Mike Davis hasn’t caused this much consternation since he spoke at a PGA Tour players meeting about the evils of the long putter.
Only this time, he was extolling the virtues of Chambers Bay.
Maybe to a fault.
The USGA’s executive director hosted a preview of the mysterious U.S. Open course south of Seattle and suggested that even the best in golf will have little chance unless they arrive early and play often.
”The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and having your caddie just walk it and using your yardage book, that person’s done,” Davis said. ”Will not win the U.S. Open.”
In the three weeks since that bold prediction, the reaction has been, well, predictable.
”We’ll play for second,” former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson said at Quail Hollow with no shortage of sarcasm.
”What’s Mike Davis’ handicap?” asked Rory McIlroy, another U.S. Open champion and the best player in the world, something Davis is not. It was a playful reminder that amateurs who run tournaments should not underestimate the skill of those who do this for a living.
No amount of chirping would be complete without Ian Poulter weighing in. Never mind that Poulter has never seen Chambers Bay. He listened to a few players who made scouting trips on their way to the Match Play Championship and tweeted, ”The reports back are its a complete farce. I guess someone has to win.”
The U.S. Open begins June 18. In some respects, it already has started.
With one comment about what will be required for a golf course hardly anyone knows, Davis added a layer of mystique to Chambers Bay. And perhaps he introduced the one element of a U.S. Open that often gets overlooked.
It’s all about attitude.
Jack Nicklaus is famous for saying how he would listen to players complain about the U.S. Open and figure that was one less guy to beat that week.
”It’s a massive advantage if you get your head in the right place before you go,” Geoff Ogilvy said.
Davis didn’t make the comment with intentions of putting the world’s best players in a foul mood before they even arrive in the Pacific Northwest next month. Given a chance to clarify, he said his point was strategy should be as important as a good short game.
He believes course knowledge will be imperative because of the grass, the elevation changes and sprawling fairways so unlike a U.S. Open test. It’s not about how far the ball goes in the air. It’s what happens when it’s on the ground. The yardage book, to his point, only helps so much. And he lamented the drop in practice rounds as players appeared more concerned with conserving energy than studying for the toughest test in golf.
”My point is, we’ve seen a trend where golfers are coming and lot of them play nine holes a day and do it for two days,” Davis said. ”In the old days, they’d come in and play three or four rounds. And they’re not doing that anymore for different reasons.”
Jack Fleck once played 188 holes over five days of practice at Olympic Club in 1955, the year he beat Ben Hogan in a playoff. That’s a little extreme. Phil Mickelson can take two days to play 18 holes as he meticulously studies a course, particularly around the greens. That’s Phil.
”Take Merion,” Davis said, referring to the 2013 U.S. Open. ”No one played Merion more and studied it more than Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson. They spent more time than anybody studying the intricacies of Merion. And guess who finished 1-2?”
Mickelson, however, was asked which U.S. Open course caused him to spend the most time in preparation. Merion was mentioned, and Mickelson dismissed it.
”It’s a pretty straightforward course, Merion,” he said. ”I think maybe Shinnecock was a course that I found there were important areas to know where to go, where not to go, that might be surprising if you played it the first time.”
Any player would be foolish not to see Chambers Bay before arriving for the U.S. Open. Mickelson plans to head there next week, after it closes to the public and before he embarks on his schedule of playing the two PGA Tour events before the Open.
It’s impractical, bordering on arrogant, for the USGA to expect golfers to drop everything and go to the far end of the country for one tournament.
”With the way the tour is, no one is going to go out there and play 10 practice rounds,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy believes preparation is meaningless if he doesn’t have his game. He plans a few practice rounds the weekend before the U.S. Open, another one during the week. That’s three practice rounds, which is one more than two, meaning Davis can’t rule him out just yet. Right?
But what about the players who don’t qualify until the Monday before U.S. Open week? Or the players — two of them last year —who qualify through the world ranking on the Monday of U.S. Open week?
”Will not win the U.S. Open,” is what Davis said.
Someone will. Someone always does. It could be a surprise, much like the golf course.