SKYROCKETING SCORES, TOUGH CONDITIONS ARE WHAT DEFINE A MAJOR
Last weekend, SOJP’s Matt Larkin hit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home of steel, delightfully mediocre chicks, the amazing PNC Park and the “Pittsburgh salad” – steak, cheese and fries atop a lettuce leaf. Healthy. Oh yeah, he also got tickets to a golf tourney in the area.
I hate Excuse Kid. You know, the one who’s suddenly “injured” if things aren’t going his way at soccer baseball. He rolls an ankle, tweaks a knee or jams a finger and turns on the waterworks.
At 23, I thought I’d escaped Excuse Kid forever. I thought I’d never see him again until I fertilized an egg with my sperm.
At the 107th U.S. Open, however, I ran into Excuse Kid. He’d hit puberty, sprouted a sloppy rack and legally changed his name to Phil Mickelson.
It was almost as if the voluptuous Mickelson took one look at Oakmont – the bone-dry, rugged, merciless track hosting this year’s Open and known to many as Oakmonster – and packed it in. He showed up for the tourney wearing a fruity wrist brace and complained non-stop about the “dangerous” conditions en route to missing the cut.
Phil, I’m sorry you still have a chicken bone from last year’s championship lodged in your throat. But “The U.S. Open’s rough is too tough” doesn’t fly as an excuse. That’s like whining to McDonald’s because your McFlurry is too cold.
The U.S. Open, perhaps more than any other golf tournament, is famous for its rough and generally vicious conditions.
I had the pleasure of walking Oakmont Saturday and Sunday and it didn’t disappoint. The greens were like marble. Balls wouldn’t stay on the fairway even if you placed them there by hand. The rough looked like regular rough, but when you put a hand, foot or club in it you realized it was thicker and more stubborn than your girlfriend’s dad the day he met you.
Most amazing was Oakmont’s ability to turn the world’s best golfers into mortals. It was astounding seeing the likes of Jim Furyk hit shots I’ve hit thousands of times, like that chunker from the greenside rough that only reaches the fringe and results in a restrained “Fuck!”
I was in heaven; I love that the majors punish mistakes, force competitors to think and make par a desirable score.
Tits Mickelson obviously disagrees. He thinks the majors have taken course difficulty too far and he’s definitely not alone. Other golfers and plenty of spectators are fed up.
“I didn’t come here to see guys hit shots I can hit at home every day,” my uncle told me.
Looking at the trainwreck that was the Sunday leader board, I wondered if the detractors were right. Ten over par, a top-10 score? But then I remembered I was at the friggin’ U.S. Open, one of only four tournaments offering a completely unique experience.
I sat at the eighth hole Sunday for five hours and saw one birdie, courtesy of champion Angel Cabrera. One. You know what I thought to myself? “Awesome.”
Many people feel differently. They want birdies, eagles, aces, approaches hitting the stick, hole-outs from the bunker, and all the other razzle dazzle that lends well to the PGA’s “These Guys are Good” ad campaign. I understand their sentiment to an extent. These are the best golfers in the world and we pay top dollar to see them (well, to listen to them while staring at the back of people’s heads. Let’s face it, golf is a bad spectator sport), so they should give us a show, right?
But you can see that show weekly at any regular PGA event. You can also see plenty of long putts and low scores on the Nationwide tour or at seniors' events, which are glorified dart-throwing contests. There are thousands of amazing ball strikers in the world who can make you cream yourself with ridiculously low scores. Hell, just play a round with the pro at your local course.
United States Open participants put on a show too. It’s not as sexy, but it’s just as impressive. It’s a treat to watch a world-class golfer looking genuinely dumbfounded while eyeballing an approach shot that simply won’t let him attack the pin; to watch him blast a shot from an evil rough that prevents him from spinning the ball; and to watch him read a double-breaking putt knowing an inch too far one way could send his ball 40 feet off the green.
The aforementioned conditions are what make a major a major. The big four tourneys aren’t prestigious because they’re played on pretty courses; they’re prestigious because you have to play so damn well to win them.
Angel Cabrera truly earned his victory. He braved brutal course conditions, stayed super aggressive and hit clutch approach shots, all while chain smoking and shamelessly plugging Ping.
Here was a true U.S. Open champ, grinding out one of two red figures on Sunday. Much more exciting, if you ask me, than seeing Hale Irwin putt his way to -29 at the Depends Invitational.
It doesn’t matter if Oakmont was overkill this year. Every golfer played the same course and had the same opportunity to win.
Complain about the Open if you must. But be sure to call the Tour de France too and demand flatter terrain for the poor bikers.