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It's been a few days now and I'm still a bit down about Arnold Palmer's passing.  I think everyone in the golf community probably feels the same.  The King brought so much to golf and humanity.  He was my personal favorite, so I might be biased, but I think he was the greatest ambassador of golf and arguably the greatest of all sports.  He was a great player and humanitarian.  He won a U.S. Am, had 7 major victories and 62 PGA Tour wins.  He was great in the Ryder Cup as a player and captain, and playing captain.  He was such a friendly person that it seems like everyone has a story of how he talked to them like he was a close friend.  That's pretty amazing when you think of how many people Arnie came across through his 87 years.  He was in the Coast Guard and an avid pilot.  He started a children's hospital that has saved countless lives.  He left his fingerprint on many golf courses as a designer and was so humble that you would never think he did all of this.  Did I mention that he had his own army and a drink named after him.  He was such an influence that he basically made wearing pink cool.  It seemed like there was nothing he couldn't do or person that he couldn't reach.  Even in his passing, he will still be helping families and their children through his hospital.  Arnold Palmer was a great golfer, but probably a better humanitarian, philanthropist and person.  Arnie will surely be missed!

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The U.S. Open is set to start tomorrow at Chambers Bay.  The best players in the world will be in Washington to compete in this prestigious major.  From the initial looks of the course, it seems to be one that will be nearly impossible to score on.  The fairways are hard and fast.  The rough is thick and the course could play astronomically long, especially if the wind kicks up.  Very few of the pros will break par by the end but I do have a few favorites.  In the spirit of our nation's triple crown winner, American Pharoah, I will give you the win place and show.

Win:  Phil Mickelson - By a furlong to complete his career grand slam.  He is long enough and has enough imagination to hit all the shots needed.  He figured out how to win links golf at Muirfield and will replicate that this week.

Place:  Dustin Johnson - Will come close again, but no cigar.  I like his length and previous experience on similar tracks like his T-5 at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.  He has also had strong play at the British Open.  Links golf seems to fit Dustin's eye.

Show:  Rory Mcilroy - He's just so solid right now that it is tough to count him out.  I think the greens may trip him up enough to keep him out of the winners circle.

Dark Horse:  Keegan Bradley - If my theory of longer hitters holds true, Keegan wouldn't be one to overlook.  He has won a major but has been fairly silent as of late.  I used to play a lot of links style golf when living in up north and imagine my fellow New Englander has seen his fair share as well.  Keep a eye on him as a long shot bet.

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After the second round at the Shell Houston Open, we continue to see outstanding scores.  The soft greens are really allowing the guys to target pins and give putts a good run at the hole.  The cut line finished at -4.  This is one of the lowest of the season on the PGA Tour.  There is a chance that this could end up being the lowest final score of the season as well.  There are a lot of big names within 10 shots of the lead and if the great conditions continue, I expect to see some lead changes and big fireworks coming down the stretch. 

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The Shell Houston Open is off to a hot start.  Just to name a few, players like Mickelson, Garcia, Mahan, Kucher, Els, Rose, Fowler and Spieth are teeing it up at the Golf Course of Houston in Humble, Texas. The big names are out and going low.  This star studded crew that I just mentioned all carded sub-par rounds and most, well into the 60's.  After the first round, they will all be trying to catch Scott Piercy.  He opened with a blistering nine under 63.  Piercy is no stranger to going low in his victories.  Out of his 4 professional wins (2 on the Nationwide Tour), every win was in the double digits and one was 22 under par.  Also, six rounds were at 55 of better.  Scott will be a tough guy to catch, but if there is a field out there that can catch him, it would be this one.  Stay tuned for updates.

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Golf, in fact, has a long history in the Arizona desert – a longer history than Arizona itself. Determined settlers in the late 1800’s were willing to leave their homelands, friends and families behind – but not their hickory-shafted clubs and gutta-percha balls. By train and wagon they came, hauling all their worldly goods with their golf bags strapped across their backs, in search of turf to call their own. Who can claim the first golf course is up for a debate hotter than a tin roof in Tucson in July, but the Phoenix Country Club dug nine holes in dirt fairways and sand “greens” as early as 1899. The first official golf tournament was held 12 years before Arizona became a state. 

It’s hard to imagine that the same territory that hosted the sharp-spurred, trigger-happy miscreants of the O.K. Corral also saw men in knickerbockers and waistcoats aiming very different kinds of shots. The love of golf, against all odds and all climates, is deeply ingrained in Arizona, and with the advent of irrigation has given birth to extraordinary results. The Fairmont Princess resort is one of them. 

While calling the acres of lush lawn, ponds and pools of The Fairmont Princess and the TPC Scottsdale golf courses a “desert oasis” is an unforgivable cliché, few other words capture what it’s like to find so much beauty (and water) after miles of bone-dry land. Last week, I had the chance to “stay and play” at TPC Scottsdale and the Fairmont Princess – a resort that balances modern, clean lines with desert-inspired décor – for some R&R, golfer-style.

From the moment I stepped onto the complex, I was impressed as much by the looks of the sprawling resort as by the staff’s hospitality. After a tour-by-golf-cart, necessary transportation for exploring the grounds, I attempted to count all the possible activities that could easily fill my days and nights: Three extravagant pools with assorted waterslides, hot tubs, bars, and massaging waterfalls; two well-equipped gyms; function hall rooms for special events; a well-appointed spa; and a world class steak house serving southwestern cuisine (along with a Starbucks and two American-style restaurants). I was also informed that the man-made pond I saw from my balcony was stocked with fish, and a fishing rod could be provided on request. However, like the Arizona settlers before me, I sought only one recreation: Golf. As much golf as I could pack into my brief stay. But, I did look forward to working out the kinks from long hours on the greens under one of those massaging waterfalls.

The sheer amount of greenery on the property is astounding – and the greens today are genuine grass, not the sand of olden days (I can’t imagine what it must have been like to try to putt in what was, essentially, a dressed-up sand trap). In the Arizona desert, water is hard-won, but even during the dust-bowl of 1933-34, in the middle of the Great Depression, there was golf. The Turquoise Valley course near the Mexican border, built in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration, is the oldest continuously operating course in the state. In an early take on the two-for-one deal, golfers could begin their day with 9-holes on the Turquoise Valley course, and finish their game with 9-holes in nearby Warren. There may have been lines for bread during that decade, but that didn’t stop tee-time. A similar course share-program can be found today between the Princess TPC Scottsdale.

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