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Despite it all — and despite itself — U.S. Open landed on its feet

Brooks Koepka lifts the trophy after winning the

Brooks Koepka lifts the trophy after winning the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton on Sunday. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

This time, the U.S. Open had the resilience of a gyroscope. You remember how that classic toy worked: no matter how you would tip it, drop it, spin it or turn it upside down, the thing always found its balance in the end. In the same way, a turbulent week at Shinnecock Hills tumbled to an upright finish.

The trophy went to the player who played the best. The winning score was a U.S. Open-vintage 1 over par. The talk on Sunday night was about the golf, not the course conditions. With Brooks Koepka joining select company in earning a second consecutive Open title, something special happened at a special place. And the words “Shinnecock Hills” still are two of the strongest in golf’s vocabulary.

‘When you take a step back, there are different measures of success. The first one is the competition,” Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association CEO said Monday. “My early read on it is that it was a really tough Saturday. But I think that when I look back on what happened yesterday, it was a great champion that won and it was very exciting. One of the things I’ve heard from people was that it just felt like a U.S. Open.

The USGA did put its finger on the scale to strike the balance. With literally soft greens and figuratively soft hole locations, the final round did not fit the true U.S. Open Sunday mode. But that was how the pendulum had to swing to make up for the way the USGA had set up the course Saturday. Davis said that he and his team have to wear that. He admitted having made “errors.”

When the USGA makes an error, it is a doozy and it sure does not go unnoticed. Players caterwauling is as much a part of the Open fabric as heavy rough and fast greens. They let fly on Saturday, with Zach Johnson triggering the cascade by saying on Europe’s Sky Sports, “They have lost the golf course.”

Did they really? Shinnecock Hills members did not agree. They saw the claims as a knock on superintendent Jon Jennings, who, in Davis’ book, earned a grade of “A-plus-plus.” Masters champion Patrick Reed, after having made a run at the title Sunday, sounded honest and rational when he said the problem Saturday had not been with the course in general but just a few dicey pin positions.

Still, the weekend was another directive to the USGA to stop veering so close to the proverbial edge. It also was a reminder to all of us that players Open gripes must be taken with at least a half-grain of salt. Yes, the golfers have keen expertise and they obviously have the best view of course conditions. What they don’t have, though, is objectivity. Bad scores often bring hot words. More important, their chatter always goes in only one direction. They never, ever speak out about a course being too easy, as Erin Hills clearly was last year.

Davis said that at a reception for Koepka Sunday night that club members did not think Saturday had been all that bad. “They incur the Shinnecock wind and firmness all the time,” he said. “But I am empathetic with the players, too. I know how hard they work on the game. When you watch a well-executed shot not be rewarded, I absolutely understand the players’ perspective on that.”

What the USGA must do to prevent more dustups is up to its officers and executive committee.

What the Shinnecock Hills must do before its next U.S. Open is absolutely nothing. At least nothing special or different. Just keep being the same club that, like Koepka, stood tall in a wacky week.

“Great courses tend to bring out the cream of the crop,” Davis said. “It’s magical for us to come back. You don’t want to wish your life away but 2026 will be here before you know it.”

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