Local pros: USGA made Bethpage Black too easy

By closing time, the Open did seem like a pretty good show. The unusual, interesting finish Monday was a solid sendoff to the most celebrated big event in the mud since Woodstock. What remains an Open sore, though, for some local golfers is that the U.S. Golf Association never did let the Black Course show its true colors.

"They made it," local pro P.J. Cowan said, "look like Bethpage Pink."

The forgiving rough and generous tee settings, on top of the intensely wet conditions that left the greens soft and slow, caused some area golfers to say that as good an Open as it was, it just wasn't the Black that Long Islanders know and love (and fear).

An area club pro was amazed at how light the "graduated" rough was. It was far from the dense cabbage for which the Open is famous. "This is like the rough I have at my club," the pro said.

A college coach and avid golfer saw that the tees were way up on No. 18 for the final round and said, "That's not what the U.S. Open is all about."

The most direct words came from Cowan, a teaching pro at Eisenhower Park who estimates he has played nearly 1,000 rounds on the Black, including seven New York State Opens, three of which he won. "Not one time did we ever play a par-3 at less than 157 yards," Cowan said. "They played two under 130."

Cowan said that when he found the rough at the 1997 Open at Congressional, his only option was a sand wedge to the fairway. This year, golfers fired long irons and hybrids into greens from the rough. He pointed out that the Open never uses the back tees on No. 15 because bleachers are there. He couldn't believe that Lucas Glover, the champion, needed only a 6-iron and 9-iron to get home on the final hole of what is supposed to be the toughest major championship.

"They made it choke-proof," he said. "I have 10-handicappers who I'd trust with a two-shot lead on that hole." Cowan said his students on the lesson tee Tuesday morning shared his opinion. Of the USGA's setup, he said, "It was a local disgrace."

Course superintendent Craig Currier diplomatically blamed the weather, not the USGA. "It's unfortunate when guys are hitting rescue clubs out of the rough, knocking it two feet and [shots] are sticking there," he said. "That's not the way it's supposed to be. You can't fight Mother Nature."

Michael Benado, a Black Course loyalist from the Nassau Players Club, took the side opposite Cowan, praising the USGA for being flexible. Yes, he has seen the Black play tougher. "However, is the intention of the Open to cut up people? It could have gotten to the point where it was unfair. They played four rounds in 2½ days," he said, noting that Glover's score was 4 under, not 20 under. "It was not so easy."

Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competitions for the USGA, acknowledged Tuesday that he had just had that very conversation with Currier. "If 4 under was the winning score, with ideal scoring conditions, how easy could it have been?" he said.

Then he touched on the topic everyone could agree on: The course was remarkably playable, considering the tempests.

"The average person," Davis said, "has no idea how hard it was for the crew to get this course ready."

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