After watching this year’s U.S Open at Pebble Beach, it became abundantly clear to me that it’s time to tweak the tournament’s setup to ensure we get some drama down the stretch. While this year’s winner Graeme McDowell held on for a one-shot victory over runner-up Gregory Havret, there wasn’t much drama to go along with it.
While I understand a typical U.S Open course is setup to make par a good score and make anything under par the exception rather than the rule, I think the USGA needs to revisit its definition of “tough” or we’ll continue to see more and more Open yawners.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching the pros hack it around like I typically play just as much as the next guy, but I also enjoy watching several players birdie and eagle their way back into contention. When a course is set up with lightning-fast greens, impossible pin placements and jungle-like rough, the Open becomes a battle of attrition and doesn’t afford golfers the opportunity to put together a realistic come-from-behind rally and make a late charge up the leaderboard. When courses are set up this way, the only rallies occur when one player struggles more than the others and a leader falls back to the pack the way American Dustin Johnson did on Sunday. Golf should be about going low and posting scores that allow players six or eight strokes back at the start of the final round to play their way back into contention. When the course is swallowing up golfers like a big girl swallows up a thong, it’s time to for a change.
While I’m guessing the television ratings were decent because Tiger, Phil and Ernie Els were seemingly within striking distance at the start of the round, everyone that I’ve spoken with agrees that this year’s final round was less-than-memorable. The reason? Because after watching several holes on Sunday, even the novice golf viewers knew that all of the birdies had flown South for the summer. They knew that the game’s best players would remain right where they were on the leaderboard unless McDowell and Havret started Vandevelding their way to the clubhouse. But just think how many viewers would’ve tuned in (or stayed tuned in) if players were able to score the way they typically can?
If the USGA can set up a course to play like a big bully couldn’t they conceivably set up an Open track to do just that, but only half the time? Why couldn’t the USGA set up next year’s venue, Congressional (outside Maryland) to be just as diabolical as this year’s and most others, but then lay off the gas pedal a little when setting up the final nine holes? Go ahead and starve the greens of water, and let the rough grow waist high 10 yards off the fairway and stick the pins in the trickiest spots you can think of, but only do it on the front nine.
Then, when it comes time to set up the final nine holes, do the exact opposite. Move the tee boxes up in some cases, set the mower blade down a notch or two in the rough and water down the greens a bit to give the guys a better chance to do some scoring. I’m not suggesting any holes with a clowns’ mouth or any 75-yard par-3s, just the kind of holes that you typically see at a regular PGA Tour event. Greens that are receptive to good shots and where good shots are rewarded and not penalized.
That way, you’d get the best of both worlds. You’d get a true battle of attrition on the front nine. Only the strong and the battle-tested would survive to be a factor on the back nine. Only the players willing and able to execute down the stretch would be able to make up ground on those without the Titleists to do likewise. Then they could all meet at the 18th green and see how things played out after the smoke cleared. I’m telling you this would be must-see TV that would provide something for all types of golf fans. The ones who enjoy watching guys get punched in the face would get their money’s worth on the front nine and the fans who enjoy a good ole fashioned shootout would get their fill as well.
In today’s made-for-TV world we live in, I can’t believe this idea has been implemented yet but hopefully we’re not that far away. Compared to other sports golf is basically a nap waiting to happen but it doesn’t have to be that way. Somebody get me he USGA president on the phone, we need to talk.
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