The kid from Resistencia stirs up PGA

Emiliano Grillo, the name you love to say so much that once said in the morning — once — you’ll randomly call out “EMIliano Grree-oh!” all day, just because it feels so good.

He plays so good, too. The 23-year-old from Resistencia, Argentina, was clear of the PGA Championship field through 13 holes at 8-under, only to have Thursday leader Jimmy Walker, playing on the other nine, snag birdies on 12, 13 and 14 to get to 10-under through 15 holes. UPDATE: Grillo just dropped a shot on 17 to fall to 7-under. Walker is still at –10.

Now, Jimmy Walker, that’s a real good American name. But it doesn’t make you break into songs of the Pampas and pop a nice little Finca El Portillo Malbec, does it, not like Emiliano Grillo! Emiliano Grillo! You can’t read it on the page and not sing it out, can you, with just a little Euro-Latin attitude. Oh, no you can’t,

Bogeys beset Berberian at Baltusrol

Baltusrol Golf Club features no par-5s on the front nine, and none on the other nine, either, until back-to-backers on 17 and 18.

So the pros in Springfield, N.J., for the PGA Championship hope to feast on the only par-5s on the course and write down birdie or better, and maybe thus salvage something from a round gone bad.

It worked Thursday for Rich Berberian Jr., the national club pros champion playing in his first PGA. Birdies on the closing holes brought his opening round back into reasonable shape at two-over 72 after a four-hole stretch of bogeys on 12 through 15 ballooned a decent scorecard to plus-4.

Friday, when he opened on the back nine, he played 17-18 in bogey-par, which did nothing to make up for bogeys on 10, 11 and 15. On the front nine, his lone birdie on the par-3 2nd was offset by bogeys on 3 and 7.

His 72-74-146, six over par, will not get him to the weekend, with the cut line expected to be at plus-1 or plus-2.

A working pro plays the PGA: Part 2

It wasn’t the drive on No. 12 that led to a triple-bogey and might have blown him out of contention. It wasn’t even the twisting 33-foot make on the 18th green, the biggest putt of his life.

Nope. The defining golf shot of Rich Berberian Jr.’s final round at late June’s PGA Professional Championship, he said, was the tee ball on No. 13 after the dead-pull on 12 that he lost in heavy rough, leading to an 8 on his card.

Let’s set the scene: Berberian, 28, an assistant pro at Windham Country Club in Derry, N.H., started the final day at New York’s Turning Stone Resort at 8 under par, three strokes behind the leader, veteran pro Omar Uresti. After birdies on 7, 8 and 11, Berberian was all even with Uresti at 11-under. Then out jumped that triple-bogey on the 12th.

“It was probably the best thing that happened to me,” Berberian said of the big number. “It made me stop playing defensive golf.”

Instead of panic, Berberian felt clarity.

“I’ve never been so focused on what I had to do,” he said. “After that hole I was able to laugh it off and say to myself, well, let’s just keep going. I don’t care what the score is right now – let me just hit this tee shot.”

When Berberian stepped to the tee on 13, he’d already seen Mark Brown, the third member of the final group, hit an iron off the tee into the water.

Berberian considered an iron, too, but stuck with driver.

“If I’m gonna hit an iron in the water, I might as well hit a driver in the water,” he said. “So I got up there and aimed down the left side. I knew it was a hard hole, so I just swung at it and hit it right down the middle, and that was really what kick-started me. That was probably the hardest tee shot of the rest of the day.

“That was special.”

Berberian went on to birdie 13, and added a birdie on 16 to get to the last hole even with Uresti.

Berberian’s tee shot on 18 landed in rough right of the green. His chip slid by left of the hole, but he was able to get a read on the break for the comebacker.

As history records, he made the putt, while Uresti missed his birdie try that could have forced a playoff.

“It’s one of those things that you dream about making in a situation like that,” he said. “I mean, I’ve struggled to make dead straight five-footers with my buddies for a couple bucks.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the way I putted.”

***

Berberian talked by phone last Saturday as he drove from his home in Hooksett, N.H., toward Springfield, N.J., where lies Baltusrol Golf Club, host of the 98th PGA Championship.

He said he hoped to get a practice round in that day, and play at least nine holes every day leading to his 12:45 p.m. (ET) tee time Thursday in his first PGA.

He’ll play the first two days with Shaun Micheel, the 2003 PGA champion who has mostly fallen off the golf planet in recent years, and loquacious veteran Rocco Mediate.

“I’m pretty quiet,” Berberian said. “It will be good to have Rocco chirping away. It will calm me down.”

Berberian said he can draw on his success at Turning Stone when he takes on the long and demanding Baltusrol.

“It wasn’t long ago when I was playing really well,” he said. “It’s more about confidence than anything. At this stage of the game I know I can play well. I know I can play with the guys I’m about to play with.

“It’s a matter of just believing it on the first tee Thursday.”

Global Golf Calendar: Competition edition

The Witch Hollow Course at Pumpkin Ridge: Unfairly anti-competitive

The Witch Hollow Course at Pumpkin Ridge: Unfairly anti-competitive

Spent the morning learning about the legal and other ways to get around the competitive requirements in contracting law and all the ways your ever-vigilant gubmint looks out for you and me to make sure no palms are greased and pockets lined without due process.

It was just as interesting as you might imagine.

We learned just this week that the honchos in one major political party appeared to favor one candidate over another through the primary election process. I’m thinking just maybe they leaned, unofficially, toward the one with the best chance of beating the bozo in the other party.

On the Web.com Tour, there are no questions of anti-competitive rules and regs to favor anybody over any other body — low score wins, every time. The only due process on the Web tour is when they add up the prize money at the end of the regular season. The top 25 get to move up and compete on the PGA Tour where, last I checked, low score wins, too.

A bunch of press hacks gathered this week at Oregon’s Pumpkin Ridge complex to play the Witch Hollow course and learn about the Winco Foods Kraft Heinz etc. Portland Open, the last regular-season stop on the Web.com Tour (Aug. 25-28), after which they give out PGA Tour cards to The 25.

My scramble team engaged in anti-competitive practices that were, I assure you, all strictly legal, and still the golf course won.

***

The Web.com Tour is the third party this weekend in a two-way race for the hearts and minds of the sporting public and exposure on our television sets. The Web would lose out big if it were up against just one major. This weekend, there are two: the PGA Championship and the Women’s British Open, and that head-to-head, in my mind, is purely anti-competitive – nobody wins if the other one loses.

This week in golf

PGA Championship
July 28-31, Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield Township, N.J.

Women’s British Open
July 28-31, Woburn Golf Club, Little Brickhill, Milton Keynes, England.

Web.com Tour
July 28-31: Ellie Mae Classic, TPC Stonebrae, Hayward, Calif.

Out there

U.S. Senior Open
Aug. 11-14, Scioto Country Club, Columbus, Ohio.

LPGA: The Evian Championship
Sept. 15-18, Evian Resort Golf Club, Evian-les-Bains, France..

The Ryder Cup
Sept. 30-Oct. 2, Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minn.

A working pro plays the PGA: Part 1

Rich Berberian Jr. is the very definition of a working golf professional.

Rich Berberian Jr.: The newest name on the Walter Hagen Trophy

Rich Berberian Jr.: The newest name on the Walter Hagen Trophy.

Which is why he was on his way to work early in the morning June 30, driving from central New York state to make his 1 p.m. shift at Windham Country Club in Derry, N.H., where he’s an assistant pro. Never mind that his tournament-clinching birdie putt at the PGA Professional Championship at Turning Stone Resort had fallen in the hole barely 15 hours before.

“Back to reality,” he said.

And there lies the central conundrum in a guy like Berberian’s life: demonstrably talented player well positioned to practice his craft at the highest level of the game; and full-time assistant pro with all that it entails – manning the pro shop desk, organizing and running club tournaments, teaching golf … in short, giving time to a job like any working stiff.

Rich Berberian Jr., an adopted son of Grey Goatee Nation, tees off at 12:45 p.m. (Eastern time) in the first round of the PGA Championship Thursday in a group with veteran tour pro Rocco Mediate and Shaun Micheel, the 2003 PGA champion.

But now, after his national championship at the PGA pros event, he has opportunities, first and most notably a berth in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol this weekend. It’s his second major — he played in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay last year.

The $75,000 winner’s check from Turning Stone helped Berberian and fiancé Morgan Lagerberg buy a new condo in Hooksett, N.H.

The tournament victory also means he can play in six other PGA Tour events next year. How will that work? And what will happen if he plays well at the PGA Championship and yet more doors open?

Berberian suggests it’s a nice problem to have. His bosses and co-workers, he said, have been great about giving the two-time New England PGA champion (2014, 2015) the time to prepare for and play in tournaments.

“It’s hard to be able to compete with everybody when you’re working 60 hours a week,” he said that late June morning, the hum of traffic on Highway 97 behind his voice. “But it’s part of the life that I chose, and I love it, no doubt about it.”

Tomorrow: A look back at the shots that nearly wrenched him out of contention at the PGA pros tournament and the shots that brought him all the way back to victory; and a look ahead to his first PGA Championship.

  

Is that a bread crust? Will it make me happy?

I can’t say I know what a happy yak is supposed to look like, but I think now I’ll know an unhappy yak when I see one.

This ain't no wildebeest. Photo by Brooklyn Cashen

This ain’t no wildebeest.
Photo by Brooklyn Cashen

I have to think happiness, relative to its opposite, is far outside the existential ruminations of the yak, and the wildebeest, too, which is what I thought all those yaks were when I saw them close up at a commercial game farm — a drive-through zoo — on a family road trip Monday. My bad — who doesn’t know their yaks from their wildebeests?

Was it indifference on their faces? Disdain? Hard to know how much joy they find in the crusts of bread tossed down like insults in front of them. They do eat ‘em.

***

It wasn’t easy to get a read on Henrik Stenson’s face, either, when he was zeroing in on The Open Championship early Sunday morning. The stoic Scandinavian just kept making putts, and not little puny putts, either. When he finally hit the one that clinched it in his head-butting duel with Phil Mickelson, he smiled a little, which gave us an idea of what a happy Swede looks like, and not even drunk, either.

***

We threw a little tournament Saturday at the golf course hard by Hood Canal, after which all the animals in the 3GA zoo howled ’til sun-up, give or take six or seven hours or so. Grey Goatee veteran Steve Manning emerged as Champion Goffer of Midsummer, with all the adulation and bread crusts that come with it. He was, at that point, not even drunk … just one happy yak.

Lefty loosey-goosey on first day

6:45 p.m. Troon time; 10:45 a.m. GGMT
Jason Day, plus-2. Jordan Spieth, level par. Dustin Johnson, level par. Rory McIlroy, minus-2.

Phil Mickelson … not much in the conversation.  Until his bogey-free, course-record 63 Thursday at Royal Troon put his name on every tongue, and it could have been a 62 as his 16-footer for a final birdie lipped out. The number would have been the low number for any major championship in history.

There’s a long way to go and lots of weather surely blowing in to Royal Troon, but Mickelson’s 8-under-par performance is hands-down the first-day story. He’s closed the deal in The Open before, but we’ll see what we hear from other precincts in the second round.

Today, the left-handed one stayed out of pot bunkers. That was more than good enough.

Pot bunkers happen

6:37 a.m. Troon time; 10:37 p.m. last night GGMT (Grey Goatee Mean Time)
It wasn’t like Johnny Miller didn’t warn us: The pot bunkers at Royal Troon are nasty and plentiful, and it took Colin Montgomerie two swings to find one. It took another two to get out on the way to a double-bogey on the golf course he calls his home course.

Monty’s tee shot landed safely – the 53-year-old Scot was first off in the 145th Open Championship – but his second flew into a green-front bunker, tight against its front wall. His first blast landed at his feet. He punched out sideways with his second — his only play.

Johnny Miller, you say? The 1976 Open champion at Royal Birkdale has been NBC’s top golf commentator since 1990, but he’d never covered an Open Championship, and it took NBC’s wresting of the broadcast rights from ABC/ESPN to get him in the chair in Troon.

If the lead talking head sounds the same this year as last, it’s because Mike Tirico jumped ship at ABC and joined NBC/The Golf Channel. Expect a smooth transition for this king of smooth.

***

The network change also brought a change in narrator for the voice-over soliloquies we can expect to hear peppered through the broadcasts. It’s hard not to miss Ian McShane, but Stephen Dillane is an acceptable substitute. Typically overwrought example: “What it was is what it is. The greatest sagas in history, linked to the hopes and dreams of the future … The Open.”

According to the crack Grey Goatee Research Group, Dillane is a Tony-winning English actor, best known to modern audiences for “Game of Thrones.” Speculation persists that golf as we know it might or might not have been invented in Westeros.

Grey around the edges of The Open

It's Mount Washington, looming over the 9th fairway at Alderbrook, but we call it George. Photo by Chris Mallory

It’s Mount Washington, looming over the 18th green at Alderbrook, but we call it George.
Photo by Chris Mallory

I know we all want to talk about The Open Championship, and we can, if you like, but first a word about the tournament up in Union, Wash., that dares to schedule against it.

The tournament, Stop No. 4 on the Grey Goatee G0lf Association Tour, is better known worldwide as the Howl at the Canal, the now 11th annual. While the canal, these days, is down over there somewhere, out of sight from the rented HQ by the 9th fairway at Alderbrook Golf and Yacht Club, we still have George, presiding sternly over the wooded foothills of northern Mason County, and we can still howl, though the high notes mostly elude us.

There are no tropical mosquitoes at Alderbrook, therefore no threat of any virus exotica to prevent the top guys in the 3GA from honoring their playing commitments. It means, this week, that the eyes and noses of the global media are pointed elsewhere.

We of the Association are accustomed to the heavy breathing of our vast fan base, but we rest uneasily in the glare of the writers and commenters, the tweeters and bloggers and snarks and cranks … When they write about us, they never get a damn thing right.

So keep it here, Grey Goatee Nation, for the good shit, guaranteed to be wildly and irrationally biased or your money back.

And true, every bit of it true.

***

The Open Championship offers the only reason to get up at 3 in the morning and watch your television set, short of Sputnik orbiting the earth, and that won’t be happening this year, so set your alarm and coffee-maker in synchrony, sit down and settle in for the duration. It’s like the weekend you watched all five seasons of “Breaking Bad” in order, only better.

Danny Willett will win, and when he does, remember that you might have read it here.

7-17 update: Danny Willett did not win, but he was only 27 strokes off the pace.

 

Cold War edition

I’m thinking the Olympics will be just fine — Rio will be amazing, the security will work, and nobody will get carried off by a Zika Monster. Even the golf will be good, and nobody will notice (much)  the top guys who aren’t there. I’ll miss having the Russian track and field team around, just because it’s fun to kick their asses, the damn Russkies.

Olympic golf, however,  is having one effect before the Games even begin: It’s playing havoc with majors, for both the men and women. For example, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship are two weeks apart in July. For the women, who have the U.S. Women’s Open this week, their next major is the Women’s British Open, and it’s the same weekend (July 28-31) as the PGA for the men.

The women’s game is fascinating right now. For a women’s major to take a backseat to a men’s — and it will — doesn’t feel right, and it must be pissing off Michael Whan. The women, particularly this current group of players, should have the stage to themselves for their majors.

***

In Gee Chun

In Gee Chun

The USGA’s 71st women’s national championship opens strong with intriguing groups for the first two days. Defending champion In Gee Chun tees off at 8:39 a.m. (Pacific time) Thursday with Stacy Lewis and amateur Hannah O’Sullivan, the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. But the marquee group, off at 2:03 p.m., brings together World No. 1 Lydia Ko, No. 2 Brooke Henderson and No. 4 Lexi Thompson, who at 21 is the elder of the threesome.

***

The only current player with a firm hold on a spot in my dream foursome takes a shot at a blog this week. Ernie Els writes about his friend Greg Chalmers, who got his first PGA Tour win last weekend; about his favorite golf tournament, The Open Championship; and a lot of other stuff at PGA Tour dot com. Els is one of the good guys.

 

***

Update 7-12: Lydia Ko didn’t close the door — shocking! — which opened the door for the USGA to demonstrate once again its grasp on protocol for rules decisions in majors. It’s been running Opens for like 120 years.

Jordan Spieth is forgoing the Olympics — not so shocking — and though he said it was all about health concerns, could it be the bigger deal is the weird schedule the Games is forcing on top professionals?