The US Open: The finest athletes playing their sport right on the limit, just where it should be.
Just don’t try this at home.
There is much populist nonsense written about the US Open, the USGA and Mike Davis. We live in a noisy world where opinion takes hold online, gets distilled to 140 characters and becomes, in the era of post-truth, fact.
The USGA, we are led to believe, are idiots who couldn’t run a tournament even if they had access to the world’s greatest golf courses, players and limitless budget which they, err, do. Mike Davis’s sanity is somewhere between Homer Simpson and Boris Johnson and the US Open produces winners more befitting of Camelot. That is what we are told and happily go along with it.
It isn’t true though, is it? Look at the list of winners and venues in the last few years: Jordan Spieth beating Dustin Johnson in one of the most memorable major venues of my lifetime; Rory McIlroy running away with it at Congressional after his Augusta collapse; Martin Kaymer similarly destroying the field at a sensational Pinehurst; Justin Rose holding off perennial bridesmaid Phil Mickelson; Graeme McDowell benefitting from a seemingly annual DJ head’s-gone at Pebble; and the very same DJ finally getting over the line amid controversy last year.
(We will gloss over Webb Simpson at Olympic in 2012. I was asleep and so were you.)
That aside, the last seven years have produced consistently brilliant tournaments and interesting, different, and, in most cases, great venues. It is golf at the limit, at the very extreme of what is possible and once a year it is what separates it and elevates it from the run of the mill.
And long may it continue.
Of course the players don’t like it, it makes some of them look stupid. They don’t like Muirfield when the grass has died or Carnoustie when the wind blows either. It is out of their comfort zone and no one likes it there.
Popular opinion says the USGA are setting a bad example of how golf should present itself. High scores turn people off, six-hour rounds do nothing to grow the game, people want to see birdies not bogeys.
While sympathetic, the ire is misdirected and the point of view too simplistic. Let’s get this straight: newcomers to golf to do not turn on the US Open and say “Goodness me he is five over par, not for me thank you.” They don’t know what par is. They don’t know what golf is. So just forget the participation point now.
The problem comes when courses owners, managers, and architects try and ape US Open type environments. Creating environments where people are welcome, the sport is possible for anyone to play, and the game is made easier not harder is absolutely essential.
Away from the US Open we need characteristics like no rough, ground assistance and total yardages from forward tees well under 6,000 yards. Golf insists on making a virtue of how difficult it is. Read any golf course website and you’re welcomed with descriptions like “this brute of a par 4”, “the fiendishly difficult hole”, and “not for the faint-hearted”.
What a perverse way to make something appealing. While dress codes and other such arguments are for another day, this is where the facility and the marketing of the facility is driving people away. Not at the US Open.
If you understand what is happening at the US Open, you are already hooked, you already get it, you are already one of us. So for goodness sake, think about it, embrace the difference, the quirks and the variety. Because we need it.
The USGA give us something amazing to talk about year in, year out. They give us driveable par 4s, unreachable par 3s, par 5s that become par 4s; they give us scores in the 60s, 70s and 80s; and they give us great champions.
Celebrate it. Just don’t criticise it or, most importantly, copy it.