Tuesday, July 3, 2012

UK fans miffed at their blokes’ poor showings in the U.S. Open

A couple of days after the conclusion of the U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, an article appeared in the blog section of the UK-based golf website Golfmagic.com which was entitled “US Open spoiled by Olympic set-up designed to expose stars” and subtitled “USGA ‘blazer brigade’ seem to take delight in humiliating our heroes”.

A few quotes from the column:
“Will we remember Webb Simpson ticking off this major as the first of many or will he be remembered as just a guy who got lucky and won his shiny new Olympic gold medal on a brutal goat track set into a San Francisco hillside.”
“…it seemed grossly over indulgent of the USGA to artificially create glass-surfaced greens surrounded by ugly collars of gnarly rough simply with the intention of making our heroes look foolish…”
I have a feeling that the tone of this blog entry would have been much different if one of the UK’s own had prevailed that week at the Olympic Club.

I was at the 2012 Open in person, working as a volunteer as well as covering the tournament for a local media outlet, and I spent a lot of time on the course watching play. I would like to point out to the author of this diatribe, a Mr Bob Warters, that the Olympic Club’s Lake Course is no “goat track”, and I imagine that we might see a replay of a famous duel which took place nearby in the 1860s were he to say as much to a club member in person.

Every player I heard interviewed said that the course was tough but fair. Firm, fast fairways with uneven lies made proper placement of tee shots paramount, which is nearly always true of U.S. Open courses. Approaches had to fly high and land softly to hold the greens, which, though also firm and fast, never ran higher than 13. The greens rolled true and smooth, thanks to the replacement of the dreaded poa annua with creeping bentgrass two years ago – no one but Mr Warters has characterized them as “glass-topped”.

There was speculation in the media prior to this year’s Open that the USGA would come over the top with a brutal setup this year in “revenge” for last year’s runaway at Congressional. The drubbing that Rory McIlroy gave Congressional at the 2011 U.S. Open was a combination of the planets coming into alignment for young McIlroy – he hit nearly every shot as perfectly as one could wish, and was absolutely at the top of his game – and a course setup which was emasculated by green-softening rains earlier in the week. There was no conspiracy by the USGA to get revenge at the Olympic Club for last year’s Open; they merely took a tough test of golf – the Olympic Club’s Lake Course – and cranked the screws down a notch or two, that’s all.

I fully expected to see Luke Donald do very well at the 2012 Open – that he didn’t can be attributed, I think, to the fact that his game was just not on. It happens to the best of us. He said himself that he never got the feel of the greens, though a look at the stats show that it wasn’t just putting that was his downfall.

Harrington and Westwood each made some bad shots and also got some bad breaks (Westy’s ‘tree ball’ at the 5th on Sunday comes to mind), and when you are playing a U.S. Open course, there is little margin for either.

As for Rory, well, he is a talented young man, but streaky. He and his girlfriend have both fallen from the pinnacles of their respective sports in recent weeks. She has dropped from the #1 position in women’s tennis to something like #10, and she went out in the first round at Wimbledon. Maybe they each need to focus on making their living in their respective sports rather than conducting a high-profile, inter-continental celebrity romance.

I will close by saying that, before anyone gets on about how tricked-up and unfair the course was, they should know this: on the Monday following the tournament a dozen or so of the media people who had been in attendance played the course (they hold a lottery – these were the lucky winners), to the Sunday pins, and a young lady who is an associate editor at Golf Digest magazine shot 89 – wearing sneakers and using rented clubs (she didn’t have her golf kit with her). OK, the young lady is a 4 handicap or thereabouts, but still – a sobering fact for the pros to contemplate.

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