The US Open — Who’s Going to Win, the Players or the Course?

Time for the second major of the year. New course, west coast time zone. Tough not to get excited for really good players making bogeys!

About the Sponsor & About the Tournament

Hey guys! The US Open doesn’t have a sponsor! So I’m going to leave this section blank! Nah can’t do that, so I figured I’ll talk a little about the history of the USGA and how it started since they’re the effective sponsor.

The USGA dates back to 1894, when a few of the really old country clubs in the US got together to form a governing body to deal with keeping the rules of golf, and to create a national amateur tournament, which was first held in 1895. Now I’m talking about the US Amateur here, because the first US Open was played right after the US Am, and was added as an afterthought.

If you think back to the time period, this is a completely rational move. Golf was a rich man’s game — there were no public courses, the USGA consisted of only country clubs where amateurs played, and golf “professionals” weren’t tour pros since there was no such thing at the tour. The “professionals” were professionals in that their profession was in the golf business. Not what comes to mind in this day and age. I haven’t been able to find a reliable source for when the US Open became more important than the US Amateur, but I’m sure that’d be an interesting story.

The USGA, along with the R&A (which I’ll write about in a month or so when the British Open rolls around) also maintains the Rules of Golf. This means they get to decide the colors of the stakes in the ground that you have to deal with when you hit your ball in the water, as well as deciding what equipment is legal. Most recently, that’s involved making anchoring a club in your body illegal. Sorry Adam Scott and Tim Clarke. Gotta make a change cause the USGA says so.

Oh, and If you’re wondering the reason the US Open doesn’t need a sponsor, it’s because Fox just paid something in the range of $100 million a year to broadcast it, and a few of the other 12 USGA Championships. Cash like that means it doesn’t have to be the Starbucks US Open or some garbage like that.

USGA and Fox Sports, a match made somewhere in New Jersey probably.

USGA and Fox Sports, a match made somewhere in New Jersey probably.

About the Course

So, they’re hosting the US Open at a muni this year. That’s right, they’ve taken this prestigious tournament and put it a government owned golf course. What a joke.

Well clearly this isn’t a normal muni, but you gotta play that storyline up! Looking at the history of the US Open, this is only the fifth public access course that’s hosted a US Open, the others being Pinehurst, Pebble, Bethpage (the original US Open muni), Torrey Pines (still don’t know how this is a US Open course). Over the course of 120 years, having only 5 public courses host is ridiculous. I’m not complaining about it, since these old country clubs have all the history that the Open is known for. But it is interesting to see that stat. In 2017, we’ll have another public course in Erin Hills, but no new public courses are on the docket after.

Opened for play back in June of 2007, Chambers Bay looks more like a British Open course than a US Open course. There are no 100 year old trees at the bend of a dogleg. There are no giant club houses with pictures of sand greens from back when the club opened. There are no player lists from all the prestigious tournaments the course has hosted. In terms of history, Chambers Bay is about as green as its fairways aren’t.

Damn that's a cool looking course.

Damn that’s a cool looking course.

I suppose it really isn’t as brand new as I’ve been leading on, considering it hosted the 2010 US Amateur. If you don’t know, that’s kind of the method the USGA uses for courses hosting the US Open. About 5 years before the course hosts the big one, they have the US Am as a dry run. Exceptions being the courses that host US Opens like they’re club championships (I’m looking at you Oakmont and Shinnecock). They’re not subjected to hosting a bunch of college kids who run around and take giant divots.

From the pictures at least, the course does look very pretty. The holes look natural, built into fit the rolling hills of the terrain. Views of the Puget Sound are plentiful, and it even has an active train track where trains rumbles past the a few of the holes at times.

Choo choo

Choo choo!

Like any good links course, Chambers Bay features somewhat stupid terrain. You’ve no doubt seen the video of Bubba Watson making a putt while aiming sideways and hitting it 30 feet up a hill, only to be waiting at the hole when the ball finally makes its way back to the target. Clearly these issues are going to cause some players to grumble about the “unfairness” of the course. And in fact, it’s already starting, even before the start of the practice week. Seriously, just google “Chambers Bay complaints” and you’ll be filled with articles random grumblings guys have made about the course.

Thankfully, we have Jack Nicklaus dropping some wisdom on the whole situation, as only an 18 time major champion can.

“It really makes little difference what remarks have been made about Chambers Bay,” Nicklaus said. “You are going to play the tournament if you want to win the golf tournament. Somebody’s name is going to be on the trophy at the end of the week. Somebody, regardless of whether they like (Chambers Bay) or not like it, is going there enough ahead of time, learn what they need to learn about the golf course and play it.”

In the end, I don’t think the quirkiness of a links layout is going to be the issue. It’s just that these players haven’t had the time to scout the course like they’d like. Most other major venues have been recycled so many times, the contenders don’t need the practice like they do here. Imagine Augusta National hosting a tournament for the first time. I’m sure some players would be talking about the unfairness of the layout with all the undulation in the fairways and greens. It’s only because Augusta is golf’s Valhalla (sorry to the course Valhalla) that it gets a pass from criticism.

The USGA is known for its setups being a little funky at times. Mike Davis’s comments about tee boxes being on slopes really isn’t too surprising. After 100some years of running the national championship, they know what they’re doing. And from all indications, the course will be one that’s added to the rotation of US Open courses, and will host another one in no time.

Last Year

Martin Kaymer blew away the field at Pinehurst, winning by 8 shots. To put that in perspective, the last time we saw a winning margin like that was, well, 3 years ago when pudgy faced Rory won by 8 at Congressional. Alright fine, not that unheard of, but still impressive to watch.

Note that I said “impressive to watch”, and not “interesting to watch” since watching a player hit iron after iron, middle of the green after middle of the green isn’t exactly the most entertaining tv. Kind of the same boringness we had at the Masters this year in fact.

Similar to what Chambers Bay will be like this year, Pinehurst played like a dried out links style course. Long drives that ended up rolling into the fescue rough / open area bunkers were a common scene. You can’t really project players doing well based on performance last year, but as always, high ball hitters have the advantage.

Also, big fan of Kaymer’s quote, and like a terrible journalist I can’t find it written down anywhere, when he said that all he cares about are the four majors. We all know Phil has this idea, but hearing it from someone else is a major dose of sanity.

What to Watch For

Turns out there’s so much to watch for, it gets a separate article this week! Coming soon.

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