#AskAlan mailbag: Why is the USGA so worried about complaining PGA Tour pros?

June 19, 2019

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your burning questions about a kinder, tamer U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the USGA caving to Tour pros complaints and more.

Woodland’s 3-wood was one of the most clutch shots in a major. Where does it rank for you? [email protected]

That was tremendous – so many things could have gone wrong on that approach to the dastardly 14th green, and to have the stones to pull off that shot while nursing a one-stroke lead tells you more or less everything you need to know about G-Dub. (Sorry. Forgive me. I promise to never, ever even think that again, let alone type it.)

But Woodland’s mighty clout has to rank a notch below the all-time classic 72nd hole shots, because if he screws up the 3-wood he could still save par, and even if he takes bogey he still has a piece of the lead and there are still four pretty scorable holes ahead, including a par-5. So I’m putting it right below the do-or-die final hole dramatics that include Ben Hogan’s 1-iron, Jack Fleck’s 7-iron, Jerry Pate’s 5-iron, Shaun Micheel’s 7-iron, Sandy Lyle’s 7-iron, Corey Pavin’s 4-wood, Arnold Palmer’s 6-iron and sundry others.

Has there ever been a nicer and more likable guy on the PGA Tour than Gary Woodland? I can’t think of a bad thing about the guy. He seems to be a genuine, decent, good human being. [email protected]_latina25

Yes, this victory was popular in the locker room, caddie yard and press tent because Woodland really is as nice and genuine as he seems. Yet he’s hardly boring – his athletic background is compelling, the family heartbreak from two years ago is wrenching, and his golf borders on the spectacular, as we saw down the stretch at Pebble.

Following the results the last 3 years, how many U.S. Open trophies will Brooks have when he arrives back at Pebble in 2027? And will he be the U.S. Open favorite every year between now and then, regardless of venue? [email protected]_H_Clark

He’s certainly the favorite for the foreseeable future, but we said the same thing about Tiger in June 2008 and Rory in the summer of ’14. Life can get in the way, as even Brooks discovered last year with his wrist injury. But it’s hard to think of a more diverse trio of golf courses than Erin Hills-Shinnecock-Pebble Beach. Throw in the recent near-miss at Augusta National, and it’s clear that Brooks is a menace on any course at any time, but most especially at the U.S. Open.

Brooks Koepka didn't win this U.S. Open, but he'll be the favorite for along time to come.
Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports

Even though he’s on this legendary run, for you, as someone who remembers the famous misses as much as the makes, any chance Brooks’ missed 72nd hole putts at Masters and U.S. Open remain stuck in your head the same way Spieth’s miss on the Road Hole at ’15 British has? [email protected]

The Spieth comparison is a good one because when it comes to golf history you usually only get one bite at the apple: in their long and fruitful careers Arnie, Jack and Tiger each went the Open Championship chasing the Grand Slam only once. Spieth put himself in the same position and then did all the hard work for 70 holes at the Old Course, only to be betrayed by his money-maker at the worst possible moment.

As good as Brooks is, it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever have another chance at a U.S. Open three-peat. And when it was there for the taking he simply couldn’t make any putts down the stretch, just as he missed very makable birdie tries on 17 and 18 at the Masters, each of which could have substantially altered the outcome. That leaves a mark. You can’t win them all, and Brooks has already won way more than most. But you never know when the opportunities are going to dry up (see Spieth, J.), so every missed chance looms large.

Whining players > non-whining players during the U.S. Open? [email protected]

Oh, hell yes. Going back decades, the soundtrack to every U.S. Open was the plaintive wailing of the players. That’s how we knew it was our national championship. “Fair” is often codeword for too easy, so I knew we were in trouble when the players universally employed that word to praise the Pebble setup. I pray that future Opens will feature the appropriate amount of kvetching.

How would you rank the U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach in order of best to worst? [email protected]

’82, ’72, ’00, ’19, ’92, ’10.

Wouldn’t a simple solution to the “mashed potatoes” morons be to simply turn off the tee mics? We typically don’t get any earth shattering quotes from the players and as soon as the idiots realize they won’t be “on tv” it would hopefully stop! [email protected]

Yes, this would be a massive help but also a monumental loss for the rest of us, because the impact sound from Tour players is one of life’s great pleasures. It can sometimes tell you more about a shot than any press conference platitude. You know what would be a really simple solution? For fans at golf tournaments to stop being jabronis.

Have you ever seen more spitting on a golf course by players? [email protected]

Seriously, all the expectorations are gross, and tacky. Can’t these guys just be normal and chew CBD gum like everyone else?

What’s your take on the new 13th and 14th greens? I have to say, I was a little sad to see them look so toothless. [email protected]

The old slopes had probably become too severe if Pebble was going to be a firm, fast, fiery test. Alas, with this kinder, gentler USGA setup I agree both greens lost their bite and changed the complexion of the holes. Hopefully in 2027 the course will be a racetrack and 13 and 14 will demand more precise and creative shotmaking.

If you could play 18 total holes at pebble beach, how are you allocating them (i.e., you could theoretically play #7 18 times)? [email protected]_bud

I wouldn’t change much because I love the course how it is. But I find that tee shot on 3 to be vexing, 12 doesn’t make my heart pound, and we can do a lot better than 15, so I’ll skip those three holes and go around twice on 6, 7 and 8.

Will we look back at 2019 as the year the USGA abandoned par as the yardstick for its flagship shindig? And was that a conscious decision, to do it at Pebble where there is so much love for the place (course/historic winners/views/etc) that they could get away with it? [email protected]

The players won. That’s the short explanation for what we saw at Pebble. Course setups don’t happen in a vacuum. They’re done by human beings, who have emotions and agendas and mundane concerns such as staying employed.

All the bellyaching by the players put the USGA in such a defensive crouch that the setup folks were forced to err on the side of caution. So when the weather turned hot the blue coats drenched Pebble Beach with water – in the run-up to the tournament, that meant more than 400,000 gallons a day, when Pebble ordinarily gets only 200-250K. When the cool, foggy weather arrived – which is typical for June and had been in the forecast a week+ out – there was no way to put the fire back in the course, even if the USGA had been so inclined.

So, yes, this was a choice that was made, to allow for lower scoring and happier players, and to avoid any headline-making screwups. It made perfect sense given the controversies of recent years. And seaside courses are always tricky. If the USGA baked out the course and then a big wind came in the howling could have been deafening. Winged Foot next year will be the big test. It’s inland and the weather is predictable (warm, muggy). The positive player reaction from this year takes some pressure off the USGA. If that’s also a benign setup we’ll know something fundamental has changed.

The setup at Pebble Beach turned out to be easier than we've come to expect at the U.S. Open.
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

What are your thoughts on seeing a rivalry of Brooks, Gary Woodland and who’s the third?? [email protected]_ware

Yes, please. How about Dustin? Another big, strong baller with an excess of jock swagger. Or, dare we say it, Rory? I’d love to see Spieth get back to his winning ways, because he provides such a nice contrast in game and demeanor. We just need someone/anyone to step up and challenge Brooks’ hegemony. I’ll be delighted if it’s Woodland.

Who wins the most majors? Schauffele, Cantlay, Hovland, Wise or DeChambeau? [email protected]

Wolff.

Why is the USGA so worried about pissing already spoiled players off? What are they going to do, not play the U.S. Open? [email protected]

The idea that some of the top stars considered boycotting the national championship is hilarious. Can you imagine how that would have played in the larger sports world? Boycotting because they didn’t like a few pin positions at Shinnecock? Or bumpy greens at Chambers Bay? They would have gotten killlllled as being entitled prima donnas. It would have been the biggest black eye for the game since…various entitled prima donnas perpetrated a Zika hoax and boycotted the Olympics.

Is Rickie the consensus “best player who hasn’t won a major?” Seems like he may have some new/younger guys to contend with for that title these days. [email protected]

A couple of years ago there was a pretty strong feeling that it was either Fowler or Kuchar. But this a fickle, ephemeral title, and Rickie hasn’t made any noise in the last half-dozen majors. A key part of being the BPNTHWAM is a sense that you’re on the verge of breaking through. A decade into his career, can we say that about Fowler? You also can’t be too callow or too old. Kuch turns 41 this week – has his time passed?

I think we could make a strong case for Bryson: he has already matched Rickie’s career win total and is more than halfway to Kuchar’s, at the age of 25. But to be the BPNTHWAM you have to have had your heart broken at a major or two, and DeChambeau has yet to contend in any of them. Tommy Fleetwood has been there in the crunch but, notwithstanding his great play at the Ryder Cup, he hasn’t won a tournament in a year and a half. Jon Rahm needs a little more body of work. A strong stealth candidate is Xander Schauffele, who always seems to show up in the biggest events. But he also still might be a little too young.

All of this is to say, there is no consensus candidate. Where is Phil or Monty when you really need them?

What do you imagine the U.S. Open in 2027 will look like at Pebble Beach? Any major course changes? Will USGA have addressed the technology/distance explosions by then? Will par have to be 68 or 69? [email protected]

Oh gawd, too soon! I’d like to savor this one a little longer before working myself into a lather about ’27.

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