Unlike last year’s debacle, the US Open was played this year on a course with greens that had actual grass. The USGA made sure of that by dumping over 400,000 gallons of water on Pebble Beach in the run-up to the event (twice the normal amount usually applied to the grounds} in response to warmer than usual temperatures in the Bay Area that, combined with windy conditions, had the potential of drying out the course to unplayable limits. In actuality, the reverse occurred – a marine layer (certainly not uncommon to these parts) settle in ath the start of the tournament, resulting in cooler temperatures and softer conditions.
The USGA can hardly be faulted for this; unfortunately for US Open purists, this resulted in the tournament taking on the characteristics of a regular PGA Tour event, albeit with more punishing rough than usual. The silver-tongued/silver-toned golf maven Peter Kessler held nothing back regarding his feelings about the goings-on at Pebble Beach:
“The US Open is a total disaster. Fairways 2x too wide with irons from tees. 7 iron or less to each hole. Greens super soft and slower than Tour stops, so there is no awkward angle ever on little shots. At real Opens, Rose would have shot 85. Fox gets an F. Happy Father’s Day. Pk”
Now, Kessler takes a back seat to no living creature when it comes to overvaluing his own opinion – at least when it comes to golf – but there’s truth to a few of his points. To wit:
Pebble Beach and Merion are the two shortest courses that are part of the unofficial US Open rotation. Narrowing fairways – a standard USGA practice – on these courses simply means that rather than hitting driver accurately (long a criteria in winning a US Open), players can hit fairway woods or irons off the tee to reach desired approach areas.
As for “super soft greens” – yes, Pebble Beach was overwatered, and we witnessed a good number of approaches that may not have held otherwise. As mentioned above, the USGA was placed in a difficult position and chose to err on the side of caution.
But this all begs a larger question – are Pebble Beach and Merion obsolete as US Open venues
The answer, unfortunately, is likely yes, at least if those courses are to be held to traditional US Open standards. There’s no room to further stretch these courses to current professional length standards, and further tightening said courses would result in play bordering on the farcical. Of course, this situation might not have occurred if the USGA had taken a stronger stance in regulating equipment (I’m 66 years old and in decent – not great – physical condition, and I’m driving the ball at least as far as I did 10 years ago), but that’s a different subject for another time.
The Good Fathers of Winged Foot, the hosts for next year’s US Open, are already chirping that there will not be a winning score of 13-under shot at THEIR course. And it’s no doubt true. Take a gander at what has transpired there in the past:
|2006||U.S. Open||Geoff Ogilvy||285 (+5)||1 stroke|| Jim Furyk
|1984||U.S. Open||Fuzzy Zoeller||276 (–4)||Playoff||Greg Norman|
|1974||U.S. Open||Hale Irwin||287 (+7)||2 strokes||Forrest Fezler|
|1959||U.S. Open||Billy Casper||282 (+2)||1 stroke||Bob Rosburg|
|1929||U.S. Open||Bobby Jones (a)||294 (+6)||Playoff||Al Espinosa|
I’m not sure what happened in 1984, but the course came back with a vengeance in 2006. This, of course, was the year that Phil Mickelson for once admitted that he had made a tactical error on the final hole, choosing to play it aggressively and squandering what seemed to be a sure victory.
There is a certain masochistic pleasure in watching the world’s best players struggle with difficult conditions, but at the same time, one can only imagine the howls of protest if Pebble Beach is ever removed from the rotation. Yes, the Peter Kesslers of the world may howl, but whatever the score, no one can argue that this year’s US Open wasn’t entertaining.
Oh – about that. Brooks Koepka did not three-peat, although it was certainly not for lack of trying. From tee to green, he was mostly solid, but did not convert enough putts. Which brings us to a deserving winner, Gary Woodland.
Woodland has contended in major championships before, but until now has been primarily known for 1) initially attending a Division II college on a basketball scholarship, 2) hitting the ball prodigious distances while offsetting that advantage by being a woeful putter, 3) being Koepka’s physical clone, and 4) this wonderful moment.
And when the tall Kansan clung to a one stroke lead over Justin Rose going into the final, with Koepka lurking three shots back, few thought he would hold on. But Woodland, who usually shows about as much emotion as a Tibetan monk, showed up smiling on the first tee on Sunday, looking noticeably relaxed. Instead, it was Rose who went in reverse while Woodland went about his business.
Most will point to two brave shots on the back nine that solidified Woodland’s victory. On the long par 5 14th, he was left with an uphill shot of about 270 yards. He ripped a three wood that wound up just off of the green, giving him a simple up and down to make birdie.
More impressive was his par save on the par-3 17th. His tee shot found the hourglass-shaped green; unfortunately, he was in a position where if he putted the ball, the closest he would get to the hole would be about 15 feet. Instead, he pulled off this nervy shot which allowed him to take a two shot lead to 18 and effectively seal the deal.
- Covering golf on TV (much like setting up a course for a US Open) can often be a crap shoot. After a rocky start in 2015, Fox’s coverage has steadily improved, particularly in its camera work. Unlike a large segment of the population, I don’t view Joe Buck as a vile pustule inflicted upon the sports viewing public; however, Shane Bacon’s commentary is enthusiastic without going over the top, and I found his chemistry with Brad Faxon more entertaining than that of Buck and a surprisingly bland Paul Azinger.
- While the crowds at last month’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black were next level obnoxious, the spectators at Pebble Beach did their best to rise to the occasion, with plenty of “IN THE HOLE” and “BABA-BOOEY” dorks in attendance. And while we’re at it, we don’t need “USA” chants at a tournament that hosts an international field.
- I realize that Tiger Woods moves the needle, but complaints about not showing more of his hot back nine on Sunday (which resulted with a less than scintillating finish of T-21) are ludicrous.
- Much has been made about Jordan Spieth’s critical comments to his long-time caddie Michael Greller after Spieth felt Greller had misclubbed him twice on the 8th hole in the second round. Player/Caddy relationships can be tricky – I remember Jhonnatan Vegas being asked about his bagman Luis Sira. Vegas replied, “I spend more time with Luis than I do with my wife.” He paused, then sighed, “That’s not good.” By the end of the year, the two had split. I’m wondering if Spieth and Greller have reached that stage – the former has seemed frustrated with his game for some time. Then again, Bubba Watson and Ted Scott have thrived in their mercurial partnership.
- In a few more weeks, the run-up to the Open Championship begins, which means that we’ll be treated to an embarrassment of links-golf riches. Lahinch (Irish Open), The Renaissance Club (Scottish Open), Royal Portrush (The Open Championship), and Royal Lytham and St Annes (Senior British Open). Set your alarm clocks early.