I hate to say this, but among the four majors, the U.S. Open is no higher than T-3 on my list.
I feel somewhat guilty about that. Because our National Championship ought to be higher.
Part of the issue is that I love the Masters and the British Open so much. In my world, that’s a tough twosome to crack.
Augusta is the perfect combination. It announces the start of spring on the most amazing set of holes. And it’s an oh-so-familiar joy. I can’t imagine another course where people say, “Oh yeah. They need to play there every year.’’ Who doesn’t love the back nine? That’s as American—and as pure—as golf gets.
And while the course has been tweaked over the years, it’s essentially the same. Those of us old enough to remember Jack and Arnie in their prime can attest to that. Although we only saw the back nine in those days and the picture was grainy.
The British Open is the Holy Land of golf. The Road Hole. The Postage Stamp. The burns. The fescue. The weather. Old Tom Morris gets credit for a lot of these layouts. But I feel like they were handed down by God.
The Open not only produces fine drama. It produces fine champions. It’s not limited to long drivers the way other majors tend to be. And as a lowball hitter, and a bogey golfer, I can also tell you that golf in the Kingdom allows mere mortals to enjoy themselves. That has not always been the case on the major courses I’ve hacked my around on this side of the pond.
Even the PGA, which tends to be looked at as the fourth major, has hit a nice stride. It used to lean too much on gimmicky courses while the U.S. Open stuck to tried-and-true.
But guess what? Some of those gimmicky courses turned into classics. I think Whistling Straits—which has hosted three PGAs since 2004—was the turning point. It was so much of a breakthrough that U.S. Open officials—envious of the PGA?—started thinking innovatively. And not always with great results.
A big part of my problem with the U.S. Open is the setup. I don’t know exactly what the right thing to do would be. But the USGA has made some dubious venue choices at times. And it always seemed obsessed with straight drives and perfect irons. Miss the fairway by a yard? Go to jail. Miss the green by a foot? Get out the Weed Wacker.
Of course, you want the U.S. Open to be a stern test. But being able to hit a good shot from challenging (but not impossible) rough is a skill. Being able to chip and pitch deftly around a green are skills, too.
Thankfully, the USGA has acknowledged that in recent times. It even celebrates its “collection areas’’ around greens. Shinnecock is a prime example of that.
The other thing is, I could do without all of the arguing and complaining during U.S. Open week. Mainly because the people complaining have legitimate gripes.
I know some golf experts like the idea that U.S. Open setups get inside the players’ heads. Gary Van Sickle detailed that nicely the other day in a Morning Read piece featuring some wise Golf Channel analysts. But when you could lose a golf bag in the rough, when the greens are treating golf balls like Super Balls, it’s not whining. It’s pointing out the obvious.
When I look at the list of U.S. Open champions, I don’t know that they are a better group than winners of other majors. Actually, a case could be made for the opposite. That’s the bottom line. Majors ought to anoint worthy champions.
That said, Shinnecock is my kind of course, an American version of the way the game is played in Scotland. And judging by Thursday’s first round, our national championship is off to a good start. No debating about scores being too low. No whining (that I’ve heard). Just good tough golf.
I really hope this tournament turns out to be a good one—one with excellent golf and a minimum of grumbling. Especially legitimate grumbling.
Give us a U.S. Open we can all be proud of. For a change.