SAN FRANCISCO – You can sit glued to your couch this week, cheering on your favorite player for four days at the U.S. Open.
You can root for The Olympic Club's Lake Course to be the real winner, making competitors look foolish in their attempts at success. You can support further assaults on the USGA, with players echoing last year’s low scores with even more birdies this time around.
One thing we can all agree upon is that the year’s second major championship will be more intriguing with the more storylines that emanate from this week’s proceedings.
Here are a half-dozen stories that I’d love to write at the conclusion of this week’s event:
SAN FRANCISCO – For the record, it took 14 to get 15. That would be 14 major championship appearances for Tiger Woods before finally advancing to his 15th career major victory. For the record books, he now trails leader Jack Nicklaus by just three on the all-time list, once again reasserting himself as the logical and perhaps inevitable choice to replace his boyhood hero atop the game’s most hallowed record. Never lacking in a flair for the dramatic, Woods claimed No. 15 in exciting fashion for his first major win since the 2008 U.S. Open, producing yet another a spine-tingling, hair-raising moment for the ages en route to the title.
SAN FRANCISCO – Fifty-seven years after one of the greatest upsets in golf history, golf fans were treated to Jack Fleck over Ben Hogan 2.0 on Monday, as a virtual unknown defeated one of the game’s most accomplished players in one of the most unpredictable finishes in decades. Of course, if you watched the two men compete in the 18-hole playoff without prior knowledge of their accomplishments, it was difficult to ascertain which man was the struggling Tour professional and which one already owns a trophy room full of major hardware. And it was only fitting that as the newest major champion floated from the final green toward his awaiting family, one of the first people to congratulate him was Fleck himself.
SAN FRANCISCO – Move over, Bobby Jones. Make way, Ben Hogan. Let one more in the club, Willie Anderson, John McDermott, Ralph Guldahl and Curtis Strange. The list of players to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles is a short yet distinguished one. It was joined on Sunday by Rory McIlroy in most impressive fashion, as he backed up last year’s eight-stroke victory with another triumph of the same exact margin, once again trouncing a world-class field of elite professionals to earn his second major championship win at the age of 23. The performance made McIlroy’s recent “slump” of three consecutive missed cuts seem laughable, hardly a harbinger of the impressive display he showed at The Olympic Club.
SAN FRANCISCO – When he qualified for the U.S. Open through a sectional qualifier, Casey Martin established himself as not only the best story in advance of the year’s second major, but perhaps the best story of the golf season so far. What we didn’t realize at the time, of course, was that Martin’s inclusion in the field was only the opening chapter in a storybook week for the University of Oregon golf coach. Riding in his cart through increasingly crowded galleries at The Olympic Club, his navigational skills were surpassed only by his golfing acumen, as it was Martin who gave the rest of the world a wild ride throughout the entire week. Walking with a pronounced limp in his right leg as the result of Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, the 40-year-old proved that a player doesn’t need to be fully healthy in order to produce healthy numbers on the scorecard.
SAN FRANCISCO – Call it irony. Wonderful, delicious irony. Ernie Els and Lee Westwood – forever linked as two of the greatest ball-strikers of their generation, but men for whom clutch putting in big-time events has often been a foreign language in recent years – walked to the last green in Sunday’s final pairing tied for the U.S. Open lead, both with slippery, snaking, side-winding 20-foot birdie putts between them and history. And wouldn’t you know, at that very moment, their shared short-game woes melted within seconds, as one after the other they poured in the putts, culminating the festivities with huge smiles and exasperated hugs, each confident in the notion that even if he didn’t win in a playoff, he had proven to himself that he could roll in the most important of putts when it mattered most.
SAN FRANCISCO – One competitor called it a “bloodbath.” Another claimed he was glad he hadn’t run into USGA executive director Mike Davis, because things “may have gotten ugly.” More than a few contended that they’re done with the U.S. Open and won’t even try to qualify anymore. Those may simply be knee-jerk reactions, but there’s no other way to describe the brutal playing conditions at The Olympic Club. When the dust settled and the smoke coming out of players’ ears cleared, only one man was in single digits over par for the week. Yes, you read that correctly. Only one of the best golfers on the planet was able to break the 10-over-par barrier through 72 holes.