges and running into “the natural areas,” which will make for severe challenges.
“I think the course is interesting,” he said, which sounds very much like the way Gary Player would describe courses he didn’t care for (“It’s one of the finest of its kind,” he would say).
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TWO IN A YEAR: It’s been a while since we’ve seen David Gossett on the PGA Tour – 2010, to be exact – so understandably some reporters asked for an update on his personal life.
Unlike his golf, which has spiraled downward since 2004, that part of his life makes him feel like a major champion. Gossett got married a few years ago to his wife, Jenny, and makes his home in Austin, Texas. There are three children – Grace, 3; Caroline, 15 months; and son Hawkins, 5 months. Sensing that eyebrows had been raised, Gossett smiled.
“You can probably figure it out, we did have two kids last year. We had one in February, then one in December. Two deliveries in one calendar year. It was not planned, but it happened and everybody is healthy,” he said.
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BREAKING FROM (RECENT) TRADITION: Pairing Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the world order has been something the USGA has become enamored with, but that won’t happen this year.
No. 1 Adam Scott will sense a different trend when he steps to the first tee at 1:25 p.m. Thursday, paired with Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel. If you suggest they should all be wearing green, you know the connection.
They are the last three winners of the Masters: Watson (2014, 2012), Scott (2013), and Schwartzel (2011).
There are two pairings of former U.S. Open winners (Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell at 7:40; Retief Goosen, Geoff Ogilvy, Lucas Glover at 1:47 p.m. off No. 10) and a group of former PGA champions (Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer at 1:47). The 1:36 group? It features three consecutive winners of the Open Championship (Louis Oosthuizen, 2010; Darren Clarke, 2011; Ernie Els, 2012).
For long-drive enthusiasts, there’s a good one at 7:51 (J.B. Holmes, Gary Woodland and Graham DeLaet) and there are three “Englishmen” at 1:25 off the 10th: Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Harris English.