I finished just two strokes back in the U.S. Open. Kinda.
No, you didn’t see me on TV last weekend at Shinnecock Hills out on Long Island flailing away like I was swinging a tire iron and cursing the name of the United States Golf Association (more about them later).
I played the Monday after the tour pros got on their chartered flights out of New York. And, in the case of this past Monday, the day after Celebration was apparently hit by a named storm.
Celebration Golf Club hosts “Monday After the Majors” tournaments the day after each of the four men’s professional golf majors plus the Players Championship. The format is a two-man scramble, so you and a partner (in my case Monday, Florida Fire Frogs Director of Operations Erik Anderson) can play the best of your shots and shoot a score that you’ll brag to your friends about the rest of the week.
This isn’t a shill for anyone, as another radio media outlet puts it on and we don’t represent the course or any of the event sponsors as advertisers (although that can be fixed, and I know the number of some folks that can help). I’m just telling you all about the good time that was had by all on Monday.
Pushed forward by Anderson’s booming drives and my — Um, okay-ish? — iron play, Team News Frogs were in position for glory. Instead, thanks to leaving tough putts and missing a few by inches, ours truly could only card a four-under 68, a pretty good number but historically middle-of-the-pack material.
At the players’ luncheon and raffle afterwards, included in the price tag, we found out we were just two strokes out of a five-way tie for the lead. But still, a top-10 finish on the Monday after the U.S. Open made being out in the heat and humidity (and out of our respective offices) worth it.
The next two events are July 23 and Aug. 13, the Monday after the conclusion of The Open Championship at Carnoustie and PGA Championship at Inverness Country Club. Get with Celebration Golf Club for information on these fun events …
… Speaking of fun, that word couldn’t be used at the real U.S. Open last weekend. No player broke par for the 72 holes and a couple on Saturday couldn’t brake 80 … or even 82. An English golfer who you’d think would have been at home at the links-style, windswept layout chipped, putted and probably swore his way to a 92 on Thursday.
It was Saturday, after the 36-hole cut made victims out of top pros like Jordan Speith, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm and others, that made victims out of darn-near everybody. The course, especially the greens, got baked but the sun and raked by the wind. Shots rolled through the fairways and off the greens. I watched Swedish pro and former major champion Henrik Stenson hit shots on the 15th and 17th holes that landed in the middle of the green. His next shots on each hole came from sand traps.
The USGA has a blueprint for setting up their major courses — long rough, hard greens, fast conditions. Make the players play defensively. Par is good, make enough while avoiding the disasters and you can win.
But a course like Shinnecock Hills, sitting exposed to winds from the ocean and a bay, already plays hard, fast and windy, then was lengthened to accommodate the game’s best shot bombers. The USGA didn’t need to influence the ground — they didn’t have to on Thursday, the event’s opening day when 20 mph winds sent the average score up to six-over par, and nobody complained.
But when players hit shots from where they were supposed to, to places they were supposed to, and got penalized, nearly everybody complained.
“We’re out to protect par,” is the USGA’s rally cry, but it’s about 20 years behind the times. Players are too talented and athletic now to be held back by course conditions that don’t compare to a windy day on the moon.
On championship Sunday the USGA let the course play as it should — all but admitting they blew it on Saturday — and while six guys still ballooned to a 77 or more, 15 of the 67 cut survivors broke par, including Tommy Fleetwood’s record-tying 63.
Next year the Open returns to a golf world gem, Pebble Beach. Aside from putting a hole on a rock in the ocean, it’s going to be hard to screw up that golf cathedral. But I bet some players will still take the Lord’s name in vain …
… One last golf bit: I guess you saw or heard about Phil Mickelson’s attempt to make Shinnecock play a little easier: hit the ball again before it rolls off a green, or into a bunker, or under Tiger Woods’ yacht.
Obviously you can’t do that, but ol’ Lefty used the rule as written a hundred years ago — take two penalty strokes and be on your way — did something never done or seen before in a tournament like that. So of course, the stuffed collared shirts of the USGA, and the sewer-dwellers of Twitter, got in an uproar. “That cheater destroyed the spirit of the game!”
Really, there’s a hard-and-fast spirit to a game where you whack a dimpled ball with a crazy looking stick into a hole far, far away? Phil, a decorated golf champion and eventual Hall of Fame member was out of contention by the 13th hole on Saturday, and out of his wits. Rather than watch the ball roll over 80 feet away into an impossible lie, and feel foolish, he ran up and knocked the ball back toward the hole — and looked foolish.
He took his penalty, and a 10 on the par-4 hole, and went on his way, but not before being told how wrong he was and what the true penalty should be.
He should be disqualified. Ban him from the Tour for three months. Don’t let him in next year’s U.S. Open.
(That last one’s kind of rough. He’s from California. Pebble Beach is right there on the Monterrey Peninsula.)
He was nine shots out of the lead when it happened — I’m convinced he wouldn’t have done it if he thought he could still win — and it’s not like he went right behind the hole and rebounded it into the cup.
This can be let go. His penalty will be the damage inflicted upon his image.
He just better not do it if I see him in the field on a Monday at Celebration.