June 20, 2018
What will we remember about this year's U.S. Open?
We should remember this U.S. Open as a great win for Brooks Koepka and being the first player to win back to back for almost thirty years. But there were so many other distractions that overshadowed this great event. Once again the USGA messed up in their course setup. Then Phil Mickelson made a mockery of the spirit of the game. The New York crowds added a rowdiness that made the atmosphere less championship like. Brooks Koepka should be the story, but the storyline will start with something else.
Since I was a junior golfer, I have played in events officiated by local associations affiliated with the USGA. I have played in USGA qualifiers and tournaments and have great respect for the people associated with them and found them to be experts and the tournaments well run and organized. So I'm surprised with the love/hate relationship with the professional golfers for the U.S. Open. The USGA prides it's self with having the toughest test of the major championships. However, on a national level they have gone overboard at times in protecting par as the gold standard for championship golf. In 1986, Raymond Floyd played a practice round at Shinnecock Hills before the U.S. Open and told his wife that he loved the course and that the USGA couldn't screw this one up. He won that year. They didn't mess up that year, but they did on the same course in 2004 and 2018. The professionals expect something strange and tricked up when they come to a U.S. Open venue. It shouldn't be that way. They pick great tough golf courses. The course should stand on its' own merits. The championship committee has had controversy the past three years. They didn't want another black eye, but somehow they managed. With all good intentions, they missed badly on Saturday and they became the story and not the players. How many mulligans will they give the amateur experts to get it right? The feeling right now for next year at Pebble Beach is, "how are they going to screw this one up?" That's not fair, but they did influence the outcome of a national championship with their bad judgement. Maybe they should consult the PGA Tour and get help on proper course setup. (That will never happen.)
On the last day the course was setup as fair as possible. The wind never exceeded 10 miles an hour and mostly was calm through the day. In fairness, the predictions for the day were for winds at 15 to 20 miles an hour, so the USGA erred on the side of caution. Because of the friendly conditions, there were thirteen rounds in the 60's with the best by Tommy Fleetwood of England. He is a rising star and his round is no fluke. But after making a miles worth of putts, I was very disappointed in his miss on 18 for a new U.S. Open scoring record of 62. It appeared that he misread the break, because it looked like a well stuck putt.
This Open will also be remembered as a Phil Mickelson meltdown. By swatting at a moving ball that was going off the green, Phil committed a serious breach of the rules of golf and golf etiquette. He meant no disrespect, but he did. His explanation on Saturday was juvenile and self-serving. He tried to cover it up, but nobody was buying it. He should have admitted to a temporary loss of sanity and apologized. Today, four days later, he apologized and said all the right words. It will be forgotten, but not when historians replay the events of this U.S. Open.
Brooks Koepka is a worthy champion. He has made the cut in 16 straight major championships and has placed in the top 25 for 11 straight with 6 top ten finishes. His win last year was written off as the right golf course at the right time for the right type of player. Winning this year showed that he truly is a golfer worthy of multiply major titles. Last year I predicted more championships for Brooks, but since then he had an injury that sidelined him for three months and came into the championship with no tournament victories since last year's Open. Steely short game nerves and brilliant clutch putting made the difference in the end. The USGA bogied the golf course, but they didn't bogie the winner. At least they got that one right!