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

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

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.”


Amnesty International slams French hijab sports ban ahead of Olympics

Amnesty International slams French hijab sports ban ahead of Olympics
Updated 1 min 16 sec ago
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Amnesty International slams French hijab sports ban ahead of Olympics

Amnesty International slams French hijab sports ban ahead of Olympics
  • Human rights group accuses host country of breaching international law
  • Amnesty criticizes International Olympic Committee for failing to challenge ban

LONDON: Amnesty International has accused France of breaking international human rights law by enforcing a ban on women competing at this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris wearing headscarves.

In a report on the ban published on Tuesday, Amnesty also accused the International Olympic Committee of weakness by not challenging France’s “discriminatory” law.

Anna Blus, Amnesty’s women’s rights researcher in Europe, said: “Banning French athletes from competing with sports hijabs at the Olympic and Paralympic Games makes a mockery of claims that Paris 2024 is the first ‘Gender Equal Olympics’ and lays bare the racist gender discrimination that underpins access to sport in France.”

She added: “Discriminatory rules policing what women wear are a violation of Muslim women’s and girls’ human rights and have a devastating impact on their participation in sport, blocking efforts to make sports more inclusive and more accessible.”

The report details how bans on wearing headscarves in multiple sports in France, justified domestically on grounds of secularism but which is not accepted in international law, have created a situation where the Olympic host is in breach of the IOC’s own human rights rules as well as numerous human rights obligations and treaties to which France is a party.

The IOC has failed to call on France to overturn bans on headscarves at the Olympics and in other sports, claiming in a letter earlier this year that French law was outside the committee’s remit, and that “freedom of religion is interpreted in many different ways by different states.”

France is the only European country to enforce a ban on headscarves in sport, which also contradicts the rules of international sports bodies such as FIFA, the International Basketball Federation and the International Volleyball Federation.

Basketball player Helene Ba told Amnesty that the French ban “is a clear violation of the Olympic charter, values and provisions, and an infringement on our fundamental rights and freedoms … I think it’s going to be a shameful moment for France.”

She added: “Mentally it is also hard because you really feel excluded … especially if you go to the bench and the referee tells you to go to the ladders (stands). Everyone sees you … It’s a walk of shame.”

Another female athlete told Amnesty anonymously: “It is sad. It’s even shameful to be at this point in 2024, to block dreams just because of a piece of fabric.”

In a press release, Amnesty said: “For several years, French authorities have been weaponizing these concepts (of secularism) to justify the enactment of laws and policies that disproportionately impact Muslim women and girls.

“And all of this is occurring against a backdrop relentless, twenty-year campaign of harmful lawmaking and regulation of Muslim women’s and girls’ clothing in France, fueled by prejudice, racism and gendered Islamophobia.”

Foune Diawara, co-president of the football collective Hijabeuses, told Amnesty: “Our fight is not political or religious but centered on our human right to participate in sports.”

Blus said: “No policymaker should dictate what a woman can or cannot wear and no woman should be forced to choose between the sport she loves and her faith, cultural identity, or beliefs.

“It is not too late for the French authorities, sports federations and the IOC to do the right thing and to overturn all bans on athletes wearing the hijab in French sport, both at the summer Olympics and in all sport, at all levels.”


‘I’m doing this for all of Palestine’ says Waseem Abu Sal on making boxing history

‘I’m doing this for all of Palestine’ says Waseem Abu Sal on making boxing history
Updated 16 July 2024
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‘I’m doing this for all of Palestine’ says Waseem Abu Sal on making boxing history

‘I’m doing this for all of Palestine’ says Waseem Abu Sal on making boxing history
  • The 20-year-old fighter from Ramallah, who received a wildcard spot to Paris 2024, is the first-ever Palestinian boxer to take part in the Olympics

DUBAI: Despite the challenges of checkpoints, roadblocks and casualty updates from Gaza, Waseem Abu Sal has surpassed all previous achievements by a Palestinian boxer with his wildcard spot at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Not surprisingly, this milestone has not come without tremendous sacrifice, with the everyday struggles of living in the occupied West Bank presenting a far more formidable battle than the endless rounds he faces in the ring.

Over the last 12 months, Abu Sal has spent every waking moment preparing for the Olympics. He underwent training camps in Morocco and Jordan in 2023, competed in tournaments in Algeria and Russia, and wrapped up his preparations in China for the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou last September. Although he did not secure an Olympic spot in the qualifying events, earning a wildcard spot has reignited his hopes for success on the grand stage.

“I’m going to the Olympics not just for myself, but for all of Palestine,” said the 20-year-old, who will be fighting in th 57 kg category in Paris. “I’m fighting to show the world our dignity and to preserve our identity. It’s important to me and to the Palestinian Olympic Committee. My message is one of peace, but also to show the world that we are strong and resilient.”

Abu Sal is poised to enter the ring for his debut Olympic bout on July 28 at the Roland Garros Stadium in the French capital, where he will be among 248 boxers from 70 countries vying for gold.

His journey to such exalted company began at age 10 when his father took him to Elbarrio Gym in Ramallah, with a vision far beyond giving his son a mere hobby or self-defense skills.

Even at such an early stage, he aspired for his Waseem to become an Olympian, and barely 10 years on from that day, the dream of an Olympic ticket has became a reality.

Nader Jayousi, head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee and owner of Elbarrio Gym, has been instrumental in guiding and coaching Abu Sal. His Gazan coach, Ahmed Harara, restricted by occupation barriers between the West Bank and Gaza, supports him remotely by sending daily training schedules.

With Harara only being able to meet Abu Sal during international competitions, the boxer trains each morning and then again in the evening under the guidance of Jayousi.

After the Asian Games last October, the onset of the war in Gaza significantly intensified the challenges Abu Sal faced. Initially, Israel imposed a mandatory halt on all sports activities. As the conflict escalated during the final qualifying rounds, Abu Sal’s training opportunities were severely limited.

Training in Palestine has become increasingly perilous due to a rise in checkpoints, military presence and settler violence, complicating travel even between West Bank cities and thus restricting his access to sparring partners. For international travel, Abu Sal must undertake a journey by road from Ramallah to Amman, Jordan, to catch a flight — if he is fortunate enough not to be denied an entry visa.

Despite the hardships — witnessing his friends trapped in Jordan, unable to return to Gaza, and suffering the loss of family members and injuries due to the conflict — Abu Sal channeled the pain into his training. The devastating impact of the conflict has taken a toll on Abu Sal and his teammates, yet it has also fueled his determination to continue working toward his Olympic goals.

As part of the Olympic preparation program, the Olympic Committee provides support through supplements, training and international travel, significantly boosting performance.

“This support has led to a historic achievement, with seven athletes traveling to the Olympics this year,” said Jayousi. “When applying for wildcard entries, we chose to focus on the best-performing athletes. We aimed to highlight the high level of talent emerging from Palestine, showcasing our potential on the global stage.”

Abu Sal has been winning medals internationally since 2018. He has come a long way since, and compared to the challenges of his daily life, no goal is too big for the fighter from Ramallah.

With the Paris Olympics only 10 days away, Abu Sal is now undergoing a specific training period. Having traveled to France for a two-week international training camp on July 4, he will reunite with his squad at the Olympic village starting from July 20.


New UAE body to introduce winter sports, esports and strongman contests

New UAE body to introduce winter sports, esports and strongman contests
Updated 16 July 2024
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New UAE body to introduce winter sports, esports and strongman contests

New UAE body to introduce winter sports, esports and strongman contests
  • Ice hockey, figure skating, short-track speed skating and curling on the list of sports for UAE

DUBAI: A new body has been launched in the UAE to introduce winter sports, esports, strongman and other physical activities in the country.

The announcement of the new organization, the Association for the Development of Corporate Sports, was made on July 10 in Dubai by Emirates Sports Group.

The plan is to introduce several winter sports including ice hockey, figure skating, short-track speed skating, curling, and drone events.

Vladimir Burdun, co-founder of the ADSC and CEO of Emirates Sports Group, said: “The biggest part of our association is education. So, we educate people how to do things properly.

“We help them set things up. How to deal with the big corporate clients. How to involve them with this kind of sport.”

He said the aim is to have 1,000 companies join the association in the UAE, especially in Dubai, as well as 50 to 60 countries.

Mohammad Abbas Ahmad Ali Alblooshi, general-secretary of the ADCS, said: “Thanks to my brother Vladimir, who has been with me for a long time.

“Thank you again to the UAE government for the biggest support which we always receive in everything we do. And, of course, many thanks to the Community Development Authority.”

Ilya Galaev, co-founder of the ADCS, added: “Here are so many new initiatives which corporate sports are bringing to the table. The large ice hockey arena that is being built here will also be very interesting.”

He said the organization would also look at developing other sports including bowling and darts.

Burdun added: “We have already attracted interest from several countries and plans to host major events in Dubai, as this is the best place for ambitious sports development goals.

“We have already had a small congress where about 21 countries participated.”


Team Falcons top Esports World Cup Club Championship standings after two weeks of action

Team Falcons top Esports World Cup Club Championship standings after two weeks of action
Updated 16 July 2024
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Team Falcons top Esports World Cup Club Championship standings after two weeks of action

Team Falcons top Esports World Cup Club Championship standings after two weeks of action
  • Saudi team won the Free Fire event at world’s biggest gaming festival, which runs until Aug. 25 at Boulevard Riyadh City

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian side Team Falcons have toped the Esports World Cup Club Championship standings after the conclusion of the second week of competition.

Team Falcons claimed Free Fire gold and 1,000 points on Sunday night to add to the 600 points picked up in Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, which also ended on Sunday. Team Falcons, who top the table with 2,600 points, won Call of Duty: Warzone, the opening tournament of the Esports World Cup, in week one.

Selangor Red Giants, who defeated Team Falcons 4-3 in an epic best-of-seven Mobile Legends: Bang Bang final, sit in second place in the Club Championship standings with 1,000 points.

T1, the South Korean powerhouses who stormed to League of Legends glory thanks to the exploits of gaming superstar Faker, are third with 1,000 points. With 350 points acquired in Warzone, Saudi side, Twisted Minds, are joint eighth.

Faisal bin Homran, chief product officer at the Esports World Cup, said: “The first two weeks of the Esports World Cup produced tournaments and matches that have captured the imagination of gaming fans across the globe. The standard of play has been at the highest level with moments of magic to last long in the memory.

“A special mention must go to the clubs and players who have put on such enthralling performances for the multitude of fans watching in person at the SEF Arena at Boulevard Riyadh City and online from every part of the world. We hope their achievements provide inspiration to the next generation of gamers in Saudi Arabia and far beyond.”

The eight-week Esports World Cup, which features a cross-game structure pitting the world’s top clubs and players against one another across 22 global competitions in 21 leading games, runs until Aug. 25 at Boulevard Riyadh City. The tournament has a prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of esports.

More than 1,500 players, representing more than 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the Esports World Cup. Week three begins on Wednesday with competitions taking place in the Dota2 Riyadh Masters, Counter-Strike 2, and PUBG Mobile.


Brian Harman starts his British Open title defense by returning the claret jug

Brian Harman starts his British Open title defense by returning the claret jug
Updated 16 July 2024
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Brian Harman starts his British Open title defense by returning the claret jug

Brian Harman starts his British Open title defense by returning the claret jug
  • The homecoming of the claret jug was an unofficial way to launch the start of the final men’s major of the year
  • After handing off the jug, Harman headed out to see Royal Troon for the first time

TROON, Scotland: Of all the recent traditions in the Royal & Ancient game, what Brian Harman took part in on Monday afternoon might be the least enjoyable.

Returning the claret jug.

The formal handover of the British Open trophy required a little pomp. Harman was in the back seat of an SUV. The destination was not much longer than the 40-foot birdie putt he made last year on the 14th hole on his way to winning the Open. But he had to wait for the film crew to be set, for the traffic on the road to clear.

“It’s all yours,” Harman told Martin Slumbers, the R&A CEO who took back golf’s oldest trophy that apparently has seen its share of the finest wine and bourbon in the year since Harman won at Royal Liverpool.

Harman is a straight shooter — with a rifle, with his mouth and last year with his putter — but a staged moment as this didn’t bother him.

“In my opinion, it’s the coolest trophy in all of sports,” Harman said. “So I think it’s deserving of all of the pageantry that’s involved with it.”

Getting it back by the end of the week is the real challenge.

The homecoming of the claret jug was an unofficial way to launch the start of the final men’s major of the year. The 152nd Open Championship begins Thursday on the Scottish links along the Firth of Clyde on the Irish Sea.

Royal Troon is renowned for its pot bunkers that are so deep they effectively serve as a one-shot penalty when tee shots find them on the longer holes. The outward holes are shorter with the prevailing wind, the inward holes are longer and into the wind.

“You have to take them on,” Scottie Scheffler said.

Harman had gone six years without a win until putting together a masterpiece last year to lead over the final 51 holes and win by six. He hasn’t won since then, a matter of getting his putter to cooperate. He hopes that’s the case this week.

“You can work and work and work. You just never know when that work is going to pay off,” Harman said. “You never know when the peak is coming. You never know when you’re going to catch a little bit of momentum. So you just have to hope it’s a big week.”

No one has won back to back in the British Open since Padraig Harrington in 2007 (Carnoustie) and 2008 (Royal Birkdale). Go back to 1960 and the list of repeat winners includes only Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer.

“A little sad to give it back, but I’ll remember everywhere it’s been forever,” Harman said. “I’m happy to give it back, happy to be here. Ready to get going.”

Royal Troon is green and lush, and the rough is particularly thick at the base of turf. This isn’t likely to be a bright and sunny week along the Ayrshire coast, and the links have been busy.

Woods arrived Sunday and went 18 holes, spending much of his time chipping and putting. His son Charlie is not with him, instead at home preparing for the US Junior Amateur next week outside Detroit.

Scheffler got into the competitive spirit, playing alongside Sam Burns as they took some cash from PGA champion Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

After handing off the jug, Harman headed out to see Royal Troon for the first time. Monday was largely a day of reflection and he was eager to move forward.

But it was a good year, even without another win. He took the jug to Georgia Bulldogs football and Atlanta Braves baseball games. He took it everywhere he could, a reminder of reaching the pinnacle of his sport.

“You never know how it’s going to go, but just the reception from everyone back home was overwhelming, just how excited everyone was,” he said. “I was obviously very excited, but to be able to share that excitement with people that I care about was probably the best.”

Harman was among several players who came across the coast from the Scottish Open last week, a list that included Robert MacIntyre, though his immediately whereabouts could not be confirmed. MacIntire won the Scottish with an eagle-par-birdie finish and promised he would “celebrate hard” as the first Scot to win his national open in 25 years.

He was scheduled for a press conference Monday afternoon. It was rescheduled for Wednesday afternoon. That was a big win for him. Next up is one even bigger.