ARDMORE, Pa. – If golf's four major championships were brothers, the Masters would be Mom's favorite, always setting the table for dinner without being asked, then heading upstairs to study for a test that he already knew he would ace; the Open Championship would be the dreamer, prone to taking long walks in the rain and forever planning inglorious road trips; the PGA Championship would be the tag along, the little brother so quiet and agreeable that you'd almost forget he was there.
And then there's the U.S. Open. He's the troublemaker.
Towing the line between lovable scamp and caustic pain in the neck, the U.S. Open is the brother for whom everybody else needs to rearrange their schedules because of superfluous drama. From pulling an innocent prank to getting into a dust-up on the playground, he’s the one who spends more time in detention than the other three combined.
The U.S. Open is a war of attrition each year, but this week’s edition promises to reign supreme in the first-clenching category.
How come? Well, USGA executive director Mike Davis said he never believed they’d be able to bring this tournament back to Merion Golf Club. They’ve done it, but not without more than a few logistical nightmares.
Throw in Thursday’s promise of torrential rain and wind, and this is how a competitor’s opening round might begin:
• Warm up in the dark on a range that’s more than a mile from the first tee.
• Hop in a shuttle and sit for 20 minutes, rendering previous warm-up pointless.
• Jog with caddie to first tee in order to make tee time.
• Tee off in pouring rain.
• Second shot goes awry thanks to mud caked on the ball.
• Par putt stops short of the hole because a green that was 13 on the Stimpmeter in practice is now running about a 10 in the rain.
• Tap-in for bogey. Shake head. Grit teeth. Clench fists.
• Walk to second hole. Repeat.
If there’s one attribute players will need to have in order to contend this week, it won’t be length or accuracy or even a hot putter. No, at the U.S. Open, the biggest key is patience.
“I can’t think of one where you need more,” said 2003 champion Jim Furyk.
“I think the guys who don’t complain and just go with the flow this week, it will serve them well,” explained Robert Garrigus, who finished T-3 two years ago.
“It’s a U.S. Open,” Billy Horschel stated. “Everybody’s got to deal with stuff.”
Not that this is anything new. Four years ago, consistent rain forced a Monday finish at Bethpage Black; two years ago, it yielded a Congressional course so soft that Rory McIlroy obliterated tournament scoring records.
And so far this season, 12 of the 24 PGA Tour events contested have incurred weather delays totaling 29 delays over the first five months of the year.
“This whole year on the PGA Tour, it seems like we’ve had a lot of card games and waiting around,” Kevin Streelman said. “I wasn’t very good at it when I was 22. At 34, I realize this is my profession. I also believe that you can take out a good percentage of the field by staying patient, by being smart and just accept the situation that you have instead of moaning and complaining.”
“I’ll sit in traffic sometimes and I’ll be like, ‘You know what? This is good for me,’” Garrigus added. “I’m always in my car at home because I have a long way to drive to the golf course. I’m always in traffic. And I never get mad. So I kind of translate that to the golf course.”
Of course, patience is a learned trait.
While players can spend all day ripping drivers on the range or rapping putts on the green, practicing patience is much less tangible, though not impossible.
A lot of people are impatient; this entire country is impatient,” Garrigus said. “But I think golf helps you with that. You’re waiting. You make a bogey. There’s nothing to do. So what I do is I thank somebody for volunteering or thank a fan for coming out and that kind of gets your mind off of things. I’ve been doing that for years and it’s really helped me.”
“I think it’s something that you have to be aware of,” explained Furyk. “I’ve lost my patience in this event plenty of times. I’d like to say experience helps, but learning from mistakes helps, too. That’s what experience is.”
Even those who struggle with patience can take heart in the mindset that others are also struggling this week.
“Obviously, I don’t have very much patience, as people have seen,” said Horschel, who earned his first career win last month. “My patience level is not as deep as other people, so I’ve just got to remind myself that things aren’t going to go your way sometimes – you’re going to get some bad breaks, hit some bad shots. But you have to assume that everyone is doing that. That’s how I stay patient, just by reminding myself that if I’m having trouble, other people are having trouble, too.”
That’s the way it goes at the U.S. Open. The major championship family’s troublemaker will be out to provide more pranks and dust-ups over the next four days at Merion.
Just be patient with him.