Let me put this out there right away. I’m all for toughening up courses for major events, making them difficult for even the world’s best players.
But what the United States Golf Association does to its U.S. Open venues and how they try to explain what they are doing is “in the best interests of the game” is just absurd.
Take this year’s U.S. Open, currently under way at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina. The Donald Ross layout was given new life by Ben Crenshaw and his design team restored Pinehurst to its “natural look.” Out went the long, thick rough usually associated with U.S. Opens. In came 40 species of native grasses, and enough sand to form a beach on the Atlantic Ocean.
Said USGA executive director Mike Davis, “Brown is now beautiful.” However, we’ve already got the British Open, which is played on courses that sometimes resemble pastures. We don’t need a brown course for our most important tournament, do we? Add in the venerable “turtle-top” greens, with severe runoffs and impossible pin positions, and you’ve got a track that rewards bad shots almost as much as good ones.
Only the USGA’s thoughtful idea to put some water on the baked-out course Wednesday night kept the scores reasonable in Thursday’s first round where 17 players broke par. Greens were holding, which is blasphemy to the USGA. You can bet they won’t see much water the next three days, and scores will soar.
Ever since Rory McIlroy broke records at rain-softened Congressional three years ago at 16-under-par, the USGA has been on a quest to make their spotlight event “a supreme test.” The last two U.S. Open champions, Webb Simpson at Olympic Club and Justin Rose at Merion, finished 1-over-par.
Pinehurst proved its worth in the previous two Opens. Payne Stewart finished at 1-under-par in 1999 and Michael Campbell won at even-par in 2005.
At 7,562 yards, this year’s course is 300 yards longer, featuring four par-4s over 500 yards and a par-3 measuring 260 yards.
ESPN’s Andy North, a two-time Open winner, demonstrated shots that landed just feet from the pin, rolled off the back and ended up in a tiny bush from where he could hardly get a club on the ball.
“They say you’ve got to be creative here,” said Bubba Watson, who shot 76 Thursday. “To me, the guy who gets the most breaks will probably win.’’
When amateurs like me tee it up, we want good shots rewarded. In the U.S. Open, we yearn for dazzling shots, birdies galore and champions playing like champions. We want the best player identified, not the luckiest.
There will be some great rounds because these are the best players on the planet. But not enough for me. This is our national championship. It should be played at a national championship level.