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USGA's setup of U.S. Open again under scrutiny at Pebble Beach

Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on the

Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bethpage Black on Friday, May 17, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The U.S. Open will begin on familiar terms, with the U.S. Golf Association looking to bounce back from the previous year’s controversy and some pros arguing that the USGA has lost its way.

Well before the golfers began leaving for Pebble Beach and the national championship that begins Thursday, old issues began boiling again. Golf Digest ran a lengthy survey quoting anonymous players, instructors and other people in the business, mostly criticizing the way Open courses have been set up and the tournament has been run.

Among the topics was the way conditions at Shinnecock Hills grew dry and fast during the Saturday round last year, which resulted in much grousing and in Phil Mickelson willfully violating the rules by running after a moving ball on a green and putting it.

There was conciliation afterward. USGA CEO Mike Davis said in a Newsday interview the day after the tournament: “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.”  Mickelson later apologized for his rash action.

Still, the waters are roiled even before the first tee shot of the 2019 Open. Mickelson, a six-time runner-up who needs a U.S. Open win to complete the career Grand Slam, said at the Memorial Tournament last week: “I've played, what, 29 U.S. Opens? One hundred percent of time they have messed it up if it doesn't rain. The rain is the governor. That's the only governor they have. And if they don't have a governor they don't know how to control themselves…I think we’re all praying for a little rain.”

Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, said that he has a good relationship with the USGA but added that he believes the course setups in recent Opens have strayed from the traditional style of narrow fairways and thick rough. Instead, the surfaces have been parched and brown, similar to those at the British Open.

“They're trying to do as good a job as they can,” McIlroy said of the USGA. “I think they'll admit they've made a couple of mistakes over the last couple of years. Everyone does. And I think we should give them the chance to redeem themselves. If they can't redeem themselves at Pebble Beach, then there could be a problem.”

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