U.S. Open at Chambers Bay: Van Cynical Mailbag

June 16, 2015

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash.—The first thing you’ll notice about this week’s U.S. Open here at Chambers Bay is the color. Do not adjust your television. Yes, it’s more brown than green and no, you can’t really tell where the putting surface ends and the fairway begins.

This is a different kind of Open. It will, indeed, look more like a British Open than a U.S. Open and with the currently very firm conditions, may play that way, too.

It’s going to be fun, one way or another, and a lot of American golfers are going to watch this week’s telecast and think, man, I have got to go play that course. I will tell you that it is a true a-ha moment when you turn into the course entrance and suddenly face a stunning panorama. You’re on a ridge overlooking Puget Sound, the golf course to your right and the range and other buildings to your left and the entrance road curves slowly down about a 200-foot drop. I can’t think of another course whose first entrance view has such a wow factor.

Viewers will enjoy the scenery this week, if nothing else. Beyond that, most of us still aren’t quite sure what to expect – which will make this U.S. Open exciting for a different reason than usual.

But enough about me. The Van Cynical Mailbag awaits. Fan mail from a flounder? Why, yes!

Czar Cynical, If Tiger makes the cut at Chambers Bay, should we call it his 15th professional major victory?—Brian Bailey via Twitter

No, but if you really want to, I suppose you could breathlessly shout, “He’s back! He’s really back!” It’s your call, Bailiwick.

Van Cyclical, Who is going to finish T-43rd at this year’s U.S. Open?—Brian Bailey via Twitter

What’s going on, Bailjumper? The Van Cynical Mailbag doesn’t have BOGO’s—Buy one, Get one. One query to a customer. But since you asked who’s going to be 43rd instead of who’s going to win, I’ll go with Charley Hoffman and Branden Grace. How did I come up with them? A very complicated system of coin flips.

Vans, “Papago in Phoenix has a Bethpage Black feel to it?” Are you kidding me? I’ve played that course. It’s not that great.—Big Mark via Twitter

I’ll excuse your literal interpretation. Did I say it was great? I did not. Just said it had the same feel—big, sprawling, open, a lot of real estate. It could maybe host an Open after a $10 million re-do but as I said, nobody is holding a major in Arizona in the summer.

GVS Pharmacy, I’ve got a hunch about Phil at the Open (St. Andrews not Chambers, however)…Vans, would that surprise you in the least?—Michael O’Connor via Twitter

You picking him is not a surprise. Chambers Bay is such an unknown quantity that I’m not sure any winner would be a surprise, including Jake Knapp, Garth Mulroy or Shunsuke Sonoda. Phil would be a slightly more compelling story than them, no offense.

Van Cynical, How does emphasis on bounces, course knowledge (which players won’t have) square with supposed finding best player objective?—Lionel Mandrake via Twitter

Oh, Mandy, you came and you gave without taking and I sent you away… Aye, Rub of the Green was a foundation from the very origins of golf. As 60-degree wedges, metal woods and 320-yard drives evolved, luck has become slightly less of a factor but it has always been part of the game. Adapting to the bounces, anticipating them, that’s part of local knowledge. Maybe Ben Curtis wasn’t supposed to win a major but at Royal St. George’s, a ping-pong table of a course, he played the bounces better than anyone. It may not be ideal but is it that different from a ballgame at Wrigley Field when the wind is blowing out?

Van Cynical, Why do pros keep complaining about a course that is much more like original golf than the manicured tracks of recent?—Jabuti Trader

Because the manicured tracks are all they know, are all they’ve ever known. How many beat-up muni courses with bare greens do you think most of these college scholarship, silver-spoon, country-club kids have ever played in their lives? For a lot of them it’s zero. Many don’t have experience on real links in Scotland. I’d love to see a Muni Open on the tour where conditions were awful, the bunkers were an inconsistent mix of gravel, dirt and sand, the greens have aeration marks and the fairways have bare spots like the public courses I grew up playing. Oh, and the tournament shouldn’t have tee times. The player has to drop his ball in the rack on the first tee. First-come, first-served.

Van the Man Cynical, With so many players dumping on the U.S. Open venue, do you support changing the name to Chambers Pot?—CapBozo via Twitter

I will if you promise to empty it out back every couple of hours.

Sickle Me Elmo, If a train is headed to Seattle and another heads to Tacoma at the same speed… will Donald Trump say the course looks bad?—Eric Houser via Twitter

He probably would if he wasn’t too busy pretending to run for President. Now he’ll have to say how good both sides of the track look. That said, The Donald may just be jealous that a relatively new course he doesn’t own scored an Open and he can’t land one for his properties.

Van Cynical, Is Tiger done? Time to stick a fork in him?—TexDanR via Twitter

The easy way out, Tex, is to say yes. But golf is a game where your skill level can change dramatically overnight, for better or worse, with swing changes. The way he played when he shot 85 at Memorial isn’t the way he’ll play on Thursday. Or Friday. Tiger will always be able to hit his irons. While it doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to recover his game, I wouldn’t count him out… probably ever. He’s got too much ability and he’s too smart.

Custom Vans Cynical, How high does the winning score have to be for it to be universally declared a disaster?—ris B via Twitter

Barring wild weather, a winning score over par would indicate that a course is too tricked up and probably didn’t identify the best player. A winning score of 6-over, without 40 mph winds, would be a disaster. Also, a lack of media shuttles and media parking would likewise lead to a disaster assessment.

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