The Day the Open Finally Lost It


The defending U.S. Open champion, Jim Furyk, shot a 79. But thats more or less understandable since, after all, hes recovering from wrist surgery.
OK, so Sergio Garcia had an 80 ' a quirk, maybe? But how about Ernie Els 80 or Scott Verplanks 83? Billy Mayfair rang up an 89, Tom Kite an 84, Craig Parry an 85. Hey ' whats going on here? Did these guys play three or four extra holes?
You cant blame the weather ' Shinnecock Hills was an absolute delight last week, only one evening of rain, no cold fronts moving through, breezes causing no more concern than they do at any course in, say, Ohio, this time of year. And yet, once again the conditions of the course were completely out of whack for such a prestigious competition as the U.S. Open.
Im not going to presume all is wrong with the United States Golf Association. Undoubtedly some will think there was no problem at all, since all 156 players faced the same conditions ' more or less, anyway. There was much grumbling about the par-3 seventh green and the inconsistent syringing of it during Sunday. But before blame is pointed toward the USGA, hear what Walter Driver, the chairman of the USGA championship committee, had to say:
We start setting courses up for championships four and five years in advance, said Driver, and you cannot change an Open course setup in 12 hours. It's not possible.
So we went from having lots of compliments for what we did for three days, and then the wind blew harder and in a different direction than we anticipated, and you simply can't go redo the greens in 12 hours.
Driver is correct in that some blame for carnage has to do with abnormal weather conditions, conditions no one could predict a year or two ago when officials begun mapping out plans for this championship. However, the USGA must be blamed for 28 scores in the 80s the final round. The organization tries to get the course as close to the edge as possible, and all it takes is for one or two little glitches to occur when tournament week rolls around ' and all hell suddenly breaks loose. Its just not possible for 28 out of a weekend field of 66 to shoot in the 80s ' not when you start with the finest players on the planet.
We don't have a target stroke average for the field, said Driver, alluding to the bloated number in the 80s, so it would not be appropriate for me to say whether that was under or over our target. Yes, it was very high.
Frankly, I'm surprised. I would have expected the scores to be lower. But the course played more difficult than we expected it to and the scores were higher. But we don't manage toward a given score at any time, just the course got very dry and very fast and very hard.
Driver said he heard nothing but compliments the first three days for the way the course was set up. That may be a little overstated, but needless to say, it was nothing to match the crescendo on Sunday. And Driver most certainly heard the criticisms, too.
It did blow all night long, it did blow not in a prevailing way, he said. The prevailing wind usually brings moisture off the coast. This wind brought dry, hot air, dried the course out. We went out this morning and moved the hole locations that we had anticipated using on both 7 and 11 to put those in the most accessible and benign locations on those holes.
I putted most of the holes myself. I thought they were playable. That was at 7:30 this morning. By about 9:30 or 10:00 (a.m.) it was apparent that the golf course had continued to dry out in that hot wind and we started to start putting water on it.
We began syringing at the seventh hole and we syringed all the holes on the golf course at one time or another and some multiple times. So it was not just the seventh hole - although the seventh hole was particularly difficult - but we tried to maintain all of the greens in a consistent way.
You could tell the tournament was slowly getting out of hand as the week went on. Thursday and Friday it was very difficult, but still reasonably fair. Saturday was crazy golf on a few holes, but overall it was fair. Sunday it got totally out of control.
Jeff Maggert could see something ominous coming as the week moved on. He was one of those who contended as best they could, but on Sunday completely blew a gasket.
What everybody saw on TV speaks for itself, said Maggert. I mean, any sane person can be the judge of how the greens played and realize that it's a little ridiculous.
I really felt after Friday that they (the USGA) were going to let this happen to the golf course. They look up at the scoreboard and they see all those red numbers and they panic. They don't want 10-under to win their tournament, and that's just the philosophy that they've had forever.
Maggert wasnt entirely correct. The USGA does not want to see scores like Sundays at the Open ' thats embarrassing.
But they dont want to see 10 under, either. This week was probably one of the few times when 10 under would have been a perfectly sane number at the Open. The weather was nearly perfect, and many of the worlds best players were playing at their best.
Then came Sunday
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