Whiffle: verb – to blow lightly in puffs or gusts; noun – something light or insignificant.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Steve Stricker Wins U.S. Open!

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But not outrageous thinking, by any means, in The Whiffler's estimation. Stricker winning the 2010 U.S. Open is certainly more likely to happen than for Tiger Woods to win by 15 strokes again, as he did 10 years ago, the last time the U.S. Open was played at Pebble Beach.
     In fact, here is a whole list of things that are more likely to happen in the next five days than Tiger winning by 15:

Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler could stage their own consolation tournament. Call it the "Coulda-Shoulda Cup." Among the invitees: Jordan Spieth, Corey Pavin, Tom Kite, J.B. Holmes, Lee Janzen, and Tony Romo, all of whom, to greater or lesser degrees of fanfare, failed to qualify for this year's event. Trophy: A blaze-orange sportcoat with a Union Jack pattern. First prize: $150 (the entry fee for a U.S. Open qualifier) and an honorary membership in the Vijay Singh fan club. (Image: golf.puma.com)

Rory McIlroy could win by 15. To clarify, these are not things I expect to happen. But Rory McIlroy has a better chance of blowing away the field this week than Tiger does. The young Irishman showed at Quail Hollow that he's not afraid to go low – and has the kind of game that can transcend the ordinary. Granted, he has some consistency issues (he's barely 21!), but if anyone in the field has the potential to heat up this week and run away with it, it's Rory. We've seen glimpses (but only glimpses so far) of his "A" game, and it's breathtaking.

The Monterey Peninsula could be invaded by vuvuzela-blowing World Cup soccer fans. Not likely, as they're all busy down in South Africa this week, thank goodness. But if any stray horn-blowers were to infiltrate the Pebble Beach proceedings, you can be certain that the USGA and its henchmen would clamp down on the unwelcome intruders faster than Steve Williams can grab a camera from your hands.

Ray Romano could break 80. By my calculation, Hank Haney is now 0-for-2 in his Golf Channel "projects," having failed to rehabilitate Charles Barkley or coach Romano to a sub-80 round. I wonder if his reputation will suffer at all? In fairness, however, I really enjoyed the final episode with Ray, where Hank had him play a one-man, two-ball scramble on a miserably wet and rainy day at Liberty National. When Hank asked him to predict a score, Ray, always the negative thinker, said "83."  He then went on to shoot a scramble score of 3-over 75 in the tough conditions. Knowing that he had, in essence, a mulligan on every shot relaxed him, and allowed him to hit mostly good shots on the first try. And the exercise showed that Ray has it in him to hit enough quality shots to break 80 easily, if he can free himself from the negative thoughts that haunt him on the course. A lesson for us all, I think.

Phil the Thrill could hit a whale. Remember, at Pebble (that's what the cool kids call it, just "Pebble") there are no corporate tents to the left of the 18th fairway to keep Phil's ball in play, as there were at Winged Foot in 2006. There are only rip tides and marine life. So don't be shocked if you see Lefty wading in toward the setting Father's Day sun, a la George Costanza, looking for a Callaway lodged in a blowhole. ("The sea was angry that day, my friends. Like John Daly trying to send back a decaffeinated Diet Coke at Hooters.")

Sergio Garcia could blame his poor performance on global warming. The ocean is right there, after all, and how can a guy concentrate when it's getting higher and higher all the time? It's just not fair.

NCAA champ Scott Langley could wear a "Save the Chief" hat in the first round. Langley, a University of Illinois junior, is not a native Flatlander (he hails from Manchester, Missouri), so he may not have had a chance to develop a high level of loyalty to  Chief Illiniwek before his visage was banned by the didactic and nefarious NCAA. But after earning a spot in the U.S. Open just four days after claiming the U of I's first-ever NCAA men's individual golf title (Stricker's best finish was ninth), Langley is most likely feeling a rush of school pride. Why not put it on display in a big way?

Tom Watson could win the dang thing. No, seriously, he could! Pebble Beach is not long by major championship standards. It is not a golf course your can overpower. Rather, hitting fairways and greens, and playing smart golf, Watson's fortes, will be paramount. Even more so than usual. If his putter catches fire as it did for 71 holes at Turnberry last year, I think he has a chance to contend – unless ...

Jack Nicklaus could come out of retirement just to kick Watson's butt. What, you think if the Golden Bear asked for a last-minute special exemption the USGA wouldn't give it to him? You just know he's been wanting to give young whippersnapper Tom Watson what-for since that dagger to the heart at the 17th in 1982. After all, Nicklaus won his Pebble Beach U.S. Open (in 1972) at the 17th like a man: by hitting the pin with a 1-iron (a 1-iron!), not with some lucky-a$$ chip shot that probably would have run 15 feet past if it hadn't gone in the hole! Watson's famous shot will get a lot of air play the next few days, and it may be more than Jack can take.

A relatively new course less than an hour from my house could be awarded the 2017 U.S. Open! Actually, this is considered quite likely to happen, as naturally beautiful Erin Hills, in the tiny town of Erin, Wisconsin (outside Milwaukee), is the odds-on favorite for that honor. An announcement is expected on Wednesday, and we'll have more to say about the course – which has a surprisingly complicated history – if and when the Open bid comes to pass.

UPDATE: As Mike comments below, Erin Hills has indeed been selected for the 2017 U.S. Open!

Someone could choke worse than Jean Van de Velde. Wait ... that already happened, a couple days ago at the St. Jude Classic, where Robert Garrigus, a true journeyman, stood on the 18th tee on Sunday with a three-shot lead – and then lost his mind. Perhaps it compromises your brain function when every drop of sweat in your body has leaked into the seat of your pants. (In fairness to Mr. VdV, I've always thought he got something of a bad rap for his Open Championship meltdown. But we'll save that discussion for a future post.)

A 13-year-old could get picked out of the crowd to caddy for a practice round. Wait ... that already happened too! A great story. Kudos to amateur Russell Henley for giving a kid the opportunity of a lifetime.

Steve Stricker could win the U.S. Open! I know, I know ... The Whiffler is a hopelessly biased sucker. But Stricker's been flying below the radar a bit lately, thanks to his recent injury (which he seems to have recovered from). And that can only help him on the big stage of the U.S. Open. Besides, I have to stand by my prediction from earlier this year – which in retrospect was kinda wishy-washy. But I still say that IF Stricker wins a major this year, his best chance would be here. (Image: Stricker with the trophy he won at the 2010 Northern Trust Open. PeterMillar.com)

1 comment:

  1. I just heard that Erin Hills got it. Congrats to you and the folks in Erin, Mike!