No normal person would play the U.S. Open for fun. The courses, most of them golfable on a normal day (Oakmont being the exception), are riddled with booby traps at every step over the 7,500-yard walk. Players giving their all are like Wile E. Coyote chasing a roadrunner of a trophy ducking explosions and avoiding the cliffs of doom.
Regular humans would quit after 12-putting a couple of Donald Ross upside-down, saucer greens. We would call for rakes and gardening implements after landing in six inches of pine straw. We’d want chainsaws if behind a loblolly pine. We would Tommy Bolt whirlybird club toss in anger and be left with an empty bag before getting through the front nine.
And did you see the wicked twinkle in USGA Executive Director Mike Davis’ eyes when he lovingly described pin positions and the condition of the golf course for Sunday? He would typically have said things like fair and firm, not an actual description which would have been impossible and like concrete.
The USGA, you see, lies in wait until an unsuspecting golfer has teed off and then drops unplayable lie anvils to see who gets hit by them. It has hidden catapults and trampolines in the greens to rocket balls in every which direction once the ball has touched a putting surfaces. It’s a wonder the USGA doesn’t make everyone tee off with exploding golf balls.
The note sheet on Sunday for course set-up said the greens were running at 12.5 on the USGA Stimpmeter, the instrument used to determine green speed. What they didn’t say is that the USGA Stimpmeter is coated with maple syrup to slow it down. The real green speed is actually a 45 on any regular Stimpmeter.
The same sheet said water was applied to all greens Saturday night and Sunday morning. “We expect firmness,” the quote sheet said. Translation: We tested the greens and found a ball that lands on them will carom into the next county. They are perfect.
How fast and firm? On Sunday, Retief Goosen putted off the green on the 13th. So did Henrik Stenson.
Phil Mickelson hit out of a buried lie by the ninth green. Gotcha, Phil! Mickelson’s blast hit the green and then rolled farther away than when he was in the bunker. Gotcha twice!
In Mickelson’s case, the green speeds are one reason he said he seemed to finish second in U.S. Opens when it’s been a wet week. When it’s wet or even damp, a good shot stays on the green instead of taking off on its own. It’s also harder to putt a ball off the green when the surface isn’t like your driveway.
The only way to succeed with these greens is to take a page from Steve Stricker, who chipped in twice.
The USGA competition committee lies in wait all year long, channeling Pete Dye’s worst nightmare of how to make a normal-looking golf course impossible to play. Then it put all of it into whatever golf course it carefully selected as an instrument of torture.
How else can anyone explain Toru Taniguchi’s 88 in Round 3? It featured seven bogeys and five doubles and was a perfect 44/44. He’s currently last at 29 over. Boo Weekley, a past PGA Tour winner, finished at 19 over. Weekley, known as a good ball-striker, won at Ben Hogan’s favorite, Colonial CC, last year. He’s next to last.
“Everyone’s playing the same golf course so it really doesn’t matter how they set it up,” said Dustin Johnson. Have another stick of dynamite, Dustin. Boom!
Sure every once in a while someone has a hole-in-one, like Zach Johnson at the ninth, but a U.S. Open has so much treachery that you have to wonder why anyone would even sign up to play it. Despite the evil and deception, more than 10,000 did. The 156 who teed it up on Thursday considered themselves fortunate.
Yes, they know the USGA wants to torture them for four days, but they think they are man enough to handle it. They think they can deflect the bad bounces and overcome the dropped anvils, boxes of TNT and even cliffs of doom if it comes to that. They know the best golfers in the world have done it before. They know it’s the national championship of the U.S., the place with the most golfers and the most courses. And they know they will go down in history and have their name on the trophy with the greats of the game if they win it.
But for the rest of us, what’s the attraction for all this bad golf? Maybe we like watching other people’s problems. Maybe we like seeing the best players in the world hit shots that bounce off greens like ours sometimes do. Maybe we like seeing the leader with his golf ball unfindable under the junk. Maybe we like seeing professionals hit shots out of trouble and texting a friend: U C miracle shot from behind tree?
Whatever the reason, the U.S. Open is the car-wreck championship of the sport. It’s been played since 1895, making it the second-oldest major and the oldest one in the U.S. Even if they played it on cut glass, people would want to be in it, even though you can almost hear the USGA laughing as fans watch the scores of the best in the world explode.
The real question after the 2014 US. Open is how in the world was Martin Kaymer nine-under par and with the next-best score eight shots back?
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.