PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — For a change, the U.S. Open finally got it right.
Plagued with controversies and complaints from golfers for years, the U.S. Open pretty much went off without a hitch this year with no ruling fiascos and very few, if any, complaints from the golfers.
Of course not all the fans were happy about not being able to see their favorite players while stacked in the 10-deep galleries around the greens and having to spend $3.50 for bottled water, which they weren’t allowed to bring in. There was the unfortunate incident on Friday when a runaway golf cart injured five spectators, but that was a fluke occurrence that could have happened anywhere.
As one fellow journalist, who has been to dozens of major tournaments, put it earlier in the week -- the Masters gets it almost perfect every year, while the U.S. Open always seems to find a way to goof things up.
In 2015 at Chambers Bay, it looked like the fairways and greens had turned to hay and hadn’t been watered for days. The golfers didn’t like it. Utah’s Daniel Summerhays, as mild-mannered as they come, called the greens “baked out” and said they “looked like dirt.” He also said, “I hate to say it, but they’ve taken putting out of the game.”
At Oakmont in 2016 came the snafu with the ruling on eventual winner Dustin Johnson being penalized for an inadvertent moving ball. Last year we had another case of a moving ball, this time when Phil Mickelson ran after a ball rolling quickly downhill, which he hit while moving, a clear breach of golf rules. He received a two-stroke penalty, but many felt he should have been disqualified for such an egregious violation of the rules.
Mickelson said before this tournament started that the USGA messes up the U.S. Open “100 percent of the time” unless it rains and that he would be “pulling for rain” during the tournament. It never did rain, but the greens, while getting firmer each day, never got out-of-control fast.
Zach Johnson, who complained about the greens last year at Shinnecock, called the conditions at Pebble “fantastic” when asked about them.
Of course, it’s hard to goof up a golf tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of the world’s most beautiful and renowned golf courses. But the United States Golf Association could have fouled things up by making the course unplayable with too-narrow fairways and super-fast greens, which it’s been known to do in past Opens.
The USGA's John Bodenhamer, the former BYU golfer who was in charge of the setup for this year’s tournament, told me a couple of weeks ago, “Our guiding stars are to present the golf course and U.S. Open in a way that creates something special and that we create a test of their shot-making, their mental resolve and their physical resiliency.”
That’s a pretty general statement, but this year’s tournament proved that it could test the golfers without making the course overly difficult, which has been the case in the past. Seven times in the past 14 years — half the time — the winning score at the U.S. Open has been par or higher.
Fans like to see birdies. They like seeing golfers in red numbers. Why must the winning score be around par?
This year, there were numerous scores in the red starting on Thursday, which had the second-most sub-par rounds in a first round in U.S. Open history, including 477 birdies and 17 eagles.
Contrast that to 2000 at Pebble Beach when just one player, the incomparable Tiger Woods, finished under par -- 12-under to be exact, while the next best score was 3-over. In 2010, no one at Pebble Beach finished under par as winner Graeme McDowell ended up at even par 284.
This year’s winning score by Gary Woodland was 13-under par as a whopping 31 golfers finished under par for the week. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about that.1 comment on this story
Louis Oosthuizen, who was in contention all week before finishing tied for seventh, summed up the feelings of a lot of folks, saying, “It's nice to see red numbers in a U.S. Open. I think it's a little bit more exciting.”
It was exciting, right up through Sunday’s finish as three players, including the No. 1 and No. 4 ranked golfers in the world, battled for the lead all day until Woodland was finally able to capture the victory.
Bodenhamer said his goal for the week was to “get out of the way and let the golf course and the players be the story.”