An Exhaustive List of How the USGA Has Ruined the Last Decade of U.S. Opens
Any golf fan with a working knowledge of the game is aware that the United States Golf Association has taken some heavy criticism over the years. Golf’s ruling body in the U.S. is tasked with a host of duties, many of which they’ve failed spectacularly at. To wit: equipment companies continue to run unchecked, unnecessary rules snafus and stupid changes abound, and worst of all, our men’s national championship has become a farce.
Fortunately for Mike Davis, John Bodenhammer & Co. in Far Hills, we don’t have the time or desire to roast them for every transgression. But with the U.S. Open just hours away, we do need to look back and remember the previous decade of U.S. Opens, just so we know what we’re in for come Thursday.
2009 – Bethpage Black
Winner: Lucas Glover, -4
We’ll start off easy on the USGA. There wasn’t much they could do, as it rained for almost the entire tournament. The final round started late Sunday afternoon, and the final group of Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover (woof) only got two holes in before dark. The tournament went to a Monday finish, and Lucas Glover walked away with his only major championship.
Also, lest we forget, Phil basically blew this one: “Mickelson tied Glover for the lead after making an eagle at 13 after hitting a perfect second shot on the par 5, but proceeded to miss a short birdie putt on 14, three-putt for bogey on 15, miss another putt on 16, and made another bogey on 17 on his way to finishing two strokes behind Glover and tied for second place with Barnes and Duval.”
The less said about this tournament, the better. Moving on.
2010 – Pebble Beach
Winner: Graeme McDowell, E
A quick scan of the recaps from the 2010 event shows a majority of the column inches being devoted to Dustin Johnson’s massive collapse, with little room left for USGA gripes. Fortunately, we have the Golf.com U.S. Open preview podcast with Alan Shipnuck and Michael Bamberger, wherein Shipnuck dishes hearty portions of USGA shade:
“The greens were really, really iffy. Very bumpy, very spiked up, they pushed the greens to the edge. They looked terrible on TV, they didn’t putt true. Tiger made some comments about it, among others…some of the green contours had become too extreme over the years, especially on 17. I mean, nobody could hit the 17th green, it was so brick hard. Guys were aiming for the front bunker because they couldn’t hold the green. There were some setup problems on 14, there were some issues on 13…the USGA comes in and takes control of the golf course, they could have reshaped some of these greens two years out.”
Shipnuck is one of the most well-respected journalists in golf, and he lives literally down the street from Pebble Beach, so you know he wouldn’t put something like this on record unless it was unassailably true. Let’s hope the USGA can hold themselves in check this time around Carmel Bay.
2011 – Congressional
Winner: Rory McIlroy, -16
The issue here is right in front of you. The winner of the U.S. Open shot ended up at an eye-popping (and record-breaking) 16-under 268! To put that into perspective, the scores of the previous 10 U.S. Open winners was 14-under… combined. Rory matched Tiger’s tournament record of -12 during the second round. And it wasn’t just Rory – 20 players broke par, and Jason Day, who finished second, posted an 8-under number that would have been good enough to win 26 of the previous 30 U.S. Opens.
Scores were low, we get it. But why?
Essentially, because the USGA forgot the U.S. Open’s identity. The ESPN recap tells the story concisely: “The USGA did nothing to try to protect par, moving tees forward to tempt players to take on some risk. The result was a whopping 32 rounds under par on Sunday. The previous record of 18 final rounds under par was at Baltusrol in 1993.” After the close-to-the-edge conditions at Pebble in 2010, it looks like the USGA leaned too hard in the other direction, turning the U.S. Open into something closer to a Pro-Am.
2012 – Olympic Club
Winner: Webb Simpson, +1
A fog-shrouded final round in San Francisco saw Webb Simpson take home his first (and so far only) major, at a U.S. Open-respectable score of +1. The way they arrived at that score, however, was relatively tricky. The USGA had set the tees of the par-5 16th at a monster 670 yards originally, but on Sunday, they moved them up to 569 yards, to completely alter the hole’s character and strategy.
In Golf.com’s recap, Jim Furyk said, “‘I thought they might put the tee up maybe 65 yards, like they did on Friday…But to get to a tee where the tee box is 100 yards up and the fairway makes a complete L-turn, I was unprepared and didn’t know exactly where to hit the ball off the tee.’” That much was obvious, as Furyk snap-hooked his drive into the foliage and was never heard from again, finishing T4.
Straying from course setup debacles, the USGA also stepped in it big time this week in another way: by neglecting to publicize that they changed the rules for who makes the cut. They eliminated the 10-shot rule, and instead made it strictly top-60 and ties after two rounds. The only problem was that several players had no clue about this before the event:
Carl Pettersson said he just found out about the change earlier in the week — from the caddies. Phil Mickelson might need the 10-shot rule after opening with a 76, which left him 10 shots behind Michael Thompson. He was asked if he was told of the change.
“Honestly, I haven’t looked,” Mickelson said. “If there might be a note or something, I don’t know. I haven’t really looked at it.”
Zach Johnson said he was unaware until he signed his card after his first round, and scoring officials began telling players who came in after Johnson. Padraig Harrington was also quoted as being ignorant of the rule.
Perhaps most damningly, the rule was not posted as part of the local rules in the players’ locker rooms, and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis was quoted as saying, “I think I know it was in the player memo.” Quite a reassuring statement, there.
2013 – Merion
Winner: Justin Rose, +1
Another worthy winner, another U.S. Open-caliber score. But boy oh boy, is that where the positives end. Merion is one of the most historic and beloved member’s courses in the United States, and the USGA came in like Godzilla from the Pacific and tore it to pieces. Here’s where we invoke that recent righteous takedown of the USGA from Golf Digest:
Multiple Major Winner, Including the U.S. Open: At Merion, they moved bunkers. They moved fairways. They had some terrible pin positions. That wasn’t Merion they were playing that week. All of the best, strategic spots were covered in rough.
Multiple PGA Tour Winner: “Merion was a 7,000-yard course, but you had all these par 4s where you had to hit 2-iron off them because you had rough a foot deep and 18-yard wide fairways. It played like a 7,800-yard course.“
But sadly, some of the members seemed to side with the USGA, which just shows you how deeply misguided some golf fans are in assuming that a course’s difficulty is synonymous with its quality:
Coach of Major Champions: At Merion, one of their longtime members said to me, “Boy, our course has held up really well.” Your course? You never see a course like this. It will never be like this ever again.
An example of the chicanery: the USGA stretched the third hole, a par-3, to a ghastly 274 yards during the last round, prompting Phil Mickelson to exclaim, “That’s terrible, 274 yards – we can’t even reach it!”
2014 – Pinehurst
Winner: Martin Kaymer, -9
It’s hard to find fault with much of anything during the 2014 U.S. Open, other than the lack of competition. Martin Kaymer boatraced the field, firing two 65s and cruising on to an eight stroke victory over runner-up Erik Compton. Aside from the German’s decimation of the Donald Ross-designed, C+C-restored Pinehurst No. 2, only Compton broke par for the week. The event was held at one of the cradles of American golf, the course played tough but fair, the weather cooperated, and even Phil Mickelson praised the greens as being “pure and perfect.”
A few quibbles, though, as this is a USGA takedown post. First, Pinehurst’s native areas and wiregrass led to clouds of dust being kicked up, coating the clothing and lungs of spectators. Not the greatest fan experience. Second, the ultra firm and fast conditions led to a tougher than normal Saturday, but this is the U.S. Open, so that’s not a huge deal. More importantly, the U.S. Women’s Open was held three days after the men’s event finished, on the same course, so I’m not entirely sure how they got all those divots and pitch marks repaired to the level that they should have been to stage a women’s major. I seem to remember complaints at the time, but I can’t find any now, so either Davis and co. scrubbed them from the internet or I imagined them in the first place.
2015 – Chambers Bay
Winner: Jordan Spieth, -5
I don’t think we need to say much here that hasn’t already been said. The greens were an absolute abomination. Henrik Stenson described them as “broccoli” and Rory McIllroy likened them to “cauliflower.” The Chambers Bay US Open issues have been endlessly covered and beaten beyond death. Hit it, boys:
And in case you’re a visual learner:
2016 – Oakmont
Winner: Dustin Johnson, -4
Oh hey, DJ makes another appearance on this list. It’s almost as if the USGA is picking on him. Or maybe he doesn’t care. Or maybe a combo of both.
Anyway, as DJ approached his ball on the 5th green, it moved slightly. Dustin moved away and said he didn’t address the ball. As DJ pressed on, USGA officials tried to determine what should happen. After SEVERAL holes they finally determined he might be assessed a penalty. On the 12th hole he was informed of this fact. At the end of the day, he was in fact assessed a penalty but was too far in front for it to matter. DJ won the 2016 US Open but the controversy was enough to alter USGA rules. Now, for this same situation, there is no longer a penalty.
So the problem is fixed, but this situation was massively bungled by the USGA at the time. To leave DJ hanging for hours was egregious.
2017 – Erin Hills
Winner: Bruce Koopka, -16… SIXTEEN!
To begin the US Open in 2017, there was concern. Erin Hills was relatively unproven, having been open for only 11 years. But hey, the USGA wanted to branch out and go to non-traditional courses. That’s fine with me!
But problems arose almost immediately. For one, the tall stuff outside the fairway was fine, but it was better to hit it way off the fairway in order to avoid tall fescue. As Rory McIlroy noted, “Really? We have 60 yards from left line to right line. You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here. If we can’t hit it within the avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”
What Rory was getting at it that if you hit it off the fairway, there should be some sort of penalty. Especially considering the fact that the fairways were some of the widest the US Open had ever seen.
The other main controversy with Chambers Bay came on the putting surface. In fact, Monty came off the top rope saying the greens were, “…very, very poor. The quality of the surface of the greens is extremely poor. That is going to take away the consistency of the putts. The 10-footers that you see people hole all the time, that won’t be happening this week. The greens are extremely poor.”
He was right to an extent. Only eight players finished under par that week.
2018 – Shinnecock
Winner: Bruce Koopka, +1
Woo boy, there was some good controversy at the 2018 US Open. For one thing, Phil Mickelson lost his damn mind. Or wanted to send a message to the USGA. Either way, he ran after a missed putt and rather than have it roll off the green, he hit a moving ball and took a penalty. He really didn’t care but the statement made to the USGA was clear.
Other than Phil, players like Zach Johnson complained that the golf course was lost. The pin positions were criticized heavily as it was tough to hold baked out greens. Water on the course helped Sunday but ultimately, the damage was done.