US Open Preview - A closer look at Chambers Bay
IT IS not unusual for players to criticise US Open venues - back in 1970, everybody bar Tony Jacklin had some pretty uncomplimentary views about Hazeltine, with Dave Hill, the runner-up to Jacklin, suggesting it was only fit to graze cows on.
Pinehurst routinely comes under fire for the speed of its greens, and most venues upset golfers who claim the fairways are too narrow, the rough is too thick or the greens are lightning fast - unfairly so.
This criticism usually comes during or after the US Open. But Chambers Bay has achieved a first, drawing hoots of derision from countless golfers before a shot has even been struck.
Why? Is it because the course, near Washington, is only eight years old? No. Is it because it is based on a Scottish-style links course? Well, not exactly, but that could give some hint as to why they are not looking forward to the test they are about to face.
Remember the 1999 Open at Carnoustie? The cream of the world's professional golfing talent turned up in Scotland and expressed horror at what they saw. Almost to a man, they moaned that the fairways were not wide enough, and that the penalty for missing them was too severe. In other words, the rough was too thick.
Had the tournament been played over four days of glorious weather it would have been difficult to feel much sympathy for them, but it wasn't. The wind blew and the rain fell - and scores were sky-high. Afterwards, the R&A admitted that it had got things wrong and that the course was, indeed, too difficult. When Padraig Harrington won there the next time The Open returned to Carnoustie the course was very different.
Some high-profile Americans said that the 1999 Championship got the winner it deserved, which seemed pretty unfair on Paul Lawrie, who played magnificent golf on the final day. And had the course been easier, would we have witnessed Jean Van de Velde's extraordinary meltdown on the final hole? Probably not.
So why all the fuss about Chambers Bay? It was designed by Robert Trent Jones, who is one of the world's most highly respect course architects. The available land was huge, so there were no restrictions, meaning that Trent Jones had a completely free hand.
It is a municipal (or public) course and from the championship tees it measures 7,545 yards, but can be stretched to 7,800 yards - yes, it's long, but in an era when the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, who is not exactly muscle-bound, can reach par fives with a drive and a seven iron, that should not scare anybody.
The criticism comes from the fact that it looks like the USGA is going to follow the example of the R&A in 1999 and present a golf course with punishing rough. Miss the fairway by a few yards and you might lose your ball. Welcome to the world of the amateur club golfer guys!
It is surely not beyond the wit of these guys to leave the driver in the bag on the tightest holes. After all, the big difference between Carnoustie 1999 and Chambers Bay 2015 is that the weather is likely to be rather more favourable this time. If you have to face a 40mph wind then it is difficult to control any shot, but the breeze is expected to be gentle.
This is American golf's national championship and it is only right that those who have qualified to play should expect to face a proper test of their skills.
It has to be said, however, that if Tiger Woods took 85 shots to negotiate Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village then he might well struggle to break 100 at Chambers Bay. The game that made his name and his fortune seems to be taking a perverse pleasure from humiliating him in public right now and even he must know that he arrives at the season's second major without a prayer of making the cut, far less winning.
And many other big names will struggle and blame it on the course, rather than on their own inability to adapt to the course and conditions.
The 11th, 13th and 14th each measure more than 530 yards - all are par fours. There are three 600-yard par fives. It is going to provide some thrilling golf, and some disasters, and will be watched by a huge crowd. All season tickets for the week have been sold out for more than a year.
The reality is that the criticism probably comes from a fear of the unknown and the feedback of a few tour pros who have played the course and come to grief. The players who complain the loudest are the ones who have no chance of winning - and you can be certain that their number will not include the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler. It will almost certainly include Woods and Dustin Johnson.
Will the US Open get the champion it deserves? Of course it will, and that man, whoever he is, will finish top of the pile because he has plotted his way around the links, found more fairways than anybody else and holed more putts than the rest. Just like any other major, actually.
Image credit - @PGATOURNEWS, @GolfChannel @SkySportsGolf
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Tags: PGA Tour