UNIVERSITY PLACE – “It’s too brown! It’s too bumpy! It’s too British!” they moan plaintively. Yes, the whiny blockheads are out in force this year, as they usually are at the U.S. Open, complaining about how unusual golf’s annual Final Examination is. It’s actually flabbergasting: They’re not complaining about how difficult the golf course is…but how different it is from what they’re used to.
We told them Chambers Bay was an authentic links. What did they expect? Target golf and lawn darts?
Well guess what? After 36 holes, the best players in the pro golf are at the top of the leaderboard – mega-watt starpower, nearly all the young guns of the new generation – setting up a pistols-at-sunset showdown over a course destined to become as iconic as Pebble Beach. Once you look past the whining, this U.S. Open is more than just terrific, it also could be as potentially historic as Turnberry or Pebble Beach…as it should be.
A FIELD GUIDE TO CRYBABY GOLF PROS
Frump-tastic in their perfectly pleated designer trousers and matching wrinkled facial scowls, there are two types of whiners in golf:
1) the guys who complain before the tournament begins, (those are the guys you can count out right away), and
2) the guys complaining after Friday’ play, (those are the guys that missed the cut).
Frequently the two were one on the same, and either way, they are the guys that weren’t going anywhere except down the road on Friday with a slam of the trunk and a screech of the tires.
“When I hear someone complain, I think ‘Great! I can count him out,’” said Padraig Harrington once, and he’s right. Besides, it’s not a U.S. Open without equal parts history and misery. The golfers are supposed to complain. If the set-up is not truly Golf’s Toughest Test of the year, then someone’s not doing their job.
I have a riddle for you, by the way: What do you call a U.S. Open without all the players bitching and moaning? A PGA Championship.
LET’S DEBUNK THE MYTHS
Let’s shine the light of truth on some of the myths being spread around about Chambers Bay by the glib, the uniformed, and the malcontent.
It’s not too brown – it’s supposed to be brown. “Biscuit brown” as the color is called in the vernacular, the golden hue of the fairways is indicative of a fast, firm surface that allows the ground game as well as the aerial game, allowing golfers of all skill levels an equal chance to attack the golf course as they choose and to use their wits instead of brute force to score well. (Golf, after all, is supposed to be egalitarian, played by 3-year old and 103-year old alike.)
Look at the color of St. Andrews or Royal Lytham, or Muirfield. They look like the toast you ate for breakfast. Better still, look at the color of Pinehurst last year. It was as burned out as Chambers Bay, even crispy in places. Remember the puffs of dust that erupted from tge ground every time a player took a divot. They ball ran all over creation, through fairways and off of greens into swales. Last year we were told to love it, this year we’re told to deride it. Why was that so perfect and wonderful and noble for Pinehurst, but at Chambers Bay it’s a negative? Is it because Donald Ross designed one and RTJ, Jr. the other? Or is it because one is 100 years old and the other eight? There’s an insidious double standard at work here…
Next, it’s not too bumpy – it’s supposed to be bumpy. It’s a links golf course. The ground game is the soul of links golf; you have to factor in what the ball will do when it lands and rolls. Sadly, most pros are too lazy to think. They can’t be bothered to do something so mundane. Thinking is for chumps like us. Moreover, true links golf has an element of randomness to it. The undulating terrain is meant to be mildly capricious. The course is the same for everyone – deal with it!
“You have to be very creative,” surmised defending champion Martin Kaymer. “But that’s the way golf is in the U.K. It’s very authentic.”
On that note, it’s not too British – it’s great that it’s British. That’s the way the game was born. Besides, it’s the new trend on golf design since the late ‘90s, so people better get used to it, that’s the direction that the industry is taking. Links golf resorts are popping up all over, from the Oregon coast to the shores of Lake Michigan to the sand hills of central Florida, it’s a cottage industry that is bourgeoning, aven thriving in the face of the golf economic correction.
Besides, after Oakmont next year, three consecutive links courses will host the Open: Erin Hills, Shinnecock Hills, and Pebble Beach. So they better get used to it quick.
Finally, a few of the younger journalists and newer broadcasters are griping that the fans are set further back from play this year and can’t interact with the players as much as in past years. They forget that St. Andrews, which hosts the Open Championship next month, is famously bad for being impossible for spectators to walk or get close to the players, possibly the worst course in thee Rota to watch an Open Championship. And both Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines have entire sides of the golf course forbidden to spectators. The ocean is on the entire western edge of Pebble, leaving spectators to walk along the eastern dunescape in order to watch the golfers. Worse still, both the ocean and a canyon edging and bisecting Torrey into a series of cul-de-sacs you can’t emerge from without a Sherpa, a camel, and a priest.
Give Chambers Bay a fair chance, and it will grow into as iconic a venue as all the courses I’ve discussed above. We should be grateful that America has another world-class seaside links that is both public and a major championship venue – there’s no down side here. Moreover, the maritime setting, hard beside tree-clothed hills amid sapphire waters, is mesmerizing in its idyllic tranquility. So ignore all this jabberjaw yammering – even the nonsense about the greens being bumpy. Yes, Henrik Stenson made SportsCenter yesterday when he said the greens were like “putting on broccoli,” but he’s the same weenie that couldn’t bear to have his clothes get a drop of mud on them, so he stripped down to his briefs to hit a golf shot at the CA Championship a few years back.
“It would have been a real mess the last six holes.” How about the mess for the rest of your life with guys like me pulling out the Playgirl-esque photo every time you put your foot in your mouth?
Stenson is overstating the case about the greens. Once the pros are gone, the massive foot traffic generated by an Open will alleviate on the greens, so the few bumps about which the players complain will disappear and guests will have pristine playing conditions.
Finally, the golf course has inimitable character. Sure, the oceanside holes are gorgeous, but the inland holes are also brilliantly conceived. Holes like four, seven, and eight are utterly unique; there’s nothing else like them in the world of golf. Bobby Jones gave us something original and exciting, a proper rejoinder to the great Rota Courses of the Open Championship.
And like spoiled kids at Christmas, people are whining because they don’t get it, or can’t be bothered to step outside their comfort zone. Preconditioned and afraid of change, only liking things they have seen before, and consistently underestimating something a little avant garde, they psyched themselves right out of the tournament.
Mike Davis warned everyone before the tournament began that the players that embraced links golf, came early for practice rounds to plot out the golf course, and who had imaginative, creative thought processes would do well here, and look at who’s atop the leaderboard? The reigning Masters champion, Jordan Spieth, and two more of the top five players in the game right now, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson. All of them came early for multiple practice rounds, and two of them – Spieth and Reed – played in the 2010 U.S. Amateur here.
Local knowledge and a willingness to embrace the challenge: That’s the different between hoisting the trophy and stepping into history on the one hand, and driving off on Friday without a check, tires spitting gravel and muttering curses under your breath on the other.
HISTORY COULD REPEAT ITSELF
Back in 1977 we had a course exactly like this and a similar scenario after two rounds. It was the British Open at Turnberry – like Chambers Bay, a first-time host of a major– and what transpired on that weekend has come to be known in golf lore as the Duel in the Sun, Tom Watson vs. Jack Nicklaus for the second time that year. They had traded uppercuts and round houses at the Masters earlier that year with Watson claiming the Green Jacket. Over a course derided and jeered at as just a fancy resort with a pretty face they separated themselves from the field by ten shots in what could have been the greatest head to head battle inn a major of the 20th entire century. Nicklaus shot 65-66 that weekend, but Watson edged him out with 65-65.
“I actually won that tournament by one shot over Lee Trevino,” quipped third place finisher Hubert Green, 11 shots back. “I don’t know what course or tournament Tom and Jack were playing.
Is Spieth vs. Reed as great a marquis match-up as Nicklaus-Watson? Not yet, but the potential is there. These guys look to have staying power. We could look back on today as the start of another historic rivalry. Spieth could become the first winner of both the Masters and the U.S. Open since Tiger in 2002, and only the fifth man ever to do it, along with Jack, Arnie, Hogan, and Craig Wood: nice company. Or perhaps he’ll be beaten by his Ryder Cup partner, Reed. And if they both falter, perhaps plucky Jason Day, recovering from vertigo and other injuries or Dustin Johnson, recovering from substance abuse issues can win their first major.
We have half the golf tournament to go. The wind hasn’t even started to blow, and the white-knuckle pressure with become unbearable come tomorrow afternoon, making for mesmerizing drama. So ignore the crybabies. If they knew so much, they’d still be playing, wouldn’t they?