Don’t screw up another major championship ...
And please get back to your primary mission ...
That’s pretty much what Adam Scott told the USGA Sunday after he finished his final round at the Memorial.
When a respected voice of restraint and reason uncharacteristically sticks his neck out to chastise the governing body that sets up the U.S. Open, we all ought to pay attention.
The USGA must feel like it got scolded by Atticus Finch.
Or John Boy Walton.
Scott parses his words carefully. There’s no history of histrionics with him, quite the contrary. Out on tour, he’s a voice you take seriously. He has made his opinions matter because they’ve been so measured.
Still, the knee-jerk reaction from the public at large is a backlash against Scott. There are already those depicting him as just another entitled pro “whining” about the few times a year he faces tough conditions.
That’s not what I’m hearing in Scott’s words, though I’d actually like to hear more from him, an even deeper dive into what bothers him about USGA setups and rule making.
“Hopefully, they get it right this time, from a playability standpoint,” Scott said of the U.S. Open setup at Erin Hills next week.
Obviously, Scott believes the USGA has been getting too many things wrong.
“Let’s just have something that’s a challenge and interesting, not just playing brutal,” he said.
Really, this all comes down to how Scott defines brutal.
I seriously doubt he is defining brutal as exacting, demanding and tough.
I suspect he’s just fine with that as a challenge. I suspect he defines brutal as “tricked up,” where the USGA pushes shot making too close to the edge, where luck blurs a line with skill, because that’s where the USGA has veered too often. It’s where the USGA has almost forced the game to go, to keep making par a good score at the U.S. Open, with the ball and equipment making “skill,” more than it’s ever been, about power.
Scott seems to be concerned green speeds are getting out of control, to the point where a player doesn’t know if his ball is going to inexplicably start rolling off a subtle crest as he sets up over it with his putter, a la the Dustin Johnson debacle at Oakmont last year.
Or if the greens will suddenly become like putting on broccoli (Henrik Stenson said that at Chambers Bay two years ago) or on cauliflower (Rory McIlroy said that at Chambers Bay). I suspect Scott would be fine with par legitimately being a good score, but that’s the problem.
Par isn’t really a good score in U.S. Opens anymore. It too often requires tricky tightrope walks to make par a good overall score. To get par as the winning score on most venues, the setup has to be so extreme it flirts with unfair.
Yes, the last three U.S. Opens have been won with under-par totals, but imagine how tricked up Oakmont, Chambers Bay and Pinehurst would have to have been to make par a winning score.
Four years ago, Justin Rose won Merion with a 1-over-par 281 total. Even that came with what some players complained was trickery, with some claiming a few Merion fairways were cut and routed differently from its natural design.
“Maybe it’s time to do away with the even-par target, just thinking about the bigger picture of the game of golf,” Scott said. “Maybe we should get the numbers out of our heads and try a new strategy.”
Blame how liberal “regulation” of ball and equipment advances has disproportionately favored power players, with so many 330- and 340-yard drives launched today.
Scott is a power player, and so whether that’s one of the issues he has with the game’s governance is unclear in this particular conversation. What’s clear is he has issues with the game’s governance.
“I think they’ve really dropped the ball where the game is at, over the last 20 years especially,” Scott said. “I know their intent is not to do that. I don’t question their intent at all ... I guess their primary role of administering and looking after the game, they’ve kind of dropped the ball in that sense and gotten worried about other things.”
Mostly, what I’m hearing in Scott is that he doesn’t trust the USGA to get its setups right. That mistrust is the damning tone I hear.
“They’ve taken criticism over the last two years,” Scott said. “I’m sure they’re not liking it. They’re going to have to try to run a really good event. The ball is in their court. They control it all.”
This is a voice of restraint and reason the USGA should find worthy of courting. It’s a voice we all should try harder to understand.