Memo to the USGA: It’s time to put some teeth back in this U.S. Open
ERIN, Wis. — What an Open. Record-breaking scores, fairways the width of football fields, adjectives like “fair,” “scoreable,” even “easy” rolling off players’ tongues.
It’s been a blast.
But it’s time to get serious, USGA. It’s time to get mean. It’s time to inflict some pain.
Lest you’ve forgotten, this is the U.S. freakin’ Open, the so-called ultimate test. The Open should be the LSATs, MCATs and Mensa exam all rolled into one. It should make the Barkley Marathons look like a family fun run. It should make grown men weep for their mommies. So far this 117th Open has felt more like a third-grade spelling bee in which every little Tom, Dick and Sally goes home with a ribbon. Thirty-nine rounds under par, 18 scores in the 60s, a record-breaking 63—no, not through three rounds, in the third round alone. It’s been more like “the Milwaukee Open,” Johnny Miller woofed.
“Yeah, it’s a bit different,” Louis Oosthuizen said Saturday after a ho-hum four-under 68. “It’s a little friendlier than a normal U.S. Open set-up.”
Friendly? The Open should be a steel-knuckled bully that kicks players in their shins and squashes them into lockers.
“It’s gettable,” said Zach Johnson after helping himself to a 68 of his own.
Golden Corral buffets should be gettable, not U.S. Open setups.
“Nobody’s playing with any fear,” Matt Kuchar’s caddie, John Wood, told Fox analyst Brad Faxon.
The pros should be petrified.
And the wide-eyed amateurs? They should be so nervy that they need Depends. Instead they’ve been having themselves a grand old time. On Thursday, Dru Love, son of Davis, playing in his first U.S. Open, all but high-stepped off the course after posting a 71. “The course is playing—” and here he paused, presumably not wanting to offend anyone. But alas he dropped the e-bomb anyway. “I thought it was pretty easy,” he said. Somewhere Sandy Tatum was wincing.
Steve Stricker was among the players who enjoyed the favorable conditions Saturday. Strick dropped a couple of birdies at 14 and 15, just missed another at 16, then picked up another stroke at the 523-yard, par-4 17th. “I was trying all the way around to make birdies,” he said. Stricker was half-joking, but it says something that a 50-year-old part-time pro feels loose enough to drop one-liners after playing a U.S. Open setup.
One former Open champion wasn’t quite so amused. Speaking anonymously for fear of upsetting the blue coats, the veteran grew glassy-eyed when he told me Saturday afternoon that this is “not what the Open is supposed to be. It’s a joke, a highlight show.”
“I suspect if you call 25 former champions none of them would be very happy about it,” he said of the red all over the leader boards. “It’ll be the same thing tomorrow,” he added. “What are you going to do? You can’t grow the rough, you can’t tighten the fairways, you can’t really speed up the greens. It’s indefensible.”
Don’t blame Erin Hills. It’s a terrific course. The design rewards brawn, demands precision and encourages strategy, and the players genuinely seem to like it (birdies have that effect). But with so much rain, the greens have been neutered, and with so little wind, players have been emboldened.
Rickie Fowler knows it. Which is why after a third-round 68 that has him two behind leader Brian Harman, Fowler predicted we’ll see players on the offensive tomorrow. That old saw about making par your friend at the U.S. Open? Pssh. On Sunday players best make birdies their buds.
Unless Mike Davis and his minions decide otherwise. It’s not too late, team. Crank up the fans and roll those greens, tuck those pins and stretch those tees. Remember your roots. At the 2007 Open at Oakmont the second-round scoring average was nearly 77 and Tiger Woods proclaimed a 10-handicapper couldn’t break 100. Now that was a U.S. Open. At the 1951 edition at Oakland Hills, Ben Hogan opened 76-73 and still won the title. Now that was a U.S. Open. At the Winged Foot “Massacre” in ’74, Sam Snead broke a rib during his practice round and not a single player broke par for the tournament. Yes, that was a U.S. Open, too.
It’s time to get mean again, USGA.
It’s time to put the U.S. Open back in this U.S. Open.