Some likened it to golf on the moon. Others compared the greens to some of their favorite vegetables.
Like it or not, the USGA’s decision to send its most prestigious championship to Chambers Bay was certainly a grand experiment. Forged out of a former rock quarry along the Puget Sound, the course didn’t have the history of most other major venues. It also didn’t have much green grass – or any grass at all in some parts - as more than a few players were quick to point out.
USGA executive director Mike Davis was seen as the visionary behind bringing a U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and he certainly didn’t release the reins once tournament week arrived. The course offered Davis a malleable setup and he took full advantage, creating a layout that was part golf, part pinball. In his most-discussed setup move of the week, Davis flipped the par on Nos. 1 and 18 from round to round, drawing the ire of many in the field in the process.
Beyond the quirks and the browned-out aesthetic that had viewers adjusting their television sets, the tournament got one thing right: it provided a deserving champion. While we may have been within one errant drive of “Branden Grace, U.S. Open champion,” in the end it was Jordan Spieth who walked away with the hardware, a result that in many ways validated the choice of Chambers as host venue. The best rose to the top, just as it had there in 2010 when top-ranked Peter Uihlein won the U.S. Amateur.
But more so than most tournaments, this Open was arguably marked more by who lost than who won. Spieth captured his second straight major, sure, but this will forever be known as Dustin’s Folly. It seemed from his opening-round 65 that this place was ideally suited for Dustin Johnson, a brawny layout that matched his game and accentuated its strengths. He seemed in great position deep into the weekend, well beyond the point at which he had fallen away in previous majors, and carried a share of the lead into the final round.
And it was still his tournament when he strode to the 72nd green, surveying an eagle putt to win and assured of a playoff with Spieth had he simply two-putted from inside 20 feet. But his first putt missed, and the next one did too, and suddenly Johnson hurried off into the sunset, his fiancée and newborn son at his side, without even bothering to collect his runner-up medal.
It all made for a memorable conclusion, but Chambers Bay earned a spot on this list for more than just the tournament’s final stanza. Player criticism over the course layout, somewhat of an annual tradition at the season’s second major, was louder and more pointed than at any venue since the water hoses were spotted at Shinnecock Hills 11 years ago.
Billy Horschel became the poster boy for anti-Chambers vitriol, capping his final-round press conference by proclaiming that he had “lost respect” for the USGA. Those sentiments were also echoed by Chris Kirk, while Henrik Stenson said the splotchy, barren greens were like “putting on broccoli.” Rory McIlroy went one step further, likening them to cauliflower – according to McIlroy, they weren’t green enough to be broccoli.
Even local favorite Michael Putnam – who played the first-ever round at Chambers Bay – derided the putting surfaces, adding that the greens should be switched entirely to poa annua before the tournament ever returns.
And it probably will return, too. Future Open venues are booked through 2024, but all signs point to Chambers Bay being seriously considered as the host in 2025.
Aside from an eventful final round, the course also provided plenty of highlights – and lowlights – throughout the week. There was Louis Oosthuizen’s closing 29, a furious rally that allowed him to earn runner-up honors despite a disastrous opening round. And there was Jason Day, felled by a mid-round bout of vertigo and pushed to his limit while playing some of the best golf of his career.
Day’s watershed moment came months later at the PGA Championship, but it was here – parked for the week in an RV just steps from the driving range – that the Aussie steeled his nerves in the face of an intense physical battle.
And of course there was Tiger Woods, who was the last man on that range Wednesday evening, trying to dig answers from the pseudo-lunar dirt. He found none, bowing out with an opening 80 that was perhaps a worse round than even the score indicated. Woods capped it off by cold-topping a 3-wood into the “Chambers Basement,” a bunker Davis had explained just days earlier would not be in play all week.
But Woods found it, although he found little else en route to a missed cut that became emblematic of his lost season.
Entering the week, few knew what to expect from this unseen layout carved far from the sport’s familiar path. By many metrics, it exceeded expectations. According to others, it was woefully underwhelming.
But regardless of personal opinions about Chambers Bay, one thing is certain: the course, and the tournament, were memorable.