Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Pinehurst, N.C. _ Walked a few holes with former Gopher Clayton Rask. He made birdies on Nos. 1 and 4, then bogeyed 5 with a three-putt, and now stands at minus-1 as he plays the eighth. He's tied for fourth.
Pictures of him as a Gopher reveal a rather stocky guy. He looks like a pro athlete now, and he's near the tournament leaders (tied for third at the moment) with a driving average of 320 yards.
Fellow former Gopher Donald Constable tees off at 1:31.
You can follow Rask's round here.
My first impression of Pinehurst No. 2 during the practice rounds? I kept waiting to be impressed.
While I like the fact that the organizers ripped up the thick rough, revealing sand and wiregrass, the course itself just is not living up to its reputation.
Now, I'm spoiled. Most of the majors I've covered have been at Augusta National. I covered the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, and I've visited Pebble Beach. These are places of breathtaking natural beauty.
Pinehurst No. 2 is revered by the golf establishment, but the emporer has no clothes.
With no significant water on the course, it's just a big, hot sandbox with crowned greens.
Usually, I'm especially spoiled when I cover majors. Usually, I have inside-the-ropes access, which allows me to follow players closely.
Here, I'm outside the ropes (I'm guessing the USGA is punishing my paper for not having covered the Open for a while), which means I'm getting the true fan experience.
And the true fan experience here stinks, especially on the front nine.
Most courses have perches that allow you to watch more than one hole at a time. Here, the course is flat and well-treed, so you can really only watch one shot at a time.
And the setup of the course means walking the course is like driving in St. Paul - usually you're going the wrong way, but don't worry, you'll hit a dead-end soon.
There are 20 public courses in Minnesota I'd rather play or walk than Pinehurst, including Hazeltine National and all of the resort courses up North. And I haven't even played all of the good courses in our state.
If PInehurst is worthy of a major championship, then Minnesota should get to host the Open every other year.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15.
Pinehurst, N.C. _
My first very-important thought from the U.S. Open:
Yeah, you're stuck with Chris Berman on your TV. But I'm stuck with Chris Berman on a massive screen in the US Open media tent. You win.
First impression of the course: It was blazing hot the last few days. Today, there is cloud cover and it's relatively cool, which could save the course from becoming fast and borderline unplayable.
The scores are reflecting that. Brandt Snedeker leads at -3, with Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, David Toms and Phil Mickelson at -2.
It's already a great leaderboard.
Minnesota native Clayton Rask teed off at 7:51, and I'll be updating his scoring throughout the day. Fellow former Gopher Donald Constable tees off at 1:31.
Ricky Fowler is wearing Payne Stewart-style pulled-up pants with checked socks.
Back with more throughout the day.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15ish from Pinehurst.
Pinehurst, N.C. _
Just came off the course. Wanted to walk 18. Made it through 1 1/2 before heavy winds forced the course to be shut down.
On to the picks...
The only thing dumber than sportswriters picking who's going to win a game is sportswriters picking who's going to win a golf tournament. We don't know. We really don't. If we knew who was going to win, we'd live in Vegas. Or Monte Carlo.
I'm not going to pretend I have any idea who will win this week at Pinehurst. I wouldn't have picked Michael Campbell in the last U.S. Open held here. I wouldn't have picked Payne Stewart in 1999.
But there are types of golfers who have a better chance than others of winning a U.S. Open on a course like this. Here are some of the players I like to at least contend this week, in no particular order:
1. Rory McIlroy sounded well-prepared and eager today. He hits it long, hits it high, has a chance to stop the ball on fast greens, and is capable of having a hot putting week. What will be tested is his short-game touch on a course that will require a lot of uphill chips from tight lies. He practiced at PInehurst last week and visited with Jack NIcklaus about major mindsets. If McIlroy can avoid his now-typical early-round blowup, he could win.
2. Jordan Spieth finished second at The Masters, and his profile may fit the U.S. Open even more than The Masters. He's not a long hitter, but he can shape and control his iron shots and has a great short game. He handles pressure well and wants to be great. He might be my favorite to win this week.
3. Matt Kuchar isn't particularly long, but he's a grinder who hits it straight and should win a major somewhere, someday. If the course is brutally tough, Kuchar could be the kind of guy to play it safe, make a million pars, and watch everyone else fall off.
4. Sergio Garcia. No, I don't really expect him to win, but if this becomes a chipping contest requiring creativity, it will play into Garcia's deft hands.
5. Phil Mickelson. There is no good reason to pick him based on the way he's playing now, but if he plays well in the first round while adapting to his new putter grip, he could ride a wave of emotion through Sunday afternoon.
6. Luke Donald. Another guy I don't expect to win who is well-suited for the course and its demands.
7. Steve Stricker. The Wisconsinite is a great putter. That alone could give him a chance.
8. Adam Scott. Not because this is necessarily a great course for him, but because he's a wonderful player in his prime.
9. Graeme McDowell. McIlroy called this course ``linksy,'' meaning like the links courses he plays back home in Northern Ireland. McDowell, another Irishman, has the guts and game to make a run at another major.
10. Jim Furyk. He has a quintessential U.S. Open game.
11. Jason Day. He's actually one of my favorites this week. Hits it long and high and has a great short game. He's in my top three, with Spieth and McIlroy.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 and on 1500ESPN at 12:15 tomorrow and Friday from Pinehurst.
Pinehurst, N.C. _
Donald Constable, the Minnesota native and former Gopher, is such an interesting guy I wasn't able to fit all the good stuff about him in today's column.
He also won a 2010 North-South Amateur at Pinehurst #2 in 2010.
He defended the championship in 2011, which means he's seen the transformation of the course from one with thick rough, to one with sand where the rough used to be, to one with sporadic tufts of wire grass in the sand.
``It's different,'' he said. ``It's a lot different. My last trip here, they had just done the re-do, and everything looked different. It was all really just sand. The little bushes were the size of your hand, so you could hit it anywhere. Now it's really filled out. No. 18 looks much narrower than it used to.
``I have good memories here.''
After graduating from Minnetonka High, Constable accepted a golf scholarship at the University of Texas. After two years at Texas, he transferred to the University of Minnesota.
Minnesota golfers are often asked how they can succeed without playing outside for months at a time.
``I played better golf once I got back to Minnesota,'' Constable said. ``Minnesota's got everything you need. They're going to start building an indoor facility for winter, which is the last step in having everything you need.
``They have a great short-game facility. It's a great spot to work on your game. I really learned a lot while I was there.''
Constable has the upper-body of a weightlifter.
``I lifted playing hockey, and even when I was playing golf in college,'' he said. ``Even now, I lift four or five days a week, even though it's more golf-specific stuff. I enjoy working out and going to the gym. I also like to look good when I go in the lake back home. So you’ve got to stay in shape.''
Yes, he said that with a smile.
Reached former Gophers golf coach Brad James via email on Tuesday to talk about his work with Rask, and his knowledge of Constable:
Here was James' email response:
``Both players have had a long journey to get to the U.S Open this week, both competing on many mini tour events with stints at the highest level for both of them. It’s always fun as a coach to watch how players develop and what pathways they take along the journey after high school and college golf.
``You’d like to think that you played some role on getting the player to where they are today. Both Clayton and Donald were extremely hard workers in college and certainly had the tools to take their games to the professional level. I hope the players take advantage of this opportunity to compete at the ultimate level and learn from the experience so they can have continued success after this week. I am sure a week competing on the world's stage will inspire them to work even harder so this is not just a one off experience.
``One of my favourite memories of Clayton Rask was on his first trip with the U of M team, Clayton woke up early and cooked eggs for breakfast for the entire team. I thought Clayton showed great leadership qualities back then. He was always close to his family and family always came first. I am sure his family is very proud of him this week I can only imagine the entire Rask family driving down to watch him play as they did for every college tournament. Go Gophers!''
I asked Rask how he'll handle his nerves while he's playing in his first U.S. Open. ``I want to take it all in, have fun, stay patient,'' he said. ``This is a grat opportunity just to play my game. This is what I have dreamed about doing and I’m here, so I’m going to take full advantage of it.''
I"ll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15. I'll also co-host Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on Sunday, from Pinehurst.
Pinehurst, N.C. _
So I'm walking the back nine at Pinehurst No. 2, trying to get a feel for the place while following native Minnesotans and former Gophers Donald Constable and Clayton Rask.
And there's Johnny Miller.
My favorite golf announcer was riding the course in a car, checking out the greens and the rough.
He stopped to chat with a group of fans, and signed autographs, and said two things that jumped out at me:
1: ``I didn't think the rough would look like this, or be this tough. All those seeds must have lain dormant for 100 years under that Bermuda rough, and they saw the sun and said, ``Whoa!'' That stuff (wiregrass) is going to cause some headaches.''
2: ``A lot of guys are going to be pulling their hair out by the end of the week.''
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