Five players to watch at the PGA Championship

Sport360 staff 28/07/2016
Sport360's five to watch in New Jersey.

Who will reign at the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, this weekend?

The last major of the year arrives fresh off the back of the British Open, with the event, typically held in mid-August, being brought forward because of the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Who do you think will win? Let us know your thoughts, get in touch using #360fans on Twitter and Facebook.

HENRIK STENSON

An obvious choice given his stunning victory in the Open, but Stenson would have been worthy of inclusion on the basis of his previous record in the event. Four of the 40-year-old Swede’s top seven finishes in majors (before Troon) had come in the US PGA, including third places in 2013 and 2014. The only question is whether the world No5 can carry the momentum from the Open with him across the Atlantic, or whether his heroics will catch up with him during a busy spell.

PHIL MICKELSON

Another easy option considering his 17-under-par total at Troon, including a major equalling 63 in the first round and a flawless 65 on Sunday, would have won 140 of the 145 Open Championships ever staged. However, Mickelson also earns his place because of past performances, most notably his victory the last time Baltusrol staged the event in 2005. The 46-year-old left-hander has returned to the golf course several times to use his status as an honorary member.

RORY MCILROY

Not only is the two-time PGA champion (2012 and 2014) super-motivated to finish the season on a high, he is also in decent form as his tied fifth finish at The Open showed despite facing the worst of conditions the first three days. More importantly, the Northern Irishman seems to love the conditions at the PGA Championships, having finished outside the top-20 only once in his seven career starts. His driving gives him a huge advantage on most courses and Baltusrol is no exception. Really, all he needs is for his putter to behave for four rounds.

DUSTIN JOHNSON

US Open champion Johnson hit 71 per cent of fairways and 72 per cent of greens in regulation at Troon, but was undone by two costly double bogeys in round two and a triple bogey in the third. The world No2 dropped five shots on the 11th hole alone and still finished inside the top 10 to continue his superbly consistent form in 2016. His power will also be a major advantage on the closing stretch which features a 230-yard par three and back-to-back par fives measuring 650 and 553 yards.

ZACH JOHNSON

Finding players who did well at Baltusrol in 2005 and are still competing at the highest level is not easy, but two-time major winner Johnson (who finished 17th) fits the profile. Although he has not tasted victory since lifting the Claret Jug at St Andrews last year, Johnson has quietly been compiling a series of good finishes this season, including eighth in the US Open, 10th in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and 12th in the Open, where a poor third round denied him a top-five finish.

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Origins of the game's funkiest course names

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A Baltusrol backstory

When I started my career as a golf journalist, two golf courses immediately caught my attention. No, they were not the usual suspects – Old Course at St Andrews and Augusta National.

Rather, I was intrigued by the names Baltusrol and Crooked Stick. Baltusrol, the host venue of this week’s PGA Championship was where the 1993 US Open was played and won by Lee Janzen, while Crooked Stick became part of golfing folklore when John Daly won the 1991 PGA Championship there in the most sensational fashion.

What is Baltusrol supposed to mean, I wondered? As it turned out, the name is inspired by Baltus Roll, a farmer who was murdered by a couple of petty thieves near the area in 1831. The case was the talking point of New Jersey for many years.

Crooked Stick was about to be named ‘The Golf Club of Indianapolis’ when the group of people ivolved with it had an inspired moment. One of the directors recalled how architect Pete Dye came across a gangly stick while inspecting the site, and used it like a golf club on some stones.

And voila! Crooked Stick was the chosen name. Origins of golf course names is a fascinating subject for me. In most cases, the owners would play safe and stick to tried and tested ones.

Obviously, in the days when Britain ruled the world and a course received Royal patronage, they were left with no choice but to adhere to ‘Royal + Name of City + Golf Club’ formula.

And hence, Royal Melbourne GC, Royal Calcutta GC, Royal Troon GC, Royal Liverpool GC etc. There are 62 of them across the globe. Another golf course name that fascinated me was Cape Kidnappers, the out-of-this-world course set on the sheer cliffs of Hawkes Bay area in New Zealand.

Obviously, it is based on the name of the area, which was coined by Captain Cook and his men on HMS Endeavour, when a boat full of Maori men came from the area and tried to kidnap Captain Cook’s cook. Crooked Stick led me to find out about Crooked Cat Golf Club at Orange County National in Florida.

Picturesque: Baltusrol.

Picturesque: Baltusrol.

The golf course derived its name from the fact which none of the 18 fairways are straight and each of them are dogleg holes. Shadow Creek in Nevada is another unlikely name for a course. Before the golf course was made, there as absolutely no shadow in the area.

When inaugurated, it was the most expensive golf course ever built. Architect Tom Fazio actually transformed a desert into a lush green landscape. From zero trees, 21,000 matured trees were planted and man-made lakes created.

While in Melbourne last year for the Cricket World Cup, I came across another unforgettable name for a golf course – Growling Frog Golf Club. I thought the name was funny, until I found out that it is based on a native Growling Grass Frog, which is found in abundance on the golf course.

Like Baltusrol, there are other golf clubs whose names have been inspired by a gory past. Hell’s Point Golf Club, in Virginia, has the Hell’s Point Creek running across the course.

No one really knows why the creek was named so, but there are two stories – in 1800s, the creek was supposed to be infested with poisonous snakes, and two, several ruins of capsized slave boats were discovered at the mouth of the creek.

Fossil Trace in Colorado, and Furnace Creek in California are also interesting. Fossil Trace actually has preserved footprints of dinosaurs on the back nine of the course, while Furnace Creek is shut down in summers because temperatures reach in excess of 50 degree Celsius.

To end with, here’s my recent favourite – the Kissing Camels course, which is part of the Garden of Gods club in Colorado Springs. It is named after a famous rock formation next to the course that resembles two camels kissing each other.

Miller’s off the mark Johnny Miller’s latest criticism of Rory McIlroy is really a most laughable one. During the final round of the Open Championship, the 69-year-old Miller showed his old-school mentality in golf and decided McIlroy’s tight shirts were the reason behind his dip in form (if it can be called that after 10 top-10s in 15 starts!).

Miller took off on McIlroy’s gym regimen and choice of shirts. He said: “I think he overdid the weight room, personally. I don’t think that helped him at all. Same thing with Tiger Woods. You just get carried away with wearing the tight shirts and showing off their, sort of, muscles.”

McIlroy has restrained himself from getting back at the American, but he has absolutely no doubt his golf has benefited immensely from the training. All his four majors came after he started doing weight training, and it also helped him get over the back pains he felt in 2011.

As for the tight tee shirts, they are the in thing and manufacturers prefer to call them ‘performance’ wear. They actually spend millions of dollars every year in R&D to develop this compression clothing, which have benefited athletes.

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A Day With: Golfer Caroline Martens

Matt Jones 21/07/2016
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Abu Dhabi-bound: Caroline Martens.

Although Caroline Martens adores being a professional golfer, her career hasn’t always left others feeling green with envy.

The Ladies European Tour pro has had some darks days, dislocating both shoulders three years ago while she was left struggling to walk after being diagnosed with an illness she refused to reveal the full extent of.

She bounced back strongly to win the LET Qualifying School and is nally getting back into the swing of things.

Martens was in Abu Dhabi earlier this year to promote the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open, a new edition to the LET which comes to Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in November, and spoke to Sport360.

Why is coming to Abu Dhabi so significant for your tour?

We’ve been waiting a long time to come to Abu Dhabi and now to have that opportunity is really exciting for the tour. We’re a global tour and being able to expand it to new regions and countries is good for our brand. Also, being able to inspire youngsters and get more kids involved is important for us and the future of the sport and the future of children here in the UAE.

I think it’s important we get to show people what we do and why we love this sport. The opportunities out here now, to be able to play this event in Abu Dhabi, is incredible, and I’m really looking forward to showcasing what the tour is about.

Have you ever played at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club before?

I have on a few occasions and I love coming to play here. I was here earlier in the year for the Gary Player Invitational which was amazing. I’ve also been here with the Norwegian national team for training camps.

Abu Dhabi is a fantastic place to come and practice in the winter time and off months. The facilities they have to offer and the climate makes this region incredible for sports. It’s one of the most beautiful courses I’ve played.

Having played the course before, will that give you an advantage in November?

Yes and no. You see people coming out and winning an event without having played a course or a practice round. Sometimes it’s a benefit having home course advantage if you know it very well. Sometimes it’s beneficial not knowing anything because you have no expectations. I’ve played it three times which makes me familiar with the outline and I’m very comfortable with every hole, but come

November, it depends what shape my game is in. If I’m playing as good as I hope I will be in November and with the knowledge I have on the course, hopefully the outcome will be very good.

Golf is back at the Olympic Games. Is it a priority for LET professionals?

The Olympics is fantastic and the fact we’ll see golf back there after 112 years is incredible and does give us a sense of pride. It’s very important for a lot of girls on the European Tour, every athlete dreams of competing in the Olympics, and I know a lot of girls are working really hard to qualify. It’s difficult as it’s only two players per country. It’s huge for the tour too.

How focused have you been on the Olympics?

It’s difficult to just focus on it. The Olympics is the pinnacle for every athlete, to compete and especially taking medals, but golf hasn’t been in the Olympics for 112 years so it’s different for us.

It’s one event so not making it onto the team is not the end of my career, I will continue to focus and work hard and focus on the rest of the year to achieve my goals. To make the team would have been a fantastic bonus and I would have loved every second of it but it’s one tournament and in terms of my long term plan, I want to be captain at the next Olympics.

Is being captain in 2020 a more realistic aim?

Yeah. Suzann Pettersen is No. 1 in Norway so is the No. 1 person on the team. I want to be in her position at the next Olympics. I want to be the No. 1 player in Norway, which everyone aspires to. I want people to say “Caroline’s on the team, we have a chance of winning a medal”. That would be a dream come true.

You’ve had some really unfortunate injury and illness issues in the past. Do you draw on them for inspiration?

Having to have gone through what I have, with the illnesses and injuries, you become strong, mentally more so than anything. I am very resilient and I bounce back quickly.

I have a hard time giving up so I think that’s obviously a benefit. I refuse to sit down and not be successful, so it’s a benefit, definitely.

Some people say ‘you dislocated your shoulder, you’ve been sick, doesn’t that put you in a lesser position?’. But you can’t change things. I’ve been unfortunate to have those things happen to me, but I’ve used the things that have come out of it to my benefit and I choose to look at it as a positive.

It would be very difficult to do what I’m doing if I was to think negatively about the things that happen around me.

Your mother Ingrid is a former Miss World and has often been your caddie. How important a part does she play in your career?

She doesn’t caddy for me much anymore. She would but she’s got a full-time job. She comes with me when she can and we speak every day, if not two times a day. She is my closest and best inspiration even though she’s not out there with me. She’s my rock.

Who were your sporting idols as a kid?

My dad was a soccer player, my mum was a windsurfer, I snowboarded, so there was always something to do with sport. I was inspired by athletes who were hard-working and successful.

Anyone from David Beckham to Tiger Woods to Ernie Els. Golfers and non-golfers were inspiring because I did nearly every sport. When it comes to golf I’ve always had great respect for Tiger Woods in terms of his hard work.

Annika Sorenstam as well, what an inspiration to women and the golfing world.

What is your career highlight?

Winning the Ladies European Tour Q School in 2013, that was huge. Winning is huge but it was after my disastrous year.

I was very sick, dislocated my shoulders. My life disintegrated but I came back and I worked so hard, so to come back and win, it’s hard to top that because of the story.

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