US Open 2019: Why USGA need issue-free week at Pebble Beach
Last Updated: 11/06/19 6:25am
Only the US Open could place Chambers Bay and Pebble Beach in the same conversation, but that’s how the recent troubled history of America’s national championship begins and, we hope, ends.
When the United States Golf Association took their most prestigious event to the quirky Chambers Bay course in 2015, it set in motion a four-year trail of self-destruction that only an outstanding week at Pebble Beach can halt.
It would certainly complete the USGA's uncomfortable journey from the ridiculous to the sublime, and the consensus seems to favour that happy ending.
Then again, not everyone is confident of a positive outcome. The question being reasonably asked is: "Can they mess this one up too?"
You wouldn't think so, but some of us cannot forget what happened at Shinnecock Hills 12 months ago when an undisputed golfing gem lost its lustre in the hands of the USGA.
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Those men and women in blue blazers and white button-down shirts who run the US Open have good intentions and are dedicated to the game of golf.
But at that beautiful links course in the Hamptons on Long Island, New York, they conspired to devalue their great championship, as they had done on the same course 14 years earlier.
They did what they always do, pushing the golf course and the players to the limit, and, not for the first time, they got it spectacularly wrong.
During the third round, on Saturday afternoon, they reduced one of the finest courses in the world to crazy golf, with perfectly good shots stopping near the flag on one green, before starting to roll again and running off into the rough.
If you'd like to recreate these conditions, try playing golf when the greens on your course are iced over in Winter.
The USGA has the most sophisticated technology for controlling the condition of grass but almost every year at some point they render that exact science worthless with one critical mistake. They rely on weather forecasts.
This blind faith in what is most certainly not an exact science produced the madness we saw on Saturday last year, and it's a continuing theme for the USGA.
At their US Women's Open earlier this month, there was chaos on Saturday with players taking five hours 45 minutes to complete their rounds and a young amateur, Andrea Lee, assessed a one-shot penalty for slow play.
The problem was bottlenecks and hold-ups at two points on the course, caused in one case by a par-five remaining reachable in two for the whole round.
John Bodenhamer, the USGA's senior managing director of championships, offered this explanation: "The wind was coming out of the North. We had a forecast that it would shift to South and eventually the Southwest."
Then came the punchline: "It didn't". To which everyone who'd ever tried in vain to organise a summer barbecue replied: "Surely not, Sherlock."
These weather-induced farces have plagued the US Open for decades and last year's at Shinnecock certainly had the USGA hallmark.
However, the Saturday afternoon shambles was not my abiding memory of the 118th US Open. Instead, I cannot forget the images on late Friday, of half-empty grandstands on the closing holes, mostly populated by drunks, shouting and laughing at the players in front of them.
To me, they were cruelly ridiculing an event which had in the three years prior to Shinnecock made a pretty good fool of itself.
The ill-fated venture to Chambers Bay, Seattle's 'Muni-by-the-Sea', in 2015, was followed by the crazy rules row that almost robbed Dustin Johnson of his win at Oakmont.
Then came a bizarre sojourn to the wilds of Wisconsin, where the players scratched their heads at the USGA's answer to Kevin Costner's "Field of Dreams".
They built it and, yes, they came, but somehow I don't think they'll be going back again. No wonder the following year, New York's noisy, well-refreshed fans thought the US Open was fair game.
More sober reflection points to the simple fact that the players rescued the USGA for four years in a row by providing compelling tournaments and great champions, despite everything.
Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka, two years running, is an impressive roll of honour. I'm sure we can look forward to another great champion and, maybe, just maybe, a fiasco-free week at Pebble Beach.
Ahead of that, my advice to the United States Golf Association is the same as that given to me on a regular basis by our first-ever boss at Sky Sports, the brilliant, but brash, Australian David Hill.
Just before going on air at a major championship, Hilly would appear in the studio, lean over the desk, and say in my ear: "Don't f*** it up!"