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Liguori: Notes From The US Open Week At Congressional

JUNE 14: Phil Mickelson talks to the media during a press conference after playing a practice round prior to the start of the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club on June 14, 2011 in Bethesda, Maryland. (credit:Rob Carr/Getty Images)

JUNE 14: Phil Mickelson talks to the media during a press conference after playing a practice round prior to the start of the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club on June 14, 2011 in Bethesda, Maryland. (credit:Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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By Ann Liguori
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Arnold Palmer, the Pilot, is honored:

ROLEX honored legendary Ambassador Arnold Palmer Monday evening at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. What a spectacular venue to pay tribute to a man whose passion for flying almost equals his love for golf! From the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (the fastest jet on the planet) to the Pitts Special S-1C Little Stinker, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and the Vought Corsair, the spectacular Museum provided an inspiring backdrop to hear Arnold Palmer’s stories about his days as a pilot when he set an Aviation record that still stands today – flying a business jet around the world in 57.5 hours.

In May 1976, flying a Lear 36, Arnold and his flight crew circumnavigated the globe, beginning and ending in Denver, Colorado. They stopped to refuel and visit with dignitaries. Some of the stops included Boston, Paris, Iran, Jakarta and Manila.

Palmer was one of the first athletes to fly his own plane and was a Pilot for over 50 years. This past January 31, the 81-year-old captained his Cessna Citation 10 jet for the final time, recording over 20,000 hours in the cockpit.

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Harrison Frazar finally won a tournament and it could not have happened to a nicer guy!

I am so happy for Harrison Frazar, who at 39, (he turns 40 at the end of July) and in 355 tournaments,  won his first PGA Tour victory last week – the St. Jude Classic. It could not have happened to a nicer guy! l played with Harrison Frazar on the fourth day (my final round) at the Bob Hope Classic this past January and what a pleasure to play with him. He could not have been nicer. He was so supportive. On the final hole of my last round, Frazar helped me read a 35 foot putt which found the hole for a net birdie! I was thrilled but Frazer was more excited than I was, jumping up and down, high fiving me! Who says the pros don’t enjoy playing with amateurs?

Frazer was set to give up the game after this season and played this year on a major medical exemption after surgery on his hip and shoulder last summer. He plays this week at Congressional and qualifies for the 2012 Masters and the Tournament of Champions in Maui in January. And after his win last week, he is a million dollars richer!

I love stories like that!

callaway logo Liguori: Notes From The US Open Week At CongressionalThe two glamour holes at Congressional Country Club – the par three, 10th and the par four, 18th:

I walked the back nine of Congressional this afternoon and am amazed with the par 4, 523 yard 18th hole. In the 1997 US Open, that hole played as the 17th hole and the old 18th hole was an uphill, par three! That par three is now the downhill tenth hole over water.

LISTEN: Ann’s conversation with golf course architect Rees Jones, who re-designed Congressional for the 2011 US Open

Both holes are glamorous and the difficulty of each should provide a ton of drama! If you are watching on the course, this is where you want to park your seat.

The 523-yard par 4 18th hole heads downhill all the way towards a tiny green that moves right to left and is framed by water and bunkers behind the green.  The pin in today’s practice round was all the way back, down a severe sloping green. Most of the players were hitting it to a flat area toward the front of the green. If the pin is in the back during the tournament, it will be interesting to see how many players go for it. The 18th could be heartbreak city and provide lots to talk about all week.

Here is what Phil Mickelson says about the 18th:

“18 to me is the epitome of a great golf hole, and the reason I say that is everybody can play it.  If you miss a fairway on 18, it’s downhill with an opening in front.  You can still advance it on the green and chase the ball down there.  If you’re an average guy, a high handicapper, you don’t have to have a forced carry to an elevated green to get the ball stopped.  You can chase one down and get it down by the green.  But if you get a little greedy trying to make a birdie, there’s water short left as well as long, and so there’s that challenge for a good player to make birdie, but yet it’s very playable for the average guy to get the ball down there up by the green and make par or bogey.

18 is again a great finishing hole.  But you also can recover if you hit a poor drive in the rough, where you can chase one and try to get it up and down from 50 or 60 feet.  It’s just a very well‑thought‑out, well‑designed golf hole, I think one of the best that we play.”

And as much as Phil likes the 18th, he dislikes the 218 yard, par three, tenth, which used to be the finishing hole:

“So as I was saying earlier about how 18 is like a brilliantly designed golf hole, I think 10 is the exact opposite, because the average guy can’t play that hole.  He can’t carry that water and get it stopped on that green.  So when I play that hole, 3 is a great score.  I’ll take 3 every day, and if I happen to make a 4, so be it.  But you’ve got to take the front out of play.  So you have to miss that hole long, and you might hit a shot out of the bunker.  And I’ve spent some time out of that sand.  I think I can get it up and down to most of those pins.”

So hopefully I’ll take the water out of play, be either on the back edge of the green or just over and be able to salvage some pars there.”

Other thoughts from Phil:

On the course over-all:

“There are two things that have happened here; one is the graduated rough.  So if you miss the fairway just a little bit, it’s still pretty playable; you’re going to get it down there by the green.  It’s very well done.

And the second thing that’s happened is they haven’t allowed gallery to line both sides of the fairways.  Now, not many people notice this, but I do because if I hit it into the people, you know, it would be trampled down.  But there are a lot of holes like to the left of 13, to the left of 14, where you normally, if you hit it far enough off line you’d get a pretty good lie.  And now because they haven’t allowed people on some of the interior parts of these holes, the rough is more challenging.  And so it’s actually a much better test, much fairer test.  The less you miss it, the more you’re rewarded with an opportunity to get by the green.

So those two things have made the course play very fair.

Q.  You’re the last American to win a major.  Could you assess the State of American golf, and do you think that’s a fair indicator of where it is?

PHIL MICKELSON:  I’m actually very encouraged with where our American golfers are, especially the young players.  We have a plethora of great players coming up.  And I think at the forefront is a guy like Dustin Johnson.  This guy has got so much raw talent that I really enjoy playing with him because he’s a fun guy and he’s got all kinds of game.

We’ve got guys like Jeff Overton, who I played with today, or Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim, as well as some good young players like a Rickie Fowler, Jamie Lovemark, who’s been a little bit hurt, we’ve got guys in college now, Anthony Paolucci, who made the cut at San Diego earlier this year.  We’ve got some really good, young, talented players coming up through the ranks, and I think we’re going to be very competitive in the team events.

Q.  What do you like most about this course and where does it rank with all the courses you get to play?

PHIL MICKELSON:  I like most ‑‑ what I like most about this course is that the hard holes are really hard and the easy holes are fairly easy.  I think that provides opportunities for birdies and bogeys.  I think the par‑5s, No. 6 is a good birdie hole.  I think 8 is a pretty easy par‑4.  I think that 16 is a fairly ‑‑ not easy, but fairly birdieable par‑5.  I think some of the par‑4s here are so tough.  And certainly No. 2, one of toughest par‑3s we’ll ever play.  No. 4 is the toughest par‑4 we’ll ever have.  10 is certainly brutal.  13 is going to be very difficult, as is 14.  These par‑4s and 18 is an extreme challenge.

So I love making the hard holes harder, because a good player has an opportunity to make up ground with pars on the lead.  And I love having holes that are birdieable, keeping the easy holes easy, like No. 8, not moving the tee way back, keeping the green soft and subtle and making 6 a birdie hole.  No. 5 is a birdie hole.  I like that because it gives a top player a chance to make up ground with birdies.

But it’s obvious that world golf as a whole has become so much stronger and that international and European golf has become world class and top notch and some of the best players in the world and certainly on the rankings right now.

So although international golf has really taken off, American golf is still in very good shape.

You’ve talked about how much you want to win this tournament.  Getting older now, do you worry about the window closing, maybe it’s not this year or next year, but in the future on how many more times you’re going to have a chance to win here?

PHIL MICKELSON:  Not yet, no.  I turn 41 here in two days, and I feel terrific in that I’m more flexible and stronger than I have been in a long time.  I’ve been able to handle or manage symptoms from the arthritis that I’ve had and have been able to work out.  I feel like my golf swing, which is longer and a little bit more flowing, it’s not quite as violent, has led to me not having any injuries now at 41.  And I’ve been fortunate in that regard.  So I feel pretty good and feel like I should be able to compete for quite a while.  I don’t want to put any time pressure on my ability or belief in my ability to win.

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Be sure to visit Ann’s web site at www.annliguori.com and order copies of her book and DVD’s of interviews with top names in sports and entertainment.