Pinehurst stands apart as a US Open test because of the greens

Scottie Scheffler of the US hands a club to his caddie, Ted Scott, on the fifth hole during a practice round prior to the US Open at Pinehurst Resort on June 12, 2024 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. (AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2024
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Pinehurst stands apart as a US Open test because of the greens

  • The greens at Pinehurst No. 2 are the signature of this Donald Ross course
  • Clark won last year at Los Angeles Country Club with a score of 10-under 270

PINEHURST, N.C.: Pebble Beach has the Pacific Ocean. Oakmont is the brute with its church pew bunkers. Pinehurst No. 2 has the cereal bowls turned upside down.

The greens at Pinehurst No. 2 are the signature of this Donald Ross course that hosts the 124th US Open starting on Thursday. They go by any variety of names — upside-down cereal bowls, inverted saucers, turtlebacks or domes.

Whatever they’re called, they are universally regarded as daunting, particularly for a US Open already known as the toughest test in golf.

“You hit it on the green, the hole is not done,” defending champion Wyndham Clark said.

He played when he arrived on Monday and was amazed and how firm and fast they already were, calling them “borderline” in terms of fairness. And this was still three days out from the opening tee shot on Thursday.

Perhaps that’s why in three previous US Opens at Pinehurst No. 2, a total of four players finished the championship under par. One was Payne Stewart, thanks to that famous 15-foot par putt on the final hole to beat Phil Mickelson in 1999 at 1-under par.

Martin Kaymer took advantage of the rain-softened conditions and brilliant golf to win in 2014 at 9 under, with Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton eight shots behind and the only other players in red numbers for the week.

“I’d say in general, I think the best players play aggressively off the tee and conservatively into the greens. I think this course is basically that strategy — just on steroids,” Viktor Hovland said. “I think having a shorter club in is very important. But then into the greens you’ve got to play very, very conservatively. I think just hitting the greens itself is of high value.”

There have been plenty of illustrations of that.

Jordan Spieth was practicing to the right of the par-3 ninth green on Wednesday afternoon, aiming toward a coaster the size of a golf hole on the left side. He pitched it hard, well past the hole to the top of a small ridge so that it would roll back toward his target. And it did just that, but it was a foot too far to the left and before long had run all the way off the green.

“This is one you putt,” Spieth told Sam Burns. Instead of walking over to his bag for a putter, Spieth used the left-handed putter of alternate Josh Radcliff and gave it a whack.

It can be hard to keep track of golf balls, especially when a practice group has four players, with balls rolling all over the place, some of them winding up off the green.

Such is the nature of Pinehurst No. 2. And while the course is more than a decade removed from its restoration project that returned sandy areas with native plans instead of thick rough, it’s the greens that give the course its character.

And then it’s up to the USGA to make conditions so demanding that only the most highly skilled players can handle them. Such is the essence of the US Open.

John Bodenhamer, the chief championships officer at the USGA who is in charge of setting up the course, said 2014 data showed 70 percent of the players hit the fairway, but only 56 percent of them hit the green.

“It is all about these magnificent upside-down cereal bowl putting greens,” Bodenhamer said. “They are difficult to hit, and we need to get the right firm and fast conditions around them.”

And when players miss the greens — from the fairways, sometimes from putts that roll off the crowned edges — there are options.

“I was joking with my caddie, ‘We should probably get our putter checked.’ I’ve never swung so hard on my putter for nine holes, just trying to get up and down the mounds,” PGA champion Xander Schauffele said. “There’s certain spots where you feel like you have to hit it really hard. You hit it too hard, you putt it off the other side of the green.

“Leaving yourself in a really good position is A-1,” he said. “But even when you do leave yourself in a good position, the hole is not over yet. It’s sort of half the battle.”

Clark won last year at Los Angeles Country Club with a score of 10-under 270. That week also started with Schauffele and Rickie Fowler setting a US Open record of 62 in the opening round some 10 minutes apart.

No one expects that kind of scoring this week. Bryson DeChambeau, who studied physics at SMU, cited Boo Weekley, who barely studied at all during his brief time at Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College.

“Pinehurst is no joke. This is a ball-striker’s paradise,” DeChambeau said. “You have to hit it in the middle of the greens. And this is a Boo Weekley quote, but the center of the green never moves. So I’ll try to focus on that this week.”

There is more trouble than just the greens. The sandy areas — “sandscapes” is what they are called in these parts — have wiregrass bushes the size of basketballs speckled across the terrain. Hit in there and hope — it could be a clean lie, it could be trouble.

“It’s a walk up that fairway of a bit of anxiety, because they don’t know what they’re going to get,” Bodenhamer said. “The randomness ... it’s not just 5-inch, green, lush rough. It can be something gnarly, wiregrass, or it can be a perfect sandy lie. I think you’re going to see some players walk to their golf ball and be unhappy, and others are going to be thrilled.

“We think that is pretty cool, and we think that is exactly what Donald Ross intended.”


Egypt and Dominican Republic grind out goalless draw in their Paris Olympics opener

Updated 14 min 30 sec ago
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Egypt and Dominican Republic grind out goalless draw in their Paris Olympics opener

  • Peter Gonzalez has the ball in the net for the Dominicans in the 13th minute but referee disallows it for a foul on Egyptian defender Hossam Abdelmajeed
  • Egypt are competing in the Olympics football contest for the 13th time, the most of any African nation, while the Dominican Republic are making their debut

PARIS: Egypt and the Dominican Republic battled their way to a scoreless draw on Wednesday in their opening Group C match on the first day of the men’s soccer tournament at the Paris Olympics.
The Dominicans, who are playing for the first time ever in the football competition at the Games, had the ball in their opponents’ net in the 13th minute, courtesy of Peter Gonzalez, but the referee ruled it out over a foul Egyptian defender Hossam Abdelmajeed.
Both teams had chances throughout the match, which took place at Nantes’ Stade de la Beaujoire, but goalkeepers Xavier Valdez and Hamza Alaa were not to be beaten on the day. Alaa made a great save to tip away a Gonzalez free-kick in the 70th minute, and his Egyptian teammates worked hard to grab a winner late on but the Dominican defense refused to yield.
Egypt are competing in the Olympics football contest for the 13th time, the most of any African nation, but has never finished higher than fourth place, which it achieved in Amsterdam in 1928 and Tokyo in 1964. The team made reached the quarter-finals at Tokyo 2020, losing 1-0 to Brazil.
It had been hoped that Mohammed Salah might join the Egyptian side as a senior player at the Olympics but he declined to do so, opting instead to focus on Liverpool’s preseason preparations. Former Arsenal midfielder Mohammed Elneny captained Egypt.
Earlier, Spain, silver medalists in Tokyo three years ago, kicked off their Group C campaign with a 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan at the Parc des Princes. Their squad included two members of their Euro 2024-winning squad: Alex Baena and Fermin Lopez.


England’s Brook ‘won’t get ahead of myself’ after first home Test hundred

Updated 3 sec ago
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England’s Brook ‘won’t get ahead of myself’ after first home Test hundred

  • Brook’s dashing 109 helped lay foundation for England’s 241-run win over West Indies 
  • Twenty-five-year-old has five centuries now, with his first four 100s scored abroad

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: England’s Harry Brook has no intention of letting success go to his head following a first Test century on home soil.
Brook’s dashing 109 helped lay the foundation for England’s 241-run win over the West Indies at Trent Bridge, a result that put the hosts 2-0 up in a three-match series ahead of this week’s finale at Edgbaston.
The 25-year-old Brook has now scored five Test hundreds, with his first four centuries scored abroad against Pakistan and New Zealand.
Brook’s average of 62.54 after 23 innings is the highest since Australia hero Don Bradman, widely considered to be Test cricket’s greatest batsmen, among players with over 1,000 runs in the format.
“I’ve only just started,” said Brook. “That could definitely fluctuate either way. I’ve not even played 25 innings in Test cricket yet so I won’t be getting ahead of myself.
“I’ll just keep enjoying playing Test cricket. Hopefully I can keep it that high but if not, so be it.”
At Trent Bridge, Brook shared a stand of 189 with Yorkshire team-mate Joe Root, who also scored his first Test century of the season.
Brook, whose 363 runs against Australia last year, helped draw the Ashes, said while he was glad to learn from Root, he was also determined to stay true to himself as well.
“I want to be my own batter, I want to be Harry Brook, not anybody else.”
But he added: “Rooty has just gone eighth in the all-time Test runs list, so I’d be stupid to not be tapping into his cricket knowledge.
“I was glad to get it (the hundred) on the board, being my first in England.
“I was nearly getting to the spot where I thought, ‘God, I need a hundred in England’. I didn’t get a big one in the Ashes last year, but I was happy with my performances.”
Brook withdrew from the Indian Premier League earlier this year following the death of his grandmother, having previously pulled out of England’s five-Test tour of India in January due to personal reasons. He later revealed his grandmother was “ill and didn’t have long left.”
And it was his grandmother Pauline, one of his biggest supporters, who was uppermost in Brook’s mind when he reached three figures in Nottingham.
“It was the first (century) with family there and obviously loads more English fans as well, it was a very nice moment.
“I’m not a massive celebrator at a hundred, I just try to soak it all in. I did it all for my grandma.
“As soon as I got it, it was just like, ‘Yes, a hundred’. But a couple of moments later I got a bit emotional inside, I just didn’t show it. I was thinking about her.”
England have four Tests left to play this season, with Sri Lanka arriving for a three-match campaign starting in August.
And for Brook, an in-demand multi-format player, Test cricket is still the pinnacle.
“I want to play every Test match I can for England,” he said. “Test cricket and playing for England is my priority.”


France struggles with its hijab rules for Olympics opening ceremony

Updated 24 July 2024
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France struggles with its hijab rules for Olympics opening ceremony

  • Thousands of athletes, including some who wear a hijab, are arriving for the Paris Olympics
  • Sylla, part of France’s 400-meter relay team, wrote on her Instagram account on Monday that her hijab would prevent her from appearing in Friday’s blockbuster opening ceremony

PARIS: French government and Olympics officials are seeking a creative solution to allow Muslim French sprinter Sounkamba Sylla to wear her hijab at the opening ceremony while still complying with the country’s secularism laws, they said on Wednesday.
Thousands of athletes, including some who wear a hijab, are arriving for the Paris Olympics, placing an international spotlight on tensions in France over national identity and perceived discrimination against Muslims.
Sylla, part of France’s 400-meter relay team, wrote on her Instagram account on Monday that her hijab — a head covering worn by many Muslim women — would prevent her from appearing in Friday’s blockbuster opening ceremony along the Seine River.
“You are selected for the Olympic Games, organized in your country, but you can’t take part in the opening ceremony because you wear a scarf on your head,” Sylla posted on her account.
She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, enforces laws to protect the principle of secularism under which state employees and school pupils are banned from wearing religious symbols and clothing in public institutions. Rights groups say these rules effectively discriminate against Muslims.
Eager to avoid an embarrassing domestic flap with the entire world watching, French government and Olympics officials said they were willing to find a solution for Sylla, although it remains unclear what that could be.
“Our citizens expect us to follow these principles of secularism, but we also need to be inventive about solutions to make everyone feel good,” Amelia Oudea-Castera, minister for sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said on Wednesday, adding that Sylla “understands our principles, our rules.”
Foreign athletes are not affected by the secularism rules.
David Lappartient, president of the French Olympic Committee, said the French Olympic team was “taking part in a public service mission and in this respect it is obliged to observe secularism.”
He acknowledged that the French approach “is sometimes incomprehensible in other countries,” but said there was still time to find solutions before the gala ceremony.
Numerous French sporting authorities have banned women from wearing religious head coverings, such as in football, basketball, judo and boxing, according to Human Rights Watch.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not have rules against wearing religious head coverings.
Maria Hurtado, spokeswoman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, criticized the French government in September last year over its stance on the hijab for French athletes during the Olympic Games, saying that “no one should impose on a woman what she needs to wear, or not wear.”
Le Parisien newspaper reported that Sylla might participate in the Olympics opening ceremony wearing a cap.


IMG signs 5-year deal to become broadcast producer of Saudi soccer events

Updated 24 July 2024
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IMG signs 5-year deal to become broadcast producer of Saudi soccer events

  • The partnership with the Saudi Pro League and Saudi Arabian Football Federation will start next season and cover Roshn Saudi League, Saudi Super Cup and King Cup matches
  • ‘The SPL is poised to deliver an unparalleled football-viewing experience to fans around the world through technology, innovation and talent,’ says SPL CEO Omar Mugharbel

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League and Saudi Arabian Football Federation have agreed a new five-year production-partnership deal with global sports, events and representation company IMG.
Beginning next season IMG will take the role of broadcast producer for the Roshn Saudi League, King Cup and Saudi Super Cup, with the aim of providing best-in-class production quality, innovation and consistency across the events.
The organizations said on Wednesday said that broadcasts in coming seasons will feature more dynamic storytelling and captivating content highlighting the excitement of the matches and celebrating the culture and passion that drive the sport.
This will enable partners to provide deeper insights and elevate the levels of engagement and entertainment, they added, to enhance the viewing experience for fans around the world and foster a deeper connection with the league.
SPL CEO Omar Mugharbel said the agreement represents a significant step forward for the league as its transformation and growth continues on and off the pitch.
“Our collaboration with IMG reflects our commitment to bringing world-class production standards to Saudi football, with the league the central host producer,” he added.
“By leveraging the expertise of IMG and maintaining strong partnerships with local and regional distributors, the SPL is poised to deliver an unparalleled football-viewing experience to fans around the world through technology, innovation and talent.”
Barney Francis, IMG’s executive vice president of studios, said: “The Saudi Pro League is one of the most exciting and fastest-growing leagues in global football, with fans around the world now tuning in to watch thrilling action between some of the game’s biggest stars.
“In today’s battle for attention, it’s critical for rights holders to take control of their narrative and innovate. We are excited to help SPL take its content offering and storytelling to the next level for viewers and broadcasters, and to provide opportunities for local broadcast and production talent to be part of the journey.”
The organizations said IMG will help the SPL and SAFF implement advanced remote-production technologies so that producers can oversee matches taking place in several cities on the same day and ensure the highest production standards are maintained regardless of location.
IMG produces content for some of the world’s biggest football leagues and other sporting events, including the English Premier League, Major League Soccer for Apple TV, CBS coverage of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and golf events including The Open, Ryder Cup and the DP World Tour.


Morocco fans rush field during Olympic soccer opener vs Argentina. Game suspended, goal disallowed

Updated 24 July 2024
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Morocco fans rush field during Olympic soccer opener vs Argentina. Game suspended, goal disallowed

  • Moments before play resumed, the goal was disallowed by VAR for offside
  • Morocco held on for a 2-1 victory

SAINT-ETIENNE, France: Morocco fans crashed the pitch to protest a late goal by Argentina at the opening match of the Paris Olympics men’s soccer tournament, an angry and bizarre scene that left the game suspended for nearly two hours with only minutes remaining.
Moments before play resumed, the goal was disallowed by VAR for offside. Morocco held on for a 2-1 victory.
But not before a furious reaction from Morocco fans who thought they’d been denied a critical win.
Objects were thrown and invading Morocco fans were tackled by security on the field at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne after Argentina tied it 2-2 with a goal from Cristian Medina the 16th minute of added time.
There were images of some Argentina players flinching when what appeared to be a flare was thrown. Bottles and cups were strewn over the field by the end.
It was initially thought that the full-time whistle had been blown. Even FIFA’s website declared the game over. Video boards informed fans the match was suspended and they had to leave the stadium.
About an hour after the incident, organizers at the venue said the match was not officially over and VAR was reviewing whether the goal would stand.
Players eventually re-entered the field after a long delay and began to warm up before the game could be concluded. After warmups, players from both teams stood on the field in the otherwise empty stadium while an official reviewed the video. He offered a brief explanation to Argentina’s players after the goal was overturned while players on Morocco’s bench celebrated.
Play went on for about three minutes after the resumption before the final whistle was blown.
Morocco had led the game 2-0 before Argentina’s fight back.
Giuliano Simeone scored in the 68th minute and Medina leveled the game deep into time added on.