A MAJOR ANTI-CLIMAX
The US Open has never been one of my favourite events, and the treatment of Dustin Johnson at Oakmont did little to change my mind
ike most golfers, I watched this year’s US Open at Oakmont with a mixture of horror and fascination. The treatment Dustin Johnson received from the United States Golf Association really was quite extraordinary. If I had been in Dustin’s position when the rules officials approached him on the 12th tee in the final round, I would have been reluctant to play on without knowing exactly where I stood. Not only that, had I been one of the other contenders I would have felt exactly the same way. I would have wanted to know exactly what I was chasing and I would have made that point to the officials.
Without that knowledge, I don’t really see how anyone can play properly. Everything is affected: course management, choice of shot, when to go for something and when not. So for everyone in contention to literally not know the score was, to put it mildly, more than a little bizarre. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. Both Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have said they would not have played on.
What was just as strange about the whole thing was how the ruling was actually handled. If Dustin did cause the ball to move on the 5th green – a big if – then he should have been penalised a shot for that infraction. Then he should have replaced his ball in the original spot. But because the referee adjudged – after consulting with Dustin – that he did not have to replace the ball, he was absolved of any wrongdoing, even when the USGA officials later decided that he had indeed caused it to move.
Odd and sometimes erroneous rulings are nothing new though. Back in 2007 I was drawn with Tiger Woods and Justin Rose in the Open Championship at Carnoustie. On the 10th hole, Tiger was given a wrong ruling involving television cables. So these sorts of things can happen.
The saddest aspect of all that went on at Oakmont was that we were all talking about a refereeing decision rather than the brilliant golf Dustin played. Since then, he has also won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. He really is a great athlete. I hear he can dunk a basketball from a standing start (which is not something I’ve ever tried, but it sounds impressive!). I’ve played with him a few times and have always been impressed by how well and how far he hits the ball. He is one big unit.
Having said all that, I have to admit America’s national championship has never been one of my favourite events.
LA few weeks ago someone asked my caddie, Davie Kenny, if I was going to play in the US Open qualifying. Davie just laughed. “You’re joking,” he replied. “He wouldn’t play in it when he was exempt. Why would he go to the qualifying?” I have to hold my hands up at this point. My attitude to the US Open has always been a bit disrespectful. It is a Major Championship. It is the US Open. And I should have played every time I was exempt. But it was never a week that I enjoyed. I actually hate the way the USGA sets up courses. Not because I drive the ball all over the place – I don’t – but I have a real problem with the amount of long grass it typically allows to grow around the greens.
I just don’t understand the thinking behind that sort of thing. Long grass close to putting surfaces does nothing but eliminate skill. Guys who struggle with chipping are helped by that. It levels the playing field because everyone – no matter how good or bad they are at chipping – is reduced to ‘hitting and hoping’. It’s only when the grass is shaved close that you allow those with real ability to shine. From a ‘tight’ lie you have to use the bounce of the club to make proper contact. And that’s when you see who can chip and who can’t. But out of thick grass anyone can open up the clubface, hold on tight and give the ball a whack. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with graded rough next to the fairways. The USGA can make the punishment from the tee as penal as it likes, even if sometimes it goes too far. My mind goes back to Bethpage Black in 2002. Many players couldn’t reach some of the fairways. The only safe place to hit was on the walkway through the rough.
Still, if you are more than ten yards off the fairway you should be punished. That’s fine as far as I am concerned. But only a few yards from the short grass, there should be opportunities for the best players to show off their talents. Judging the distance from a less-than-perfect lie is a great skill not given to many. I love to see guys shaping shots and creating shots. The risky and exciting recovery is one of the best and most interesting things in the game. It’s so much fun to watch. But not at the US Open. Which is a shame.
“The saddest aspect of all that went on at Oakmont was that we were all talking about a refereeing decision rather than the brilliant golf Dustin played”
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