SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When registering for this 118th U.S. Open, Philip Barbaree and LSU teammate Jacob Bergeron signed up for a 8:20 a.m. practice round Monday at Shinnecock Hills. They chose that time, specifically, because they wanted to play with one of their heroes, Rory McIlroy.
Barbaree arrived at the course with plenty of time to spare – he’s staying in a rental house on nearby Sebonack, about a mile away – but Bergeron wasn’t so fortunate. That tee time came and went, and he was still an hour away, stuck in traffic. What should have been a half-hour drive from the USGA’s official player hotel instead took nearly three hours.
“After that,” Bergeron said, “I thought this was something that could be serious.”
A U.S. Open on Long Island usually means one thing – a long commute – and this week has been no exception.
Depending on the time of morning and afternoon, even the shortest trips can take upwards of an hour, as traffic on the side streets and highways grind to a halt. Many players rented houses in the Southampton area, but for those like Bergeron, an amateur who doesn’t have thousands to drop on a weeklong stay, the USGA made arrangements at two local host hotels. The only problem: They’re located west of the course, with stops along the dreaded State Road 27 and Montauk Highway. The typical summer traffic here only compounds the problem.
“One way in, one way out, I knew it was going to be a problem,” said Aaron Wise, who found a room at the Hamlet Inn, about two miles away. “So I wanted to make sure that I got as close as I could.”
McIlroy can’t get much closer – three minutes, door to door – and after hearing so many horror stories, he described himself as “very fortunate.”
“It’s one of those things you’re going to have to set off early and try to beat the traffic,” he said. “It’s the way it is. Unfortunately, one of the things about this area is it’s a small piece of land and can only take so many people.”
On its official championship page, the USGA recommended that fans take the MTA Long Island Rail Road, hailing it as the “most convenient” method of transportation. That’s still an 85-mile trip from New York’s Penn Station that could take more than two hours.
The first three days here have been such a debacle that the USGA brought in Southampton Town chief of police Steven Skrynecki to make a few remarks during its annual Eve of the Open address. Skrynecki said that he’s been monitoring traffic patterns and has seen “significant improvements” over the past three days, and that he anticipated that much of the local trade traffic will dissipate over the weekend.
The gridlock has created consternation for those with early start times. Tiger Woods – who is staying at Sag Harbor and sleeping aboard his $20 million yacht named “Privacy” – said that he wouldn’t be surprised if a player is disqualified this week.
“There’s a good chance that someone might miss their time,” he said. “You get a little fender bender, it’s not inconceivable someone could miss their time.”
Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director for rules and championships, said the organization will send a text to players Wednesday night reminding them of the traffic concerns – as if they needed a reminder – and that traffic is not an “exceptional circumstance” that would circumvent a DQ.
“I’m pretty confident they will adjust their schedule accordingly to take the proper precautions,” Hall said.
But that’s what has left Bergeron confused.
For that 8:20 a.m. practice round Monday, he departed his hotel at 6:30 – nearly two hours early – and didn’t arrive until well after 9. He ended up not playing with McIlroy, a four-time major champion, but instead with two other sectional qualifiers, the names of whom he couldn’t remember.
“Kind of a bummer,” he said.
Bergeron’s first-round tee time is 8:35 a.m., and he’s already begun to fret.
“What do I do?” he asked. “I could see if Philip has a spot on the couch. I could sleep in the locker room. I’d rather get here at 3 a.m. and take a nap than miss my time.”
Even still, the logistical nightmare hasn’t dampened Bergeron’s outlook for the week. He’s a rising sophomore at LSU, his entire career ahead of him, and he’s just qualified for his first major. He’s excited to play – assuming traffic allows him to get to the tee.
“I know the U.S. Open is supposed to be hard,” he said. “I just didn’t know that every other aspect would be, too.”