US Open rough? You're missing the point
The height and ferocity – or otherwise – of the rough is the least of the USGA’s worries at Erin Hills.
The last time a US Open was truly defined by the field spending a week hacking out of genetically modified spinach was more than a decade ago and even then, at Winged Foot in 2006, Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie both double-bogeying the incredibly demanding closing hole only added to the drama.
It was actually back in the 1990s when the tournament for a while became one-dimensional in terms of its set-up.
I’ll make a prediction now, which is that the Erin Hills fescue is more for show than it is to punish the world’s best for a slightly leaked 3-wood.
The USGA, for reasons best known to themselves, currently seem to have a more pronounced obsession with trying to recreate the Open Championship in their own national showpiece than they do unplayable long grass.
That’s why you’ll see fields of fescue grasses swaying in the Wisconsin breeze a thousand miles away from the nearest ocean.
A friend of mine recently told me a story relating to a visit to Chambers Bay three years ago, ahead of the US Open won by Jordan Spieth but chiefly remembered for the horrific greens, the surfaces of which were variously compared to broccoli and cabbage by the likes of Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy.
Eyebrows were raised at the greens even then, which were bare and brown. The caddie explained that if you knew anything about links golf you would appreciate this was just how the greens looked and played back in Scotland.
Unfortunately for him, as a vastly experienced links-lover, my friend was well aware this could not have been further from the truth.
It was this curious and misguided determination to replicate Troon and Turnberry, St Andrews and Sandwich, on a site in the Pacific North West that could barely have been more agronomically contrasting that cost Chambers Bay its reputation before it had even had chance to establish one.
You would think the USGA could hardly have got it more wrong a year later. But that’s exactly what they managed to do when Dustin Johnson may or may not have caused his ball to move on the fifth green yet did not have a penalty applied until after his round had finished. Shane Lowry, the leader heading into Sunday, is still yet to recover from the trauma.
So that was another US Open tainted, but again not because of the rough.
Since the turn of the Millennium, I can think of only two other US Opens that have been notorious, and one of them, at 2009 at Bethpage when Lucas Glover eventually came out on top, was solely down to the dreadful weather.
Which leaves Shinnecock Hills in 2004. You may recall that during Sunday’s final round several greens had to be hosed down to bring the grass back to life. Meanwhile, from several greenside bunkers, the recovery was akin to stopping a ball on a car bonnet – it either rolled back into the bunker or off the other side.
Again, nothing to do with the rough, which won’t be the problem this year either. Some of the fairways at Erin Hills are more than 50 yards wide.
And anyway, it’s only the first couple of yards of fescue that are so impenetrable it led Kevin Na to call the USGA’s competence into question. Go further in, and it quickly thins out to lies from which even amateurs like us could affect an escape from.
Short of another rules-based controversy, then, the stage is surely set for a US Open that is memorable for all the right reasons.
And with a par of 72 in play for the first time in 25 years, I’m going to make one more prediction – the winning score will – shock horror – be under par.
Just don’t expect to see too many Scottish chip-and-runs.