It’s time to retire your old notions of the USGA and its premier championship. The committeemen are wearing short-sleeved shirts now — no ties, no blazers — and the courses, while still mightily demanding, are not the stranglefests they used to be. Mike Davis of the USGA set up the South course at Torrey Pines this year, Oakmont in Pittsburgh last year and Winged Foot in New York the year before that. All three had rough you could play out of, at least in places. All three had drivable par-4s. Good times, good times.
The USGA saved the supershort two-shotter at Torrey for the Sunday finale. The 14th played about 430 yards for the first three rounds. For Father’s Day, a gift for us and the gents playing out of the big bags: 267 yards, hole in the front right, playing in a left-to-right breeze. Go for it?
Golf is a head game, and the U.S. Open is the most head-gamish of all the majors. After 67 holes your brain is mush. On Sunday, standing on the 68th hole of the championship, the players had to make a decision they hadn’t made all week. It was an inspired move on Davis’s part, and it resulted in some agonizing choices. Just what we want.
In the penultimate pairing Rocco Mediate, tugging on a towel as he mulled it over, went for the green with a fairway wood, his high draw finishing in the front left bunker, from which he got up and down for birdie. Tiger Woods, in the final twosome, worried about hitting it over the green and laid up with an iron. Then he hit a full iron approach and made a two-putt par. It was chess.
The whole move — to bring the Open to Torrey, a true muni, owned and operated by the city of San Diego — was inspired. The cool, crisp weather made you forget your sweaty memories of all those steamy days at Southern Hills and Baltusrol and Oakland Hills. The setting evoked the British Open, especially the ones played in Scotland. The birdies and the eagles and the roars brought to mind the Masters, back in the day when the spring event was defined by birdies and eagles and roars, before the Masters morphed into the U.S. Open, won by Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman and other expert tacticians. The 108th U.S. Open had the best elements of a Masters and the best elements of a British Open, with the brackish Pacific air in your lungs all the while. What a delight. Is the U.S. Open returning to Torrey? You can book it.
Torrey Pines South will never be in the American pantheon, with Pebble Beach (a resort course) and Merion (a private course) and Bethpage Black (a muni), among other truly great U.S. Open tests. There are too many straight holes and flat lies, and there’s no inviting history. The short par-5 18th, with a hokey pond in front of the green, is nothing like a classic. Still, overall, it works, as a source of entertainment and as a challenge to the world’s best players. There are a half-dozen really memorable holes at Torrey — plus the 14th on Father’s Day 2008, with the tee up. As for history, you can make that over time, right?