The Golf Course Shouldn't Make Headlines at the US Open
IT IS fair to say that of all the majors, the US Open is the one that consistently attracts criticism, and it is not difficult to understand why. In the past the USGA have been guilty of putting pins in impossible places on putting surfaces that are faster than glass.
Time after time, the world’s best golfers have been made to look incredibly stupid, with putts running off the front of greens, and four putts being almost common place.
And three years ago they excelled even themselves when they took the championship to Chambers Bay, a course that players compared to “putting on broccoli”. Just two years ago, eventually champions Dustin Johnson was the subject of a bizarre rules decision when he played most of his final round with the threat of a penalty hanging over his head after he had allegedly caused the ball to move on the green.
Other players, officials and spectators had no clue what his score was even with only seven holes to play. Fortunately, he played so well that he put the matter beyond doubt anyway and went on to win.
And in 2017 they decided to trim the rough on the eve of the tournament after the players complained that it was impossibly thick.
The last time Shinnecock Hills hosted the US Open, in 2004, play had to be suspended during the final round - in which 28 of the 66 players amazingly failed to break 80 - to water the seventh green, which had already been described as “ridiculous” and “unplayable” by Ernie Els a day earlier.
It is a safe bet that the USGA will be desperate to avoid any repetition this time around. “It was certainly a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey,” USGA chief executive Mike Davis said of the farcical scenes at Shinnecock in 2004. “We’re happy to have a mulligan this time.”
Davis was not in charge of the association or course set-up 14 years ago, but he was the USGA official on the seventh green, communicating with the rest of the staff about what to do.
And even he has admitted that the US Open is “probably set up closer to the edge than any other event in golf”, but insists that will not be the case this time. “Nowadays we have got firmness meters, we’ve got moisture meters in the greens,” Davis said. “The meteorology is better, so we know not only where the winds are coming from but the velocities. And frankly, there’s better communication between the USGA and groundstaff. So, I think we’re comfortable.”
Rory McIlroy is not convinced. “The USGA thinks that we’re better than we actually are, if that makes sense,” he said. “They overthink it. I don’t want to single out Mike Davis here, I think it’s a collective thought process. I don’t think it should be as much of an exact science to set up golf courses as it is. Get the fairways sort of firm, grow the rough, put the pins in some tough locations, but fair, and let us go play.
“It’s been a very reactionary few years to what happened at Chambers Bay. I think they felt Erin Hills was going to be similar to Chambers Bay so they soaked it and made it really wide and all of a sudden 16-under-par wins again and they’re like, ‘Um, what just happened?’ “They have to take previous results out of their head and just say, ‘Okay, let’s set up this golf course as best we can and just let the guys go play’.”
By common consensus, a score of around level par will be there or thereabouts come Sunday night, and the golfing public will accept that. What they are more reluctant to accept is watching world-class golfers being made to look foolish.
Shinnecock Hills is a brutal test, but it is a fair one, and all the indications are that the man who picks up the trophy will be one of the game’s elite - and that is precisely as it should be.
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