The USGAs Fascination with Par

By Associated PressJune 10, 2008, 4:00 pm
2008 U.S. OpenSAN DIEGO -- Nick Faldo thought he would uncover the secret to winning the U.S. Open when he arranged for a meeting at Shady Oaks one year with four-time champion Ben Hogan.
 
Faldo, ever the analyst, asked Hogan what it would take for him to win.
 
Shoot the lowest score, Hogan replied.
 
If that conversation had taken place 20 years later, Hogans answer might have been slightly different.
 
Just shoot par.
 
Even par would have been good enough to win the past three U.S. Opens' Michael Campbell at Pinehurst No. 2 (even par), Geoff Ogilvy at wicked Winged Foot (5 over) and Angel Cabrera at Oakmont (5 over).
 
Whether thats what it takes this week at Torrey Pines remains to be seen. So far, everyone is raving about a golf course that is stern but fair, from the generous fairways to the graduated height of rough. But opinions tend to change when scores are put down on the card.
 
Perhaps no other major has a fascination with par as the U.S. Open.
 
Torrey Pines has been around for a half-century as a par 72. But with the U.S. Open in town this week, it will play as a par 71. The sixth hole will play 515 yards and be the longest par 4 in tournament history.
 
It actually will play shorter than usual, but almighty par will be protected.
 
Thats not all bad.
 
Mike Davis is the senior director of rules and competition for the USGA and the person responsible for setting up the golf course. Since taking over two years ago from Tom Meeks, his work has been universally praised, even with such high scores winning the U.S. Open.
 
Davis made perfect sense in explaining why No. 6 should be converted to a par 4.
 
Does it meet the definition of a par 5? he said.
 
A good tee shot that stays out of the rough or the bunkers on the left side can leave as little as a 4-iron into the green that is open in the front. Theres not a ton of trouble going for the green. In his view, it played more as a strong par 4.
 
He references No. 9 at Oakmont, which played as a par 5 when Ernie Els won in 1994, and a par 4 last year. The ninth hole features an uphill tee shot to a green so large that the back end of it serves as the putting green. During the U.S. Amateur in 2003, Davis noticed players hitting anything from a 5-iron to a pitching wedge for their second shot.
 
That didnt meet my definition of a par 5, he said.
 
Fair enough. But either way, what matters is the number on the card, not the number to par.
 
Remember when Arnold Palmer came from seven shots behind to win the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. He said to sports writer Bob Drum before teeing off that he could shoot 65 and win because that would put him at 280.
 
Doesnt 280 always win the Open? Palmer said.
 
These days, he might have said, Doesnt even par always win the Open?
 
The USGAs philosophy of converting par 5s into par 4s began in 1951 at Oakland Hills. That U.S. Open was famous for the winner (Hogan) and how he described the course.
 
Im glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees, Hogan said.
 
He finished at 7-over 287. But if the USGA had left Nos. 8 and 18 as par 5s that week, and Oakland Hills had been a par 72, Hogan still would have won with a score of 1-under 287.
 
Would he still have called it a monster?
 
Thats why it sounded so disingenuous when Jim Hyler of the USGA executive committee said with a straight face, Contrary to what a lot of people think, there is no target winning score. We are not trying to protect par.
 
Jim Furyk, who tied the U.S. Open scoring record at Olympia Fields in 2003, was asked if he believed that.
 
No, he replied.
 
He wasnt entirely serious, but he made it clear the USGA is not interested in 15 under winning its premier championship. Protecting par has helped give the U.S. Open definition it never needed.
 
The Masters, before it was overhauled to add a half-mile of beautifully manicured grass, routinely produced winning scores around 276. It has never been wrapped up in par, and even now, the changes were to put the same clubs in the hands of players that Bobby Jones envisioned when he built Augusta National.
 
Strangely enough, it was Clifford Roberts and former CBS Sports producers Frank Chirkinian who were responsible for keeping score with par, a great invention for television that now is standard in golf.
 
The PGA Championship has some of the lowest scores, due mainly to it being held in August when the greens require more water to keep them alive in the summer heat. The British Open is the least bothered by scoring. If the wind blows, the scores are high. If its calm, the scores are low. Congratulations, see you next year.
 
It could have been worse at Torrey Pines.
 
Rees Jones Jr., who buffed up the course to attract the U.S. Open, was among those who wanted the par-5 18th hole to play as a par 4. With a pond in front of the green, there would have been more gore than glory on the final hole. Davis deserves credit for persuading the blue coats to make it a par 5, which could be the most exciting closing hole at a U.S. Open.
 
Imagine an eagle on the last hole to win.
 
As far as protecting par, I firmly believe the USGA wants to make the golf course as difficult and as testing a golf course as they can without going overboard, Furyk said. For the best players in the world, thats going to be shooting somewhere around even par. But if its 5 under or 5 over, I dont think it really matters.
 
Par always has been irrelevant, and it still is.
 
What Hogan once told Faldo is still true today. Lowest score wins.
 
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    Golf Channel, Loch Lomond Partner on Claret Jug Tour Ahead of 147TH Open

    By Golf Channel Public RelationsJune 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

    Award-Winning Independent Scotcb Whisky Sponsoring Tour to Select U.S. Cities; Will Include Special Tastings and Opportunities for Fans to Engage with Golf’s Most Storied Trophy

    Golf Channel and Loch Lomond Group are partnering on a promotional tour with the Claret Jug – golf’s most iconic trophy, first awarded in 1873 to the winner of The Open – to select U.S. cities in advance of the 147TH Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Loch Lomond Whisky’s sponsorship of the tour further enhances the brand’s existing five-year partnership with the R&A as the official spirit of The Open, initially announced in February.

    “We are proud to partner with Golf Channel to support this tour of golf’s most iconic trophy,” said Colin Matthews, CEO of Loch Lomond Group. “Whisky and golf are two of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, and following the news of our recent partnership with the R&A for The Open, being a part of the Claret Jug tour was a perfect fit for Loch Lomond Group to further showcase our commitment to the game.”

    “The Loch Lomond Group could not be a more natural fit to sponsor the Claret Jug tour,” said Tom Knapp, senior vice president of golf sponsorship, NBC Sports Group. “Much like the storied history that accompanies the Claret Jug, Loch Lomond’s Scottish roots trace back centuries ago, and their aspirations to align with golf’s most celebrated traditions will resonate with a broad range of consumers in addition to golf fans and whisky enthusiasts.”

    The tour kicks off today in Austin, Texas, and will culminate on Wednesday, July 11 at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe one week prior to The Open. Those wishing to engage with the Claret Jug will have an opportunity at one of several tour stops being staged at Topgolf locations in select cities. The tour will feature a custom, authentic Scottish pub where consumers (of age) can sample Loch Lomond’s portfolio of whiskies in the spirit of golf’s original championship and the Claret Jug. The Claret Jug also will make special pop-up visits to select GolfNow course partners located within some of the designated tour markets.

    (All Times Local)

    Monday, June 18                    Austin, Texas              (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m.)

    Tuesday, June 19                    Houston                      (Topgolf, 5-8 p.m.)

    Wednesday, June 20               Jacksonville, Fla.        (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

    Monday, June 25                    Orlando, Fla.               (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

    Wednesday, July 4                 Washington D.C.        (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Ashburn, Va.)

    Monday, July 9                       Edison, N.J.                (Topgolf, Time TBA)

    Wednesday, July 11               Lake Tahoe, Nev.       American Century Championship (On Course)

    Fans interacting with the Claret Jug and Loch Lomond during the course of the tour are encouraged to share their experience using the hashtag, #ClaretJug on social media, and tag @TheOpen and @LochLomondMalts on Twitter and Instagram.

    NBC Sports Group is the exclusive U.S. television home of the 147TH Open from Carnoustie, with nearly 50 live hours of tournament coverage, Thursday-Sunday, July 19-22. The Claret Jug is presented each July to the winner of The Open, with the winner also being given the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year” until the following year’s event is staged. The Claret Jug is one of the most storied trophies in all of sports; first presented to the 1873 winner of The Open, Tom Kidd. Each year, the winner’s name is engraved on to the trophy, forever etched into the history of golf’s original championship. It is customary for the Champion Golfer of the Year to drink a favorite alcoholic beverage from the Claret Jug in celebration of the victory.

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    USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

    By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

    The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

    How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

    Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

    So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.



    After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

    “When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

    Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

    Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

    The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

    At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

    “They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”



    By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

    “I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

    That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

    It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

    “They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”



    But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

    The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

    “To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

    It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

    So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

    “I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”



    But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

    After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

    “It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

    Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

    Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

    @bubbawatson on Instagram

    Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

    By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

    Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

    Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

    Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

    A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

    And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

    Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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    Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

    By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

    There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

    There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

    Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

    The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

    Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

    If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

    “The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

    The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

    Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).