A Kinder Gentler US Open

By Associated PressJune 14, 2005, 4:00 pm
PINEHURST, N.C. -- A hot breeze roiled across the 18th fairway, rustling the pine trees and slowly pushing the dense, white clouds toward the South. Up ahead, the closely mowed fringe around the humpbacked green was a bit chewed up, the result of a cooler-than-usual Carolina spring.
 
The greens? They were still green. But it was only Monday. The forecast for the next two days called for highs reaching into the 90s.
 
The U.S. Open begins Thursday, but as soon as the players arrived at Pinehurst No. 2, set in the picturesque village in the Sandhills region of North Carolina, the debate had begun.
 
The USGA prides in making its tournament the toughest test in golf'the one that seeks to identify the best players'but after an embarrassing Sunday last year at Shinnecock Hills, the USGA had to temper its draconian standards.
 
Will anybody notice the changes?
 
They always try to make sure the golf courses are on the edge and this golf course will be no different, said Nick Price, a staunch critic of the USGA in previous years.
 
Price, whose three majors dont include a U.S. Open title, was given a special exemption into this years tournament and, several weeks ago, was issued a rare invitation to play the Donald Ross course and offer his input.
 
It was an attempt by the USGA to reach out to its critics, and part of a bigger effort to recalibrate its image after last years disaster at Shinnecock, when on a hot, windy final day, not a single player broke par and 28 players, including Ernie Els, failed to break 80. In the biggest debacle of the day, the par-3 seventh green got so dry, it couldnt hold a tee shot, and early on, officials started watering the turf for every other group.
 
Retief Goosen won the tournament with a 1-over 71 on Sunday. He and Phil Mickelson were the only two players to break par over four rounds.
 
They have the defense because hes such a great champion, Fred Funk said. Thats fine. But it takes a guy with the mentality of Retief. Nothing bothers him. Youve just got to expect the unexpected, expect unfair, expect bad bounces. Expect having to make 6-, 7-, 8-footers for par.
 
So concerned with last years troubles was the USGA that it recently published a 420-word manifesto titled USGA Philosophy, an essay about the way it sets up U.S. Open courses.
 
The essay held to its belief that the U.S. Open must prove the most rigorous examination of golfers.
 
'At the same time, we try to ensure that a well-played stroke produces a positive result for an Open competitor, it read.
 
A loosening of standards? After playing his first practice round of the week, 1995 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin thought not.
 
Its set up very nicely, Pavin said. Its going to be a difficult U.S. Open.
 
The USGA essay says there is no target score for a U.S. Open, dismissing the widely held belief that many in the organization consider the tournament to have been less than a success if the winner breaks par.
 
Nevertheless, the players know they can only succeed if they change their mind-set for this tournament.
 
You have to put your mind in neutral, Price said. You have to say, Hey, whatever happens today or the next three days is going to happen and you just have to deal with it. Most players think if you play well, you should shoot 2 or 3 under par. You have to throw that out here.
 
Price, who a few years ago berated the USGAs Tom Meeks for making the fairway nearly impossible to reach on the 492-yard 10th hole at Bethpage Black, said despite his criticisms, the USGA has done a very nice job setting up Open courses over the past two decades.
 
At Bethpage, they did a great job except for three holes. They made a mess of three holes, he said.
 
While some of the USGAs problems'and successes'have been of its own making, some can be related to weather. Pinehurst was almost universally praised after the 1999 tournament, when Payne Stewart made his dramatic 15-foot putt on No. 18 to win it. Besides the great finish, it helped that much of the week was cool and moist.
 
Because the spring has been so cool, not all the rough has grown in as expected. Some players Monday were griping a bit about the patchy fringe around the greens.
 
Still, the rest of the course looks good.
 
After the really hot stuff Tuesday and Wednesday, temperatures are supposed to scoot back into the 80s with a chance of rain through most of the weekend. Thats about average for this time of the year down South. If so, it would allow the USGA to give the 156-player field the tough'and slightly refined'test it has been planning for.
 
Its hard for them, as well, Price said of the difficulties the ever-changing committee encounters at different venues with different weather. Its not the easiest job in the world setting up a U.S. Open golf course and getting it right.
 
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    V-i-n-d-i-c-a-t-i-o-n: Repeat gives Koepka credit he deserves

    By Ryan LavnerJune 18, 2018, 2:08 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – In an ironic twist Sunday, the last man to win consecutive U.S. Opens was tasked with chronicling Brooks Koepka’s final round at Shinnecock Hills.

    Carrying a microphone for Fox Sports, Curtis Strange kept his composure as the on-course reporter. He didn’t cough in Koepka’s downswing. Didn’t step on his ball in the fescue. Didn’t talk too loudly while Koepka lined up a putt.

    Instead, Strange stood off to the side, clipboard covering his mouth, and watched in awe as Koepka stamped himself as the best U.S. Open player of this next generation.

    And so after Koepka became the first player in 29 years to take consecutive Opens, Strange found himself fourth in the greeting line near the 18th green. He was behind Koepka’s playing competitor, Dustin Johnson. And he was behind Koepka’s father, Bob. And he was behind Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott.

    But there Strange was, standing on a sandy path leading to the clubhouse, ready to formally welcome Koepka into one of the most exclusive clubs in golf.

    “Hell of a job, bud,” Strange barked in his ear, above the din. “Incredible.”

    That Koepka prevailed on two wildly different layouts, and in totally different conditions, was even more satisfying.

    Erin Hills, in Middle of Nowhere, Wis., was unlike any U.S. Open venue in recent memory. The wide-open fairways were lined with thick, deep fescue, but heavy rain early in the week and the absence of any significant wind turned golf’s toughest test into the Greater Milwaukee Open. Koepka bashed his way to a record-tying score (16 under par) and over the past year has never felt fully appreciated, in large part because of the weirdness of the USGA setup.   


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    Koepka doesn’t concern himself with that type of noise, of course, but when he arrived at Shinnecock earlier this week he felt a sense of familiarity. The generous fairways. The punishing venue. The premium on iron play.

    “It’s a similar feel,” Elliott said. “We said it all week.”

    A new, quirky venue like Erin Hills might not have been held in high regard, but the rich history of Shinnecock? It demanded respect.

    “He’s some player,” Strange said, “and I’m proud of him because there was some talk last year of Erin Hills not being the Open that is supposed to be an Open. But he won on a classic, so he’s an Open player.”

    “This one is a lot sweeter,” Koepka said.

    Those around the 28-year-old were shocked that he even had a chance to defend his title.

    Last fall Koepka began feeling discomfort in his left wrist. He finished last in consecutive tournaments around the holidays, then underwent an MRI that showed he had a torn ligament in his left wrist.

    Koepka takes immense pride in having a life outside of golf – he never watches Tour coverage on off-weeks – but he was downright miserable during his indefinite stint on the sidelines. He said it was the lowest point of his career, as he sat in a soft cast up to his elbow, binge-watching TV shows and gaining 15 pounds. The only players he heard from during his hiatus: Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.

    “You just feel like you get forgotten,” Koepka said.

    During the spring, Elliott would occasionally drive from Orlando to Jupiter, Fla., to check on his boss. “He was down in the dumps,” he said. “That sort of injury he had, it didn’t seem like there was going to be an end. There was no timeframe on it, and that was the most frustrating thing.”

    After the Masters, Koepka told Elliott that his wrist was feeling better and that he was going to start hitting balls. Elliott brought his clubs to South Florida, and they played a few holes at The Floridian.

    “He was hitting it right on the button,” Elliott said. “I said, ‘Are you sure you haven’t been practicing?’ He hadn’t missed a beat. I have no idea how he does it. He’s just a tremendously talented guy.”

    In limited action before the Open, Koepka fired a trio of 63s, at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial. He’s never been short on confidence – as a 12-year-old he once told his dad that he was going to drop out of school in four years and turn pro – and he recently woofed to swing coach Claude Harmon III that he was primed to win sometime in May or June.

    “I said to him on the range this morning, ‘You were on your couch in January and February, not really knowing if you were going to be able to play here,’” Harmon said. “I think that’s why it means so much to him. That’s one of the reasons that he kept saying no one was more confident than him, because to get this opportunity to come back and play and have a chance to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, he was going to take advantage of it as best he could.”

    Koepka carded a second-round 66 to put himself in the mix, then survived a hellacious third-round setup to join a four-way tie for the lead, along with Johnson, the world No. 1 and his fellow Bash Brother.

    As much as Johnson is praised for his resilience, Koepka has proven to be equally tough in crunch time, especially in this major. There’s no better stage for Koepka to showcase his immense gifts than the Open, an examination that tests players physically, mentally and even spiritually. But Koepka, like Johnson, never joined the growing chorus of complainers at Shinnecock. The closest he came to criticizing the setup was this: “I think the course is very close.”

    Rather than whine, he said that he relished the challenge of firing away from flags. He accepted bad shots. He tried to eliminate double bogeys. Even after his wrist injury, Koepka showed no hesitation gouging out of the deep fescue, his ferocious clubhead speed allowing him to escape the rough and chase approach shots near the green, where he could rely on his sneaky-good short game.

    “He has the perfect game to play in majors,” Harmon said. “He probably plays more conservatively in majors. We’re always joking that we wish he would play the way he does in majors every week. I just think he knows how important pars and bogeys are. It says a lot about him as a player.”

    Johnson has many of the same physical and mental attributes, and they’ve each benefited from the other’s intense focus and discipline. They both adhere to a strict diet and are frequent workout partners, which even included a gym session on Sunday morning, before their penultimate pairing. They made small talk, chatting about lifting and how many of the Sunday pins were located in the middle of the green, but after they arrived at the course they barely said two words to each other.

    “They’re good friends on and off the course,” Harmon said, “but they definitely want to kick the s--- out of each other.”

    “That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Strange said. “If they’re best buddies, well, you’re standing between me and the trophy. You don’t care much for him for 4 1/2 hours.”

    There was much at stake Sunday, but none more significant than Koepka’s march on history. Squaring off head-to-head against the game’s best player, Koepka outplayed Johnson from the outset, going 3 under for the first 10 holes to open up a two-shot lead. And unlike at Erin Hills, where he pulled away late with birdies, it was his par (and bogey) saves that kept Koepka afloat on Nos. 11, 12 and 14.  

    In the end, he clipped Fleetwood (who shot a record-tying 63) by one and Johnson by two.

    “You’ve got to give him a lot of credit,” Strange said, shaking his head. “He’s got a lot of guts.”

    As Koepka marched away to sign his card, Strange was asked if it was bittersweet to know that he’s no longer the answer to the trivia question, the last guy to go back-to-back at the Open.

    “Heck no!” he said. “What are they going to do, take one away? I’m a part of a group. And it’s a good group. I hope it means as much to him as it has to me.”

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    This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win

    By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:39 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.

    His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.

    “This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”

    The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.


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    Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.

    There was also one other similarity.

    “Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.

    “It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”

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    Sunday drama won't overshadow USGA's issues

    By Randall MellJune 18, 2018, 1:30 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It looked like a British Open.

    It was playing like a U.S. Open.

    Through two rounds, Shinnecock Hills was double trouble in the best kind of way.

    It was a hybrid in the most appealing sense of golf course architecture’s ancient allure and its modern defenses.

    Halfway through, the USGA was nailing the setup, with Dustin Johnson the only player under par in one of the toughest but fairest tests in recent U.S. Open memory.

    This looked like it was going to be remembered as USGA CEO Mike Davis’ masterpiece, but even a Sunday to remember couldn’t trump a Saturday to forget.

    Sunday’s drama - with the history Brooks Koepka made becoming the first player in three decades to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, with Tommy Fleetwood’s 63 equaling Johnny Miller’s final round record - could not restore faith being lost in the USGA’s ability to set up and manage this championship.

    This U.S. Open ended with footnotes the size of headlines.

    The issues arising Saturday with the USGA losing control of the course raised even more troubling questions about why this organization’s heavy hand can’t seem to avoid becoming as much a part of the story as the competition.


    U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


    The controversy that was ignited Saturday when Phil Mickelson intentionally incurred a two-shot penalty by making a putting stroke on a moving ball also raised questions about the organization’s ability to fairly administer its own rules.

    It’s a shame, because Davis has some good ideas.

    His reimagined vision of this championship as the “ultimate test” makes sense as a better and more complete event. His ideas are designed to identify the game’s most complete player on America’s best courses better than any other major.

    It’s just not working.

    This year’s failure in the wake of the ’04 debacle at Shinnecock Hills is especially worrisome. Davis vowed it wouldn’t happen again. Somehow, some way, he let it happen again.

    Maybe the old standards we’ve come to judge the U.S. Open upon are too high, impossible to meet with today’s more athletic player, high-tech coaching and space-age drivers, shafts and balls.

    Nobody ever protected par better than the USGA, but maybe par can’t be properly protected anymore, without tricking up a course.

    Because if USGA officials can’t make its exacting formula work at an architectural treasure like Shinnecock Hills, where they had it absolutely perfect for two days, you wonder if they can make it work at all.

    The testament to how the USGA was nailing its formula wasn’t in what we heard the first two days. It was in what we weren’t hearing. Only one player was under par through Friday, but there wasn’t a complaint to be heard in the locker room or on the range.

    They were wiping the smiles off players’ faces without infuriating them.

    In that regard, the USGA was delivering a miracle.

    The wonderful appeal Shinnecock Hills held as a U.S. Open/British Open hybrid at week’s start ended up being twisted into something else by week’s end. It stood as a symbol of the championship’s confusion over its proper identity.

    Even with Sunday’s compelling storylines unfolding, players were still frustrated over setup.

    Saturday was over the edge, with Davis admitting “there were parts of this, simply put, that were too tough.” He said winds were stronger than expected, but the winds weren’t that much different than were forecast.

    So USGA officials softened the course for Sunday, with more overnight watering and more friendly hole locations.

    That turned Shinnecock Hills into Jekyl and Hyde on the weekend.

    Scoring told the story.

    Rickie Fowler shot 84 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday. Fleetwood shot 78 and 63.

    They weren’t alone, even though the weather wasn’t as dramatically different as the scores would indicate.

    This wasn’t about the weather. It was about the course being manipulated in ways that frustrated players.

    “They soaked the hell out of it,” Pat Perez said after tying for 36th. “They’ve got all the pins in the middle.

    “It is supposed to gradually get to where it was Saturday afternoon. You don’t lose it on Saturday and then try to make up for it, soak the course and make it totally different.”

    Brandt Snedeker was equally befuddled playing drastically different conditions in weather that wasn’t so drastically different.

    “The thing that is unfortunate is that the guys that were playing the best golf this week took the brunt of it yesterday, when it should have been vice versa,” Snedeker said. “Some guys got robbed of a really good chance to win a golf tournament yesterday afternoon, which is not fair.”

    There were other issues that continued to challenge faith in the USGA.

    Despite later acknowledging it set up the course too tough in spots on Saturday, the USGA put players on the clock for slow play.

    The Mickelson penalty also raised issues.

    He got a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5 (playing moving ball) when there was some outcry over whether he should have been penalized under Rule 1-2 (exerting influence), which would have opened the door to disqualification for a serious breach. The USGA rigorously defended 14-5 (playing moving ball) as the proper call.

    John Daly wasn’t disqualified for striking a moving ball in a similar instance at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. He also got a two-shot penalty, but there was a difference in the situations that might have justified Mickelson’s disqualification.

    Daly said he intentionally hit a moving ball out of frustration, as protest over the USGA’s unfair hole locations.

    Mickelson said he intentionally hit a moving ball on the 13th green Saturday at Shinnecock Hills to try prevent his ball from rolling off the green. He said he knew the rules and was intentionally breaking them to gain an advantage. He compared it to using the rules to get a better lie with a drop, but there’s a difference between using the rules to your advantage and breaking them to gain an advantage.

    The difference in those motivations, as Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee pointed out, opened the interpretation of the violation as a serious breach worthy of disqualification.

    The question of whether Mickelson’s manipulation of the rules was serious enough to invoke disqualification as a breach of etiquette under Rule 33-7 was dismissed by the USGA as inappropriate.

    It should be noted that the USGA and R&A should be applauded for its monumental overhaul of the Rules of Golf, a rules modernization going into effect next year. It’s a welcomed simplification of the rules that required an exhaustive review.

    This week’s complications show the unrelenting challenges they continue to tackle.

    We leave this U.S. Open with history being made, with Koepka joining Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange as just the third players since World War II to win the title in back-to-back years.

    We also leave hoping the USGA can deliver four days of next year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as free of controversy as it delivered the first two days at Shinnecock Hills, because this year’s championship felt half baked.

    Will Gray contributed to this report.

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    Brandel rips USGA: 'There's no obvious leadership'

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 18, 2018, 1:29 am

    The 2018 U.S. Open will certainly be remembered for Brooks Koepka's successful title defense.

    But there's no doubt that it will also be remembered for Phil Mickelson's decision to hit a moving golf ball on Saturday, for the USGA's decision not to disqualify him, and for the governing body once again losing control of Shinnecock Hills over the weekend.

    Speaking on "Live From the U.S. Open" on Sunday night, analyst Brandel Chamblee took the USGA and its leadership to task for more than just the inconsistent playing conditions this week.

    His comments - edited and condensed for clarity - appear below:

    "Something was amiss in a big, big way [at Shinnecock Hills]. I think the USGA has lost a lot of the trust of the golf world. They've done it for numerous reasons.

    "On their watch, they missed COR – the rebound effect in drivers. They missed the rebound effect and the combination of the rebound effect [with] the ball. They missed it, on their watch. And now, the feeling is that they’re crying foul, even though it was on their watch. And so, essentially, the equipment companies got it done, by [the USGA’s] standards, legally.

    "On their watch, there have been huge mistakes in major championships. … We well know this one (Shinnecock in 2018) – a colossal mistake all the way across the board. The golf course was bumpy the first day; they didn’t quite get that right. It was awful the third day. And today, in a different kind of way, it was far too easy.

    "And then there’s penalties that they levy that make absolutely no sense, penalties that they don’t levy – not disqualifying Phil Mickelson yesterday. …

    "There seems to be no obvious leadership, you know, to me. No obvious leadership heading in the right direction."