#AskAlan mailbag: DJ’s major letdown, rowdy fans and Phil’s rules kerfuffle

June 20, 2018

What a fascinating U.S. Open. Now that we’ve had a little time to let it all marinate…

DJ is really not racking up the Ws in majors… Rank the cough-ups from bad to worst: ’10 U.S. Open, ’10 PGA, ’11 British, ’15 U.S. Open, ’18 U.S. Open (for bonus points: ’17 Masters…) -Oskar (@tallboy199)

’15 U.S. Open. He played beautifully at Chambers Bay, hit two absolutely epic shots on the 72nd hole and, let’s face it, those greens were dicey.

’17 Masters. Oh, what might have been. You only get that kind of momentum a couple of times in your career, if you’re lucky. Led to a lost year in the majors.

’11 British. Really came down to one bad swing. Of course, hooking a ball out of bounds in the middle of the back nine is epically bad.

’10 PGA. Forgotten in the commotion about the bunker/non-bunker penalty at Whistling Straits is that Johnson came to the 72nd hole with a one-shot lead and whipsawed his driver miles right, came up short on the second shot and then missed on the low-side on a do-or-die 11-footer.

’10. U.S. Open. That final round 82 was utterly brutal. In fairness, it was his first time in that situation.

’18 U.S. Open. This will really test Johnson’s famous resiliency, because it was a historic collapse; according to stats wiz Justin Ray, Johnson was the fifth player in the last 100 years to lead the U.S. Open by four or more strokes after 36 holes and the previous four each won — and by a combined total of 40 shots.

Johnson certainly got Shinnecock’d, having to play in the absolute worst conditions on Saturday afternoon. But even after his nightmare front nine he bounced back to take a two-stroke lead midway through the back nine, and he let that slip, too. That downhill, downwind putt he had on 18 was impossible to stop and led to a brutal three-putt but Koepka, in his champion’s press conference, made the point that in conditions like that you know you simply can’t go above the hole. It was little mistakes like that which killed Johnson over the final two rounds. He now has 16 top 10s in the majors but only one win to show for it – that’s approaching a Furykian level of non-conversion. Johnson turns 34 this week. He’s still in his prime but if he’s going to turn into the player he was always supposed to be, it’s time to start closing the deal at the majors.

Brooks Koepka will finish his career with more majors than Rory. Thoughts? [email protected]

Pass the Dutch. Even if Rory never wins another one, Koepka would have to win three more. That’s the entire career of Billy Casper, Vijay Singh, Jimmy Demaret, Padraig Harrington, Nick Price, Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and sundry other Hall of Famers. And as woebegone as Rory looks these days, he’s only 29 and you have to assume he’ll have at least one more hot stretch where he picks off another major. That would give him five, which is getting into very rarified air. Koepka’s performance was spectacular, and he has no weaknesses tee-to-green, so he will always be a threat at both Opens and the PGA Championship. Still, you have to take Rory on this one, simply because of his huge head start. A more salient question is how has Koepka won only three times on the PGA Tour in his entire career?!

Will we ever see the Hale Irwins, Scott Simpsons, Lee Janzens, Corey Pavins of the world win a U.S. Open? I kind of miss seeing the bunters do well. [email protected]

Well, the top 14 at Shinnecock included Zach Johnson, Russell Knox and Webb Simpson, all of whom count as bunters. Patrick Reed, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton are only average-length hitters, while Xander Schauffele is above-average but not a bomber. So half of the top 14 are hardly monsters in the Koepka/DJ/Finau mold. Pebble Beach next year will play so short the longest hitters will have driver taken out of their hands, so anyone can win there. But, yes, with the USGA having embraced width and more benign setups, it’s certainly harder for the Tom Kites of the world to break through. Driving it long and straight is an advantage on any course in any conditions. Now that bruisers like Koepka and Johnson have embraced Trackman to dial in their wedges it’s certainly a tough package to overcome if you’re giving up 30 or 40 yards off the tee.

Why can’t (some) U.S. golf fans handle a) their beer b) their dignity and c) their mouths. Some of the abuse to the players is pathetic. Is there much reaction from the majority of decent fans? #AskAlan -Paolo (@pth1974)

It’s discouraging, to say the least. New York fans are always, uh, boisterous, but it definitely got out of hand at times. This won’t be a popular idea but I think it’s time to ban alcohol sales at tournaments. Golf is just different from other sports – the fans are right on top of the players, and the culture of quiet respect when they’re hitting needs to be safeguarded. I have zero doubt alcohol exacerbates a lot of the misbehavior. So do the microphones on every tee box – in this social media-driven culture, everyone wants to be a participant. A lot of the boneheaded yelling is just jackasses wanting to be heard on the telecast. Certainly there needs to be way more trained and paid staff to monitor the fans, not leaving it up the players or volunteer marshals to do the policing. But no question a small minority of loud, obnoxious fans are intruding upon the spectating experience for the rest of us.

How could you possibly say Tommy Fleetwood didn’t “finish off” his 63? -The Entire Twitterverse

It was a spectacular round of golf, clearly. But here’s a thought experiment: You’re in a dogfight for the U.S. Open. You’re playing 10 holes ahead of the leaders on a relatively benign setup, so you know they have a few birdie opportunities coming up. Your final three holes are a par-5 (where you hit the fairway), a short par-3 and then a tough finisher where you leave yourself an uphill nine-footer. Are you happy to finish with all pars?

What is Tony Finau’s ceiling? Can you see him having a Justin Rosesque 30s? -Adam (@StoweSpeak)

I’m not sure even Finau knows what his ceiling is. He’s clearly an immense talent. I was talking to his swing coach Boyd Summerhays on Sunday afternoon at the driving range and he was saying that until the last year or so Finau played almost exclusively a fade but he is now comfortable drawing the ball, too, and that has added to his arsenal. It was deeply impressive how on Sunday, playing on the biggest stage of his life, he fought back from three early bogeys to make a bunch of birdies and keep himself in the fight. At the same time, he is still trying to master the elusive art of winning, because even as he rolls up top 10s he still has only one career victory. It is going to be fascinating to see where he goes from here.

In terms of impact on his legacy, how does Phil’s rules kerfuffle compare to Vijay’s scorecard mess, which people still talk about 30 years later? If a lesser impact, how much of that is because Phil is more charming personally? #askalan -Sam (@swilliam8)

Vijay committed golf’s original sin, altering his scorecard. And his refusal to ever discuss it certainly kept that incident – for which he was suspended by the Asian tour – shrouded in mystery and innuendo. What Phil did was iffy on various levels but it wasn’t outright cheating and so he’ll avoid that scarlet letter. Reader @EthanZimman wondered if this whole kerfuffle will fall under the broad umbrella of “Phil being Phil” and I think that’s absolutely true. We know the guy can be too clever by half and this time he clearly outsmarted himself. But next time he tees it up he’ll hold a rollicking press conference and offer a lively account of the whole thing and most people will move on. The “personal charm” factor is interesting. I’ve always said a huge reason why Phil has gotten such good press is the people around him: Bones, Amy, Rick Smith, Butch Harmon, Dave Pelz, even his parents and in-laws. They’re all good/great talkers and storytellers and they’ve done so much to burnish the legend of a guy who is otherwise pretty inaccessible. Sure enough, on Sunday at Shinnecock, Amy was giving interviews and humanizing what she called a bad day at the office. Compare this to Vijay…or Tiger. They had no one – or didn’t allow them – to stick up for them and soften their sharp edges, and both suffered greatly for it.

Why are there so many WHINERS on Tour and so many fans who want to see them mindlessly birdie every hole, every week? Can’t we have just ONE tournament every other year in which over par wins??? It’s so fun to watch. [email protected]

I totally agree. It’s a shame Shinny got too close to the edge on Saturday afternoon, because it was absolutely perfect the first two days: very tough but ultimately fair. Then on Sunday, after all those whiners made so much noise, the USGA chickened out and took most of the fear out of the golf course, and an essential element of the U.S. Open was lost. Reader @FisherM24 asked what the ideal score is for the U.S. Open. I think anywhere from five under to five over is fine. Shinnecock fell in that range, at one over, but the whiplash from Friday to Saturday to Sunday felt messy and a little weird. A golf course is a living, breathing thing, and it’s hard to get it exactly right over four long days of ever-changing conditions. But ultimately I’d rather have the USGA push the players too much rather than too little.