Funny game, golf

By Paul Gueorgieff
Editor, Golfer Pacific NZ


What happened at the United States Open?
This is the tournament where, generally, even par is just about a winning score.
The course at Erin Hills in Winconsin looked formidable. It measured a very long 7100m and pictures of the long grass in the rough dominated most previews of the event. It looked like even par would, indeed, be a great score.
But what happened? Even par got you 32nd. The winning score, by Brooks Keopka, was 16 under par. There was a total of 27 players who broke par. In the third round Justin Thomas posted a nine-under par 63, matching the lowest score in major championship history and breaking the lowest score in relation to par at the US Open. So it can’t have been that hard.
But then at the other end of the scale the world’s top three ranked players Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day along with one of my favourite players Henrik Stenson didn’t even make the cut. Funny game, golf.
One over par was the cut line but Johnson, McIlroy and Day weren’t even close. Johnson was four over, McIlroy five over and Day 10 over par. So it must have been hard.
McIlroy said before the tournament the long grass of the rough would not be a concern because the fairways were wide. So the course wouldn’t be that hard.
The long distance of the course, the longest in the history of the four majors, would suit the big hitters, said many. Keopka fits that bill but Brian Harman, who shared second, is far from long off the tee. Yet another contradiction. Funny game, golf.
The US Open is supposed to be the toughest test in golf. Back in 1974, one year after Johnny Miller famously posted a final-round 63 to win at Oakmont, US Golf Association (USGA) president Sandy Tatum presided over what became known as “The Massacre at Winged Foot,” which Hale Irwin won with a score of seven over par. When questioned about the organisation’s dastardly set-up, Tatum simply replied, “We’re not trying to embarrass the best players in the world. We’re trying to identify them.”
That has always held as the standard company line, but there’s no question the USGA has relished its role as the wicked witch of the four major championships. Since 1990, the winning score has ranged from 271 on the low end to 285 on the high end, save for McIlroy’s 268 in 2011 at a Congressional course so waterlogged it became an exception to the rule.
The long grass of the rough at Erin Hills made for good pictures but clearly it did not come into the picture for a good number of the golfers.
Justin Thomas, who scored 63 in the third round, said: ``The US Open is supposed to be very uncomfortable. It’s kind of what the USGA and US Open is known for — making you kind of hate yourself and hate golf and just really struggle out there. I don’t mean that in a bad way.”
Funny game, golf.
We now look forward to the British Open at Royal Birkdale. Will the rough be penal, will the fairways be narrow, will the bunkers be impossible, will the big hitters be suited? Who knows. Great game, golf.