NOT OPEN MINDED

John Granato: Hey golf, you are embarrassing yourself

The course may have been hard, but it did not stop Brooks Koepka. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

I’m in the minority. I know this because I’ve heard so many people criticizing the USGA for Saturday’s third round of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. I’ve heard “joke” “clown’s mouth” “unfair” “brutal” “abomination” and so on and so forth.

I, on the other hand, found it compelling. I thought it was the closest thing golf has had to an endurance test. We’ve seen those pictures of athletes giving it their all with nothing left in the tank but somehow fighting through, crawling to the finish line.

Marathoners and tri-athletes come to mind. You older readers will remember Kellen Winslow being carried off the field after the greatest playoff game ever and Michael Jordan battling through the flu to beat the Jazz.

The closest thing golf has to that is Tiger limping around on a bum knee to beat Rocco Mediate in the 18-hole U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines in 2008. But that was special because Tiger fought through an injury. The only thing that got hurt last Saturday was the players’ feelings.

Waaaaaa. It was windy and the course was too hard. Waaaaaa.

I agree there were a couple of pins that were unfair. When Brooks Koepka hit a beautiful approach on 15 that landed about 10 feet from the cup and backed up into the bunker. That was crappy. Good shots should be rewarded not penalized.

The way the players reacted though you’d have thought every shot was unfair. Zach Johnson was the most outspoken saying, “They’ve lost the golf course. When you’ve a championship which comes down to sheer luck, that’s not right.”

That came from a guy who shot 2-over par 72. If it was Rickie Fowler I could understand it. Rickie shot 84 that day. 84 is really bad. 84 is embarrassing. But 72 is not and Zach Johnson shot 73 the first two days so he actually played better on the day he was complaining about.

And oh by the way Zach, Brooks Koepka did not win it with sheer luck. He just flat out played better than everyone else. He also shot 72 on Saturday and he played in the worst of the conditions. If you watch a lot of golf you know that sometimes you get the raw end and sometimes you get lucky. If you have a morning tee time and there isn’t any wind you can score well. If the wind picks up in the afternoon, chances are the scores will be higher. That’s just the luck of the draw.

The lucky guys on Saturday played early and took advantage. Daniel Berger and Tony Finau both shot 66 in the morning. They moved up 44 spots and were tied for the lead by the end of the day. That seems like a lot but it was actually just 6 shots better than Koepka. It’s not that unreasonable to make up six strokes when the conditions change so drastically.

Let’s go back to Friday’s second round.  It was windy in the morning and the scores showed it. The winds subsided in the afternoon and the scores went down. No one complained about it then. Why? Probably because the course got easier.

On Saturday morning there was very little wind. On hole 7 they were hitting 9-irons into the par 3. By the afternoon when the winds picked up they were hitting 6-irons into that same green. That’s a huge swing. Ask any player which club he’d rather have in his hand and the answer is pretty simple. It’s the 9.

That alone can explain the soaring scores. Of course the greens are going to dry out and get crusty. That happens on every course. Did the USGA cut and roll them so they were almost unplayable by day’s end? Yeah probably.

The USGA took the heat, accepted their role in the controversy and acted accordingly the next day. They made it so much easier that Tommy Fleetwood was a five foot putt away from shooting the only 62 in U.S. Open history. He missed it but tied for lowest round ever. Is that what everyone wanted? Over 4 rounds that would be 28 under par. No thanks. I’ll take 1-over anyday over that in our national championship.

And speaking of 1-over, that’s what Zach Johnson shot when he won the Masters in 2007 and in his third round he shot 76. My guess is that it got windy and the greens got so slick they were almost impossible. Sound familiar? But I’ll bet he didn’t complain about the greens and the course setup after that round. You know why? They wouldn’t ask him back. Gary McCord was kicked off the broadcast team because he said they used bikini wax on the greens.  

Remember Sergio Garcia on 15 at Augusta this year? He went Tin Cup with five wedges into the water; five wedges that on any other course would have given him five birdie putts. But did he or anyone else complain about the greens? No way. Can’t risk losing playing privileges at Augusta.

But by all means pile on the USGA.

Was it too hard on Saturday? Maybe.

Were there a couple of unfair holes? Yeah.

But as the old saying goes, “They weren’t trying to embarrass the best players. They were trying to identify them.”

And they did.

His name is Brooks Koepka.









 

 

 

 





 

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