Monday, December 28

2015 Rewind: Strange Golf Theater on the Puget Sound

(The following piece originally published on June 22, 2015.)

WHAT A STRANGE U.S. OPEN. And I'm not talking about Curtis.

Jordan Spieth has two majors.
(Image courtesy of AT&T)
This one, the 115th, had some firsts. The first U.S. Open in the Pacific Northwest. The first U.S. Open broadcast by FOX Sports. The first U.S. Open (that I know of) that had holes (1 and 18) that changed par according to the whims of the USGA's course-setup guru, Mike Davis.

It might not have been the first U.S. Open to look and play like a British Open (think Shinnecock Hills), but it seemed as if it was. And, although loud complaining about the course is an annual U.S. Open tradition, it may have been the first national championship to provoke a near unanimous rejection of the putting surfaces.

(How many times did you hear about fescue and poa?)

On Golf Channel, Gary Player totally lost it. You'd think he'd spent four days hacking it around Chambers Bay and jabbing putts on those bumpy brown greens. What a spectacle.

In the end, that same kid who slipped into the Green Jacket in April now has his name on the silver U.S. Open trophy. Jordan Spieth was the winner after Dustin Johnson, who at times seemed destined to finally win his first major, three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd green.

Halfway to golf's grand slam, Spieth, at least initially, couldn't process what had happened. "I don't really know," Spieth replied when asked how he felt moments after it was over.

I could have said the same thing after watching this U.S. Open the last several days. I was trying to figure out what I thought about that bizarre finish, about Chambers Bay, about FOX Sports and about the USGA, the course setup and, yes, those greens. And I've watched a lot of U.S. Opens. Perhaps too many.

About the finish. Some U.S. Opens are won. (Last year's, for instance.) Some are survived. This one felt like the latter. Not to take anything away from Spieth. His 5-under total was the lowest score, and the lowest score wins. But the leaders -- Johnson, Spieth, Branden Grace -- stumbled through the closing holes, hitting sublime shots and then suddenly spraying the ball to ungodly places or nudging tentative putts on those crazy greens.

I'll admit this: I didn't have a good feeling when Johnson settled over that comebacker on the last green. There might have been millions of others who felt the same way.

Spieth simply survived Chambers Bay better than the rest.

Prior to the start of the tournament, I didn't think much about the interchangeable par employed by the USGA on holes 1 and 18. Now that it's over, I'd say I don't like it. It's as if they're trying to be a little too clever, adding yet one more trick to their bag of tricks for golf's toughest examination. I don't think it's necessary.

I do like that the USGA took the U.S. Open to Chambers Bay, a relatively new public links-style course perched beside the Puget Sound. It was a risky move. Yes, the greens were a problem, but the course itself was interesting and a departure from typical Open venues. Maybe Chambers Bay will get an encore. Maybe players will get another crack at it with smoother putting surfaces.

I had an open mind when it came to FOX. By the end of the week, I admit to broadcast fatigue. I expect they'll get better.

The good thing about modern golf telecasts is that we get to see coverage of all the holes and watch virtually the entire tournament. That's also the bad thing. There are hours and hours and hours to fill. That's a curse, I think, especially here in America where more talk, more everything are often considered better.

It's not better, though, especially when quality is absent.

On to St. Andrews.

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