THE BEST THING FOR me about this year’s U.S. Open was that I got to watch most of the final round with my dad. We live on opposite coasts so I don’t see him all that often. He lives in California; I live in Virginia. I can’t recall the last time I spent Father’s Day with him. My brother and sister-in-law were also here on Sunday afternoon when we arrived after the two-hour car trip from LAX, making it even more special.
Before I ramble on, let me congratulate Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell for his U.S. Open victory. If you watched it, you know there were many others who had a legitimate chance to win the trophy. Yet McDowell survived the weekend better than the rest. His long game was pretty darn steady and he kept big numbers off his card. He grudgingly took a few bogeys on the difficult Pebble setup but kept grinding. It’s been a long time coming for Europe to have another U.S. Open champion, a full four decades since Englishman Tony Jacklin won at Hazeltine. This year’s trend of European winners on the PGA Tour continues: Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and now Graeme McDowell.
We officially set out on family vacation on late Saturday afternoon. We drove to Charlotte to spend the night since we had an early morning flight to L.A. Consequently, I missed much of the third-round coverage. I did watch some in the hotel room with the volume turned down and the lights off until my kids asked, “Dad, when are you going to turn off the TV?” (The glow of a TV screen in a dark hotel room can manage to distract tired kids.)
Early Sunday morning I picked up the Charlotte Observer at the airport and was both surprised and impressed by Dustin Johnson’s late spurt that propelled him to a 66 and three-shot lead. McDowell, too, was hanging tough, and Els, Mickelson and Woods were lurking. And there was that fellow named Gregory Havret, a Frenchman. Wasn’t he the guy who beat Lefty in a playoff? I wondered.
About five hours later we were in Southern California and on our way north to my parents’ house in Lancaster. I arrived just in time to see the leaders tee off. It became apparent early on the only movement on Sunday for all the leaders was backwards. Davis Love was one exception, shooting an even-par 71. No one else at the top of the leaderboard matched or bettered par. Ah, the final day at the U.S. Open.
So, except for one Graeme McDowell, Sunday at Pebble Beach was a nightmare in broad daylight, but mostly for Dustin Johnson who completely came undone on the opening nine. Johnson coughed up all of his lead on the 2nd hole and fell off the radar of serious contenders a few holes later, having self-inflicted too much psychological damage. As we watched, we asked ourselves, “How does a guy shoot 66 one day and 82 the next?” Of course, we knew the answer: U.S. Open pressure.
McDowell was just McDowelling along, nice and steady, hitting fairways and many of the greens, making pars. Ernie jumped into the lead and had as good a chance as anyone until a bad stretch at 9, 10 and 11 and too many putts that burnt the edge over the final holes. Phil was hanging around but made nothing on the greens. Tiger played another dismal front nine and his putting was what you would expect from his playing partner, Havret. For now, it’s certainly a different Tiger on Sunday at the majors. The putts aren’t falling. And it’s been that way for much of the last two years.
But how about Havret? A qualifier playing in his first U.S. Open, the Frenchman ranked 300-odd something in the world very nearly sneaked into a playoff. He performed admirably in the Tiger and U.S. Open vortex.
In the end, McDowell was the only man who could shoot even par in the U.S. Open. Just the way the USGA likes it. For everyone else who had a real chance to win, it was a nightmare on Pebble Beach Drive. And the memories may haunt them for a little or long while.
−The Armchair Golfer