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The US Open Should Be a Spectacle Not a Debacle

By: | Mon 18 Jun 2018 | Comments

WILL the USGA NEVER learn? Before the 2018 US Open kicked off, Mike Davis, its executive director, told us that Shinnecock Hills, one of the toughest tests on the rota, would be set up fairly. He assured us that there would be no repeat of the scenes we witnessed in 2004 when Retief Goosen was the last man standing as the course’s notoriously difficult greens become completely unplayable.

He said that lessons had been learnt. And, let’s face it, there are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the history of the season’s second major. Remember Chambers Bay, when it was impossible to tell where the fairways ended and the greens began, when golf balls bobbled about all over the place and Dustin Johnson three-putted from nowhere on the final green to miss out on the chance of a playoff with Jordan Spieth?

The USGA believes that a score around level par should be good enough to win its national championship. Fair enough. But how much pleasure is there in watching the world’s best golfers hit what they believe to be perfect shots, only to look on in horror as balls roll off the front of putting surfaces or fall off the back of greens? Time and time again. Or, worse, yet, run miles beyond the hole when the player in question has a putter in his hand.

During the third round at Shinnecock Hills, Tony Finau and Daniel Berger were among the early starters, when the golf course was still reasonably playable. Both men shot rounds of 66. By the end of the day, they found themselves sharing the lead with Johnson and defending champion Brooks Koepka, having trailed Johnson by 11 shots when they stood on the first tee. Only three men broke par all day. Nothing wrong with that, you might think, apart from the fact that as the day wore on it was increasingly obvious that the USGA had once again lost control of the course.

The US Open, one of golf’s four majors, had become a farce. Ian Poulter admitted that he felt like he had gone 15 rounds with Anthony Joshua, that a series of good golf shots had been needlessly punished. Koepka, who played brilliantly for a three-over-par round of 73, said that towards the end of his round it felt like he was putting on surfaces that had no grass left on them.

When a player of the calibre of Justin Rose is unable to two-putt from 10 feet - and knows beforehand that he has no chance of doing so - there is something seriously wrong with the way the course has been set up.

Johnson hit a superb approach to the final green, leaving himself about 18 feet for a birdie. He knew before he struck the putt that unless the hole got in the way there was no way of stopping the ball - and so it proved. It rolled seven feet beyond the hole and he missed the return, finishing with a miserable 77.

We witnessed several players suffering a dose of the screaming heebie-jeebies, so terrified of the greens that they struck putts that came up 10 and 15 feet short. We saw others find the green and then look on in horror as they proceeded to hit the putt off the green or wait for the ball to come back to their feet.

Zach Johnson, who has won The Masters and The Open Championship, could barely contain his frustration at the end of his round. He said that he had never experienced conditions like it, and felt the course was just too difficult.

When the US Open was held at Shinnecock Hills back in 2004, the USGA had to water the seventh green all day long during the final round. It was more like crazy golf.

Davis said that they had been caught out by the fact that the wind had dried out the surfaces. Sorry? The wind and warm weather were forecast. It is what happens in this part of the world. And if you know it is going to happen, surely you take it into account when thinking about pin placements? Obviously not.

There was no pleasure in watching Poulter hit what he thought was a perfect shot from a greenside bunker, only to see the ball roll and roll and roll…right off the other side of the green. This is a world-class golfer, a man who has won this season on the PGA Tour, saying that it was impossible for him to stop the ball on the putting surface from a greenside bunker.

Sweden’s Henrik Stenson was so frustrated by it all that he began his TV interview with Sky Sports by swearing - and had to be reminded that he was live on air.

Player after player faced the cameras looking haunted and beaten. Yes, this is a major. Yes, the cream should rise to the top. But this isn’t tournament golf as we know it. It is a war of attrition, with luck playing a huge part.

To make matters worse, many of the spectators had quite clearly spent the day taking advantage of the beer tents - to hear them cheering as golf balls trundled off putting surfaces was disappointing to say the least.

We are not saying that the course should be easy or that the winning score should be 20 under par. By all means let the rough grow - part of the skill of these players is in being able to decide whether they really need to hit a driver from the tee or to opt for a fairway wood or long iron in order to ensure the ball finds the middle of the fairway. But for goodness sake give them a chance to see a well-struck approach remain on the green.

The game is struggling to attract new players. You can bet your bottom dollar that any non-golfer watching the struggles of the world’s elite will fail to work out what on earth is the attraction of a sport that makes these self-same men look like weekend hackers.

The USGA runs the game in partnership with the R&A. Why is it that the R&A is happy for The Open to be won with low scores, while the USGA seems to take it as a personal affront if somebody comes along and shoots the lights out?

It is time for Mike Davis and his cronies to listen to the players and to remember that this is meant to be a spectacle, not a debacle!

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