US Open week is here, and it’s my favorite golf week of the year. Yes, the US Open beats the Masters for me. I’ve always loved the US Open and the endless possibilities. The guy who works a day job qualifies, or an amateur makes a run for the top ten. Storylines like that make everything seem so possible. From playing in US Open Locals back in the day to watching Roy McAvoy go through the qualifying stages, or even the tale of Francis Ouimet and The Greatest Game Ever Played. There’s just something about the US Open that is so special to me.
Of course, with the return of the US Open means the return of complaints about the golf course setup. Player’s complain about the difficulty of the setup, and us weekend warriors at home call them out and tell them things like “everyone has to play the same course.” We’ve all seen how this saga goes.
Personally, I don’t care if -14 or +1 wins the US Open. I don’t believe that a golf course should be set up to manufacture a certain score. We all agree that nobody wants to see -20 win a major, but we also don’t want to see the golf course setup saga steal the spotlight of the tournament and players, like it has in years past. I believe that the winning number should be determined by players, elements, and conditions. Open Championships are determined this way, in the home of golf. The R&A does not look to manufacture a score at the Open. If the week’s conditions are windy, rainy, and wet, then scores will be high. If the conditions are benign, then scores will be low, and the play of players will decide that. Not the course.
I believe that if you set up our local clubs to US Open conditions with 5-6 inch rough, 14.5 on the stimp, penal heather, and asked the pros to watch us play, then none of them would find it amusing to watch us shoot 94 and get beat up. So why do we find it amusing to watch the pros struggle? I get it, they played incredible conditions every week and one tough week a year shouldn’t be too much to ask for. Do you tip it out at your home course? Probably not if it’s much more than 7000 yards. Why not? Probably because it makes things too difficult, and if you move up a tee or two, then you are able to compete with par. Having fun with the game, as you should be.
The thing is, golf is better than ever right now and we should be embracing that. When pros, who can create absurd amounts of spin, have trouble holding greens from the fairway with short irons, or can’t even get their ball to come to rest on a green, then there are serious issues. Seeing a pro punch out of the rough from 160 back into the fairway because of a bad lie, isn’t all that fun to watch. Watching a pro punch back to the fairway from a penal lie next to a bunker or heather is a totally different story. I am all for a tough test in major golf, but the line has been drawn somewhere for manufacturing a score and who survives it, to letting the players play decide who the best is.
I believe part of the problem is picking the proper venues. I’ve always respected the USGA in the fact that in their championships they play the best courses. Whether it be the Senior Amateur or US Junior, they are always playing the best. One thing I can honestly say is that some “links” courses have been the most forgiving setups I have ever played, and that seems to be the direction of the US Open in the past couple years. You don’t have to have a 7800-yard course to test professionals, and you’ll see that this week at Pebble Beach. With proper architecture, and setup, pros can be tested thoroughly. There are plenty of courses that will create a thinking mans game. Bomb driver over the dogleg to 25 yards of slick fairway, or hit 3 iron out there and give yourself 150 I?. Which one gives you the best option to make birdie? Not a bombers paradise, but a sound design in which you must think yourself through. There are a few designs out there that have stood the test of time architecturally to the player, and those are the courses the USGA should be using. Not all locations will be the easiest logistically, but the setups will provide great golf without having to manufacture, and “make the course much harder than it already is”, to get a score.
The US Open will always be my favorite major. I was able to play Pebble Beach with my Dad when I was a senior in high school, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I wanted more than anything in my golf career to tee it up in a US Open at Pebble Beach. I wish was there this year, not even to play, but to just take the whole scene in. I look forward to the drama that Pebble will creates this week.