Getty Images

Ready for the big reveal at Shinnecock

By Rex HoggardJune 13, 2018, 6:07 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It’s a bomber’s golf course. It’s a second-shot layout. The fairways are wide, greens firm. There’s a short list of would-be winners; parity has made this a wide-open Open.

This Shinnecock Hills Open, the fifth played on the east-end jewel, is a litany of questions without answers.

If history is any indication, the 118th edition will be something closer to what we expect from America’s national championship. This has all the markings of being your father’s Open – tough pars, tall rough and attrition.

In 2004, the last time the U.S. Open made it this far up the Long Island Expressway, the winning score was 4 under par, and in ’95 Corey Pavin played in a perfect U.S. Open manner on his way to an even-par victory.

This week’s championship may promise to be something more familiar – something more punitive – than the last few experiments, but it doesn’t clearly identify a favorite.

Fresh off his dominant performance last week in Memphis, Dustin Johnson has gotten the nod from Las Vegas, starting the week as the betting favorite for all the right reasons. But that nod ignores the current competitive landscape.

According to world ranking math, six players could be ranked No. 1 on Monday – Johnson (the current No. 1), Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy – depending on how things play out over the next four days.


U.S. Open: Tee times | Full coverage


To put that in context, when the U.S. Open was last played at Shinnecock Hills in ’04, Tiger Woods was No. 1 and would remain there, unchallenged for the next four months.

In ’04, the gap between the first- and second-ranked players (Woods and Ernie Els, respectively) was 1.91 average ranking points; and the gulf between Woods and the sixth-ranked player (Mike Weir) was 6.24 average ranking points.

Johnson’s current lead over No. 2 Thomas is a razor-thin .29 average ranking points; and DJ’s advantage over No. 6 McIlroy is just 2.22 points.

Rarely in golf can parity be so clearly quantified, and rarely has the competitive congestion led to a collective confidence.

“The only reason I'm here is to win. If I wasn't, I wouldn't have signed up,” said Brooks Koepka, last year’s champion. “I think everyone here is trying to win. Everyone thinks they're going to win, and they should. When you come to a golf tournament, you're preparing to win. You're not going to be satisfied with second place. I don't think I've ever heard anybody say, ‘Man, I'm glad I finished second.’”

The list of potential champions goes as deep into the tee sheet as one’s imagination. But what kind of test awaits this week’s field?

The 2004 championship at Shinnecock Hills is widely considered a bust in terms of set up for the USGA. A golf course that was already on the edge tumbled into the unplayable abyss on Sunday when even well-played tee shots on the par-3 seventh hole began bounding hopelessly into one bad spot after another.

“It's a very difficult job to find the line of testing the best players to the greatest degree and then making it carnival golf,” said Phil Mickelson, runner-up at Shinnecock Hills in ’04 who might be the week’s most compelling story line with the career Grand Slam hanging in the balance. “It's a very fine line, and it's not a job I would want. And I know that the USGA is doing the best they can to find that line, and a lot of times they do, and sometimes they cross over it.”

Following what some considered Open Light last year at Erin Hills – where Koepka won at 16 under – and in 2015 at Chambers Bay, many envisioned this championship a perfect pathway back to something more familiar. Golf’s toughest test, as the U.S. Open is considered in most circles, had become a bit too user friendly.

Shinnecock Hills is a classic design with all the central elements of a demanding test, from aches of knee-high fescue rough to wildly pitched greens that leave little, if any, room for error.

“I'm obviously not that old, but when I watched U.S. Opens on TV and saw these long, narrow corridors of narrow fairways and thick rough, that's what I was used to at a U.S. Open,” McIlroy said. “If you look at the venues that are coming up, they're very traditional venues, venues like Oakmont, Winged Foot, Pebble Beach. Maybe you'll see more of what we perceive as a traditional U.S. Open setup.”

Shinnecock Hills certainly fits into the notion that the USGA is gravitating back toward something closer to the association’s original DNA, but if this week’s championship is a chance to put some teeth back into the game’s toughest test the appetite for that kind of pendulum swing seems to be lacking.

Mike Davis, the association’s executive director, has been outspoken on this front. There will not be a sequel to the fiasco that defined the ’04 U.S. Open this week. Technology will help, with the USGA no longer relying on the inexact science of a Stimpmeter to measure firmness, and the USGA’s modus operandi under Davis has been to err on the side of the player, not protecting par.

 “I've never, since I've been at the USGA and it's been almost 30 years, heard anybody say we're shooting for even par. Never heard it. I know people think we talk about it, but it's never happened,” Davis said. “But we talk about incessantly how do we get the course to be really a great test of golf? As we say, get all 14 clubs dirty.”

What that means for this week’s field is anyone’s guess, but then that seems to be the status quo at a U.S. Open with more questions than answers.

Getty Images

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.


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


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.”

Getty Images

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 here 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.

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

Koepka reveals he injured his ribs last week

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:19 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – There was a time when Brooks Koepka didn’t even know if he was going to be able to play this week’s U.S. Open as he recovered from a wrist injury that had sidelined him for 3 ½ months.

He didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, which he missed, and returned to the PGA Tour in late April at the Zurich Classic. His return to competitive form accelerated from there with a runner-up finish last month at the Forth Worth Invitational.

But if Sunday’s victory at Shinnecock Hills, where he became the first player to win back-to-back U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange in 1989, appeared to be an official return to full strength, it wasn’t exactly that seamless.


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


Koepka, who closed with a 68 for a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood, revealed that he suffered a rib injury last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

“My rib kind of came out last week. It bugged me a little bit,” he said. “Right when we got here, [Koepka’s trainer] worked on it, knew what it was. It was pretty sore, but I had no problems since then.”

In 2015, Koepka withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a similar rib injury.