Jason Day may be the man of the moment at Chambers Bay.
university place, wash.— The great thing about an “unfair” U.S. Open played on an “immature joke” of a dystopian “moonscape” course that may be “one of the worst golf course ever seen” is that, come Sunday, we know the ultimate outcome will be gloriously, unpredictably “ridiculous.”
After all, what can you expect with greens that are “like putting on broccoli,” even though they are burned out to “the color of cauliflower”? Why, it’s going to be like “playing the NBA Finals on a sloping court with holes in it and no backboards.” That’d be kind of fun, right?
Hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t say that stuff. Those are the words of famous golfers like Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Gary Player, Andy North, Ernie Els and anybody else you can corner for a few choice words. My favorites: Sergio on the NBA analogy and the debate between broccoli or cauliflower between Senson and McIlroy.
Great putters, their touch nurtured and honed for years, want to get out of here before they lose their precious feel and chew the heads off their flat blades in rage. But somebody is going to win. Half the U.S. Opens in living memory have been contested on courses that were detested— at the time. Yet they keep giving a trophy. And no leader, yet, has withdrawn Saturday night.
The perfect man for this moment, and this goofy course, is certainly popular, gifted Jason Day from Australia. Day always seems like a prototype major tournament champion yet has never won one, in part because he wants to so badly and exhausts himself practicing and tenses up.
On Friday, Day collapsed in the fairway of his final hole, and lay there for more than 10 minutes, surrounded by medical personnel as he recovered from one of his recurrent bouts of benign positional vertigo. Then he finished the hole, wobbling, doing an excellent imitation of a golfer coming off a standing eight count. On Saturday, after two bogeys on his first four holes, Day was almost forgotten by Fox’s amateurish TV broadcast, which almost ignored him for 15 holes. Three Day birdies in the last four holes for a 68 put him at 4-under 212 and part of a four-way tie at the top, earning everyone’s attention.
Sam Snead said, famously, “Beware of the half-sick golfer.” Slammin’ Sammy, who loved a wager, would bet anything against anybody any time— unless his foe looked green around the gills. Never gamble against foes with a hacking cough or a bedraggled walk. They’re feel too lousy to swing too hard. So they discover perfect tempo. They don’t dawdle over shots and think too much because they haven’t the strength to waste.
Day felt too lousy to be interviewed afterward, a huge bonus because half the questions for a third-round contender are always about “what it will mean” if you win and at what age you began “dreaming of winning the U.S. Open.” That discussion, insidiously, encourages the player to think about results and glory— those horrid twin distractions— and not process and execution.
Vertigo has dogged Day for a couple of years and forced him to withdraw before the PGA stop in Dallas last month. Batteries of tests can find nothing that would prevent him from playing golf, yet every round brings concern that his enemy will cloud his mind, even knock him to the ground again. But if Day can make it around this nearly-10mile hike that includes more than 600 feet of elevation-change climbing, hemay join Ken Venturi as a glazed wobbly U.S Open winner.
Minutes after his round on the way to his car, Day, looking exhausted, groggy and almost disoriented, said that he felt “pretty dizzy” on the front nine, got “nauseous on the 13th and started shaking on the 16th tee box. . . . I was just trying to get it around.”
A Sunday, a Father’s Day and a sick Day as champ seems an unrealistic trifecta, though it will be a rare fan (or chronicler) who doesn’t wish for it. More likely, this final round may make most leaders wish they could take a running leap into Puget Sound and sleep with the orcas.
Take a good mental picture of Chambers Bay. Youmay not see it again. This course was built by Pierce County for $21 million and opened in ’07 in hopes that it would attract major U.S.G.A. events, even though it is an inhospitable treacherous links for fans to attempt to walk. Caddies are in casts. Players, even Tiger Woods, slip on steep hillsides and flop on their rears. Oh, and don’t worry about the 100-car trains rolling beside four holes, at times 20 yards away.
All those conditions, plus the spontaneous nasty player reviews of this joint make it a likely candidate for another U.S. Open. Maybe by 3015.
Told of Stenson’s comment about the fescue greens— many infested by golf’s infamous weed “poa annua”— being like putting on broccoli, McIlroy just grinned. “I don’t think they’re as green as broccoli. I think they’re more like cauliflower,” said McIlroy. “Like, they are what they are, everyone has to putt on them. It’s all mental.”
That’s like saying, when you’re capsized at sea, “It’s all water.”
“Give us something to putt on, not this joke,” said Els this week.
On Sunday, it won’t be funny. Unless you’re one of the millions who gets to watch the madness. For us, the chuckles and moans of commiseration should start early and last until very late.
Jason Day shot a 2-under 68 and is part of a four-way tie for first.