U.S. Open 2019: USGA exec responds to Tour pros’ criticism over past course setups

June 10, 2019

John Bodenhamer has been with the USGA since 2011, but all eyes will be on him with his new position with the organization. In his new role as senior managing director of championships, Bodenhamer is responsible for handling course setup for the U.S. Open.

For the last 13 years, that job belonged to USGA CEO Mike Davis. He’s now given up those duties to move further into his role as CEO, a position he assumed in 2016.

The course setup for the national championship over the last couple of years has drawn the ire of many Tour pros. It began with complaints over the greens at Chambers Bay in 2015, the mishandling of a rules situation involving Dustin Johnson at Oakmont in 2016, a too-wide approach at Erin Hills in 2017, and a baked-out course that the USGA “lost” at Shinnecock last year.

Bodenhamer has heard the critiques loud and clear.

John Bodenhamer is responsible for course setup at the U.S. Open for the USGA now.
USA Today Sports

“Well, we’re golfers too. We listen, we read. I think it’s important for us to listen to those voices, ” Bodenhamer told GOLF.com. “Rory [McIlroy]’s a past champion. There’ve been other past champions that have commented. I think we are listening and we are talking to a lot of our past champions. There’s a lot of players, not just past champions, who care deeply about the USGA and the U.S. Open.

“They’re rooting for a great U.S. Open, which we’re going to have this year. Sure, there’s some things people have said that have been critical, and we’re taking it all into account. We feel good about where we are and looking forward to a great U.S. Open.”

Criticism toward the USGA over U.S. Open course setup has been widespread and come from a variety of sources, including the aforementioned McIlroy.

“I’ve had a pretty good dialogue with them back and forth,” said McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion at the Memorial Tournament. “And do they seek our opinion? Just like some of the other tournaments do. There’s obviously guys from the USGA here this week, and they’re trying to do as good a job as they can.

“I think they’ll admit they’ve made a couple of mistakes over the last couple of years. Everyone does. And I think we should give them the chance to redeem themselves. If they can’t redeem themselves at Pebble Beach, then there could be a problem.”

But McIlroy isn’t the only U.S. Open champion to critique the USGA’s course setup process. Three-time champion Tiger Woods recently voiced his opinion, too.

“I don’t know, we all have to play it,” Woods said at Muirfield Village. “And I don’t agree with some of the times when they move the tees up and change the golf course. I didn’t agree with the setup at 14 in ’08 [at Torrey Pines]. It was a great par 4, but why move it all the way up there and make it drivable?

“There was a time there where it was a brutal test, and then it became kind of a tricky decision you had to make, trying to bring in more options off the tees or into the greens. The Open has changed. I thought it was just narrow fairways, hit it in the fairway or hack out, move on. Now there’s chipping areas around the greens. There’s less rough. Graduated rough. They’ve tried to make The Open different and strategically different. I just like it when there’s high rough and narrow fairways, and go get it, boys.”

The most biting critique came from a man who is a U.S. Open title away from achieving the career grand slam: Phil Mickelson. He didn’t hold back.

“I’ve played, what, 29 U.S. Opens. One-hundred percent of time they have messed it up if it doesn’t rain,” Mickelson said. “The rain is the governor. That’s the only governor they have. And if they don’t have a governor they don’t know how to control themselves.

“It’s just based on history,” he continued. “My 30 years, and 30 years before that. So I think we’re all pulling for a little rain.”

When Bodenhamer took over his new role, one of his goals was to increase communication between the players and the USGA.

“We aren’t going to make all of them happy, but they should understand that we aren’t trying to trick up the course or make it ridiculously hard,” Bodenhamer said to Golf Channel. “As set-up people, the last thing we want to be is the story. The last thing. We want it to be about the players and the golf course.”

Bodenhamer says that the USGA has been having more conversations and gathering more opinions from a wider array of people than in past years. Part of that is because of the organization’s decision to hire its first-ever player relations director in Tour pro Jason Gore.

“I think [communicating with the players] is something that’s a little bit different this year than it has been in past years simply because we have a player on staff now that we’ve not had before, Jason Gore, and he has been wonderful,” Bodenhamer said. “I think Jason’s been able to engage with players and past champions at a level of being a player. He knows those guys, he has relationships with them, he’s won on the PGA Tour. He has their respect, and they speak the same language from a player’s experience standpoint. I think that’s been really, really good because he’s informed our preparation and set up process. We just are really benefiting from that.”

Three-time major champion Nick Price has also been assisting the USGA in its course setup process for a number of years as well.

“Nick’s a former world number one, and one of the finest human beings ever, golfer or not,” Bodenhamer said. “He’s just one of the greatest people in the game. He’s coming this week and he’s going to be involved in our process as he has been. But I think that’s important listening to our past champions and having that perspective from Jason.

“This year we’ve been informed by other voices that frankly, in the past, we haven’t been. I felt it’s important and I think it’s helped us.”

A view from behind the 10th green at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Getty Images

The U.S. Open, which is now the third major of the golf season, will be held at Pebble Beach for the sixth time this week and first time since 2010.

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