PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — There is hope for the U.S. Open. Despite what your memory and your own eyes have told you, there is hope that our national championship can again be something about which golfers can dream, rather than a nightmare that they have to endure.
The U.S. Open just has to be the U.S. Open again. Forget about making the courses look as brown as British Open layouts or trying to make the graduated rough as tame as the first cut at Augusta.
Narrow the fairways, grow the rough, stay away from newbie courses and let ‘er rip.
“The U.S. Open is going to be just fine, moving on,” said Mike Davis, the CEO of the U.S. Golf Association and the man who has had to explain why the past few Opens have gone so far astray. The latest embarrassment came last year at Shinnecock Hills, when the greens got away from the USGA — precisely what the association had spent 14 years vowing would never happen again after the debacle on the same course in 2004.
Many problems have occurred because the USGA has appeased players by lowering rough, then overcompensated by leaving courses too dry and fast. The group also was guilty of going to courses, Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, that weren’t worthy of U.S. Opens.
“There have been ups and downs over the years,” Davis said at the USGA news conference Wednesday, on the eve of the Open at Pebble Beach. “Frankly, if you go back and read history, there have been plenty of times in the past where there has been maybe one view from the players and another view from the USGA. I’m not suggesting there are different views now, but we’ll be just fine.”
I agree, regardless of the blistering Golf Digest survey that quoted many pros, instructors and other industry people — under the cloak of anonymity — blasting everything about the U.S. Open. There was a suggestion that, after the USGA clumsily handled a penalty against Dustin Johnson during the 2016 Open at Oakmont, players were going to organize a boycott the next year.
Davis declined to fire back on Wednesday. Instead, he and fellow executive John Bodenhamer emphasized a new dialogue with players, which is nice. Better yet, the USGA has set up Pebble Beach in traditional Open fashion: a classic course with good old fashioned, thick rough.
We saw how well that worked at Bethpage Black for the PGA Championship. That tournament proved tough, exciting and mostly controversy-free. The best golfer won, Brooks Koepka at 8 under. The USGA must come to grips that it is no crime if modern players, who are really strong and solid, break par in a U.S. Open. Players must live with the fact the Open will be a rough week.
“It’s the toughest test in golf. It’s our national championship,” said Jordan Spieth, who won at Chambers Bay. “I think recent history was just kind of a bit unlucky. One golf course played a lot easier, you had a rules thing and some greens that ended up not the way that they were supposed to be going in…But I think, big picture, you had the right champions every single time.”
Johnson, who won at Oakmont despite the confusion over his penalty, said, “I’ve got a great relationship with the USGA. I think for the most part they’ve done a fantastic job. This week I don’t think they could do anything better. The golf course is fantastic. I don’t know what else to say. They’re a great organization. I’ve got no hard feelings towards them.”
There was a time when the U.S. Open was the heavyweight champion of majors, the tournament considered the greatest in the world. That ship has sailed. Pro golfers and the public now much prefer the Masters. But there is nothing wrong with being second. For the U.S. Open, just being a true U.S. Open is good enough. Here’s hoping that happens this week, and every year.