For the past couple of days I have been in France without access to satellite television. This means I did not see the final two rounds of the US Open. From what I gather, most of the field would have liked that option. Four former world No. 1’s – Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – weren’t around for the weekend either. Not that that will have bothered Brooks Koepka, who carded a final round of 68 for a one-over-par total of 281 that enabled him to become the first man since Curtis Strange in 1989 to retain the title.
How does the United States Golf Association (USGA) screw up almost every year? Latterly we have had Chambers Bay in 2015, the course without any greens and where one hole was unsafe to have any spectators viewing the action. In 2016 it was Oakmont and the ridiculous Dustin Johnson rules cock-up. This year it was the turn of Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, New York, where in 2004 the USGA had let the course get so far out of their control on the last day that they had to water the 7th green between pairings to keep the grass alive. Mike Davis and his team are not fit for anything. They would protest to the contrary but the only explanation for their recurring behaviour has to be that secretly they hate the game they profess to respect, even to love.
On Saturday, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau shot fine rounds of four-under-par 66, this in the morning when the sun and wind had not dried out the greens. Those were two of only three sub-par rounds that day. When they finished on three over par for the championship, they were in a tie for 45th, seven shots behind the leader, Dustin Johnson, who had yet to start. When play finished for the day, the course by then being almost unplayable in the opinion of several players, they were tied for the lead with Johnson and the defending champion, Brooks Koepka. A good afternoon’s work in front of the TV, guys! Johnson, the world No. 1, said: “I didn’t feel like I played badly at all. Seven over is usually a terrible score, but with the greens the way they got this afternoon, they were very, very difficult.” I remind you, he is the world No. 1.
Rafa Cabrera Bello posted on Twitter: “Greens were unplayable, with unnecessary pin positions. USGA found a way to make us look like fools on the course. A pity they manage to destroy a beautiful golf course.” Davis, who is usually unrepentant, conceded: “It got too tough in some areas. If we got a mulligan, we would have slowed the greens down this afternoon.” Ian Poulter took to Twitter to say: “Is that an apology? You don’t get mulligans in business at this level. How can this team keep doing this without consequences?” There was high farce on the 13th where Phil Mickelson jogged after his ball after missing a putt and hit it back towards the hole before it had stopped moving. “I know the rules and the ball was going to go off in a bad spot,” he explained. “I did not feel like continuing going back and forth. I would still be out there potentially.” He was assessed a two-shot penalty when he should have been disqualified. But I don’t principally blame Phil. It’s another foul-up from the USGA. Organising a piss-up in a brewery may well be within their competence. Running a golf tournament is not.
And so to yesterday. Tommy Fleetwood became the 12th man to shoot a 63 at the US Open, and the first since Johnny Miller in 1973 to do it in the final round, but whereas Miller won by one, Fleetwood lost by a shot. Had his eight-footor for a birdie at the last gone in, his 62 might have won it for him. Reflecting that the course was set up more sensibly for the final round, Johnson had a 70 compared to his 77 the previous day which meant he finished third, a place ahead of Patrick Reed, the Masters champion. A calmer, more considered approach to the conditions on Sunday made for a dramatic denouement, but that could not wipe out what had gone before.
The USGA evidently thinks it’s proper to have about five yards from a green a bank of rough that is so thick that it reduces everyone to having the one same shot to play from it – a thrash. Many of their decisions remove skill from the game. Someone needs to remind these jokers that much as they may loathe the fact, some guy is going to end the week as US Open champion whatever they do. But whereas they claim to be seeking to identify the best golfer, they aren’t. They are identifying the luckiest.
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