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2015 US Open: Let's Give the USGA a Break on Chambers Bay

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2015

USGA executive director Mike Davis
USGA executive director Mike DavisAssociated Press

The United States Golf Association has long been the target of fierce criticism within the world of golf.

It has been accused of being too conservative and not progressing with technology and a changing culture.

It has been accused of being too rigid in its devotion to what many view as antiquated rules of the game.

The USGA has often attempted to roll back golfing technology that makes it easier for amateur players (who make up 99 percent of the golfing public in America) to enjoy the game, such as new golf ball technology and anchored putters. This has put the organization at odds with the PGA of America more than a few times over the past several decades.

In essence, the USGA is viewed by many as an organization that has been set in its outdated ways for far too long.

While there is certainly some credence to this unflattering public image the USGA has obtained, the organization has attempted to alter its behaviors in recent years. Yet these attempts have more often than not yielded even further criticism from players, fans and the media.

For example, the USGA had long been criticized for creating U.S. Open courses that were difficult to the point of being almost unfair.

Pundits claimed that it was over the top to have rough so thick that players were in effect penalized at least one stroke for missing a fairway by just a few inches.     

So, in 2006, the USGA introduced graduated rough at Winged Foot, at which time the organization was promptly accused of going soft on the best players in the world at an event that is meant to be the toughest test in all of golf.

In recent years the USGA has also attempted to stray from its cookie-cutter U.S. Open course selection process (very long, traditional, tree-lined northern golf courses).

The USGA took the Open back to Merion in 2013, which was a track many believed could never host an Open again due to its inability to stretch the course beyond 7,000 yards.

PINEHURST, NC - JUNE 15:  Martin Kaymer of Germany hits his tee shot on the 13th hole during the final round of the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Course No. 2 on June 15, 2014 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Ge
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The USGA then took the 2014 Open back to Pinehurst, which had no rough at all and had been pursuing a center-row irrigation system to preserve water and operating costs.

Merion was widely regarded as a success in 2013, as was Pinehurst in 2014.

The USGA once again attempted to stretch the envelope by selecting Chambers Bay for the 2015 U.S. Open.

Chambers Bay is a municipal golf course that was created in a sustainable manner. Not a lot of water is needed to sustain Chambers Bay. The greens are comprised of the exact same type of grass used throughout the rest of the course (fescue). No expensive man-made water hazards were included in the construction process.

The bunkering consists of a mixture of sand and the natural soil, which is why you may have seen players removing stones from bunkers without being penalized last week.

Chambers Bay was selected as much to showcase a working example of a sustainable, affordable golf course built on top of what was essentially wasteland as it was chosen to challenge the best players in the world.

While Merion and Pinehurst were huge successes, Chambers Bay was clearly a poor decision by the USGA.

The main criteria through which to measure a good golf course versus a bad course is quite simple—a good course rewards good shots and penalizes bad ones.

Unfortunately the exact opposite occurred last week at Chambers Bay.  

UNIVERSITY PLACE, WA - JUNE 21:  Brandt Snedeker of the United States reacts to a missed putt on the 12th green during the final round of the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay on June 21, 2015 in University Place, Washington.  (Photo by Mike Eh
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Great drives and approach shots were often penalized while many poor shots were rewarded due to the extreme slopes on the fairways and green complexes.

For example, Jason Day hit a magnificent tee shot to the left side of the green on the 370-yard par-four 16th on Saturday. Day’s ball then caught a slope and ran all the way off the right side of the green and nearly into a bunker. The exact same thing happened to J.B. Holmes just a few moments later.

Poor approach shots into the fourth hole were rewarded by the massive slope to the left side of the green while approach shots directly at the pin were often penalized by bounding off into the right bunker.

The slopes of particularly the eighth and 12th greens were so severe that no one would have thought twice about seeing a clown mouth behind the hole on the eighth and a windmill to putt through on 12.

Dustin Johnson hit his approach into the par-five eighth hole on Saturday just a few yards right of the pin. His ball then proceeded to make a right turn and trickle 50 yards down a dirt road. The same thing nearly happened to Patrick Reed.

Matt Kuchar pulled his drive 30 yards left of the green at the drivable par-four 12th and wound up with a five-foot eagle putt. Go figure.

John Senden hit a drive right down the middle of the fairway on the 16th hole on Saturday and wound up in the right bunker.

Day hit an absolutely perfect tee shot down the middle of the fairway on the fourth hole on Sunday and wound up in the right fescue.

Shots to the front of the seventh green could be seen trickling 50 yards down a hill and into a bunker, which is brutal for a 511-yard par four.

Chambers Bay was the very definition of a golf course that rewarded poor shots and penalized great shots, which is simply unacceptable for a U.S. Open Championship.

The green conditions were also of a poor quality and criticized by virtually every player in the field. The USGA actually had to paint little white dots around each green just to signify where the fairways ended and the greens began.

Here are a few quotes from some of the participants:

Thomas Aiken: “Unfortunately the surface hasn’t been as good as it could have been” (as reported by Golf Channel’s Live from the U.S. Open program).

Charl Schwartzel: “For the U.S. Open, the greens were not up to standard. They were pretty terrible” (as reported by Golf Channel’s Live From the U.S. Open program).

Ian Poulter: “We’re putting through complete dry sand—wet sand on some mornings—and you saw the greens on the coverage, they just weren’t good enough.” Poulter then went on to say that “they were simply the worst, most disgraceful surfaces I have ever seen on any tour. The U.S. Open deserves better” (as reported by Golf Channel’s Live from the U.S. Open program).

Ryan Palmer: “It’s too severe. You’ve heard Mickey Mouse, you’re heard circus, there’s plenty of it. When guys are playing 30 feet past the whole or 30 feet above the hole, that’s hard” (as reported by Golf Channel’s Live from the U.S. Open program).

Billy Horschel: Said that he “lost a little bit of respect for the USGA this week” and that Chambers Bay’s greens were “the worst I’ve ever putted on” (as reported by the Associated Press via USA Today).

Sergio Garcia: “I think a championship of the caliber of the U.S. Open deserves better quality green surfaces than we have this week but maybe I’m wrong” (via Garcia’s Twitter account).

Chambers Bay was a good story in terms of the way in which it was built on unused wasteland, the way in which the course is being maintained in a sustainable manner and the fact that it is a municipal course open to the general public.

However, the feel-good story behind the creation of Chambers Bay was nowhere near strong enough to overcome what wound up being a poor golf course.

That being said, let’s give executive director Mike Davis and the USGA a break on this one.

An organization that has long been criticized for being too conservative and not progressing with the times has taken some chances in recent years.

Merion was a success.

Pinehurst was a success.

Chambers Bay...eh, not so much.

But two out of three ain’t bad, and it would be remiss of us to criticize the USGA to a point where it feels as if it needs to scramble back to its old-fashioned ways that we were all critical of to begin with.

So here’s to hoping that the USGA continues to progress with the times and keeps its mind open to new styles of courses for future U.S. Open venues…just as long as Chambers Bay doesn’t make it back into the rotation.

The initial mistake of bringing the Open to Chambers Bay is forgivable based on the noble intentions the USGA had when making that selection.

Making the same mistake twice at the same golf course, however, would not be as easily forgivable.  

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