The venues may change – from coastal Washington (Chambers Bay) to downtown Pennsylvania (Oakmont) but you can just tell it’s the highlight of the USGA’s year. Welcome to US Open week. They always like to torture the greens at America’s finest courses until they acquire a mottled, crunchy finish. All the better to torment the players with, my dear.
Like a severe – some would say fashionable – haircut, the shaved fairways abruptly give way to something that should never be described as though often is as semi-rough and, a yard or so later, the silly stuff.
Subtle it ain’t but US Open week does make for compelling viewing.
Of course, if you continually take somewhere like Shinnecock Hills, which is broadly able to look after itself anyway, right up to the edge then you are inevitably going to overdo it on occasions.
While we all enjoy seeing the best players in the world tested to the absolute limits of their ability, I’m not sure the punishment always fits the crime. If indeed a minor misdemeanour like hitting it six feet right, left, short or long of a certain flag can be categorised as a crime.
That was the concern at Shinnecock Hills yesterday. It was a day when several high-profile players returned scores they last posted as juniors in the monthly medal. There were morning 80s for Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley. There were 79s for Charl Schwartzel and Jason Day. And a 78 for Jordan Spieth . In the afternoon, the likes of Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer suffered similar fates. And that was just the past major champions.
I have a theory, that I am increasingly convincing myself with, if no-one else, that Mike Davis is obsessed with links golf. No matter where the US Open is played, he seems to want to turn it into some kind of bone-hard, bouncy playground. That’s admirable, in some respects, and we Brits should be flattered. But this style of golf only really works on flat pieces of land.
It’s fine – desirable even– for fairways and greens on such courses to be uneven. What you are not looking for are 50-yard run-offs and tee shots that are a bit like pushing the first in a long line of dominoes then standing back to see where it will eventually finish. Add in unusually strong winds and this is the result.
On the 10th, Justin Thomas used a mid-iron to send his ball bouncing down the hill and left himself a downwind wedge shot from a hanging lie to a green that was above him, with a back flag hanging off the rear of the green. There were too many factors to compute. The world No 2 laid a sod over his ball and eventually holed an unpleasant five-footer for a one-putt double bogey. Welcome to our world, Justin. That was all fair enough.
Less so was watching players four-putt from 20 feet thanks to extreme slopes and questionable pin positions. Or drives wandering happily down fairways only to bumble into something disgustingly lush with their last roll.
The point is, with a course as good as William Flynn’s Shinnecock Hills – and the same is true for most US Open venues – there is no real need to turn the difficulty up to 11 in a bid to identify the most deserving winner. Just present these masterpieces in the best possible conditions and let the golf speak for itself in US Open week.