Ewen Murray reviews a US Open of surprises and sour comments
Last Updated: 03/08/17 1:45pm
Ewen Murray looks back on a week of surprises at the US Open, a record score soured by comments from a former champion, and the end of a famous 25-year player/caddie partnership.
The second major of the year, the US Open at Erin Hills; was it a hit or miss? I think, perhaps, somewhere in
between the two.
After the disappointing Chambers Bay episode in 2015 and the rules debacle a year later at Oakmont, the USGA would have been happier going to one of their tried and tested venues, but Wisconsin hosted the championship for the first time and, on a relatively young course, it's fair to say they should be satisfied with the outcome.
The USGA now revert to familiar hunting grounds, as the next three editions of their championship will be played at Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach and Winged Foot. They certainly have a fine champion in Brooks Koepka and, going into the last round on Sunday, several players were still in contention.
But the big surprise was six of the world's top 10 having the weekend off. Dustin Johnson and Jason Day were far from their best, as were Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. All were fancied to challenge yet it never materialised, and it's one of the reasons golf is enjoying an interesting season. No one player is dominating and many are capable of winning.
One of the highlights of last week was the historic 63 from America's Justin Thomas. The lowest score to par in a US Open and the equal lowest in major golf. One of the lowlights was the reaction to that great round from former champion, Johnny Miller.
Johnny was the golden boy of golf in the mid seventies. A player who lit up courses during an amazing four-year spell in which he won his national title with a brilliant final round 63 at Oakmont in 1973, and The Open three years later. Miller took exception to the plaudits handed to Thomas, saying his 63 was at Erin Hills, which is no Oakmont.
It was a sad comment to say the least. Why a revered champion like Miller would say that, I have no idea. Perhaps the saying is true in his case, "the older they get, the better they were". I couldn't imagine Jack, Arnie or Gary behaving like that. It was an ugly moment which left one feeling Miller is bitter about something.
Given the wonderful and fruitful careers he's had as a golfer and commentator, I'm at a loss to explain what that might be. For the record, Miller's 63 was history making, Thomas added to it in recording the 31st 63 in major golf. All of them were special I'm sure.
Social media is part of today's world and used properly, it can be most enjoyable, informative and entertaining. On other occasions, it can be downright silly. McIlroy, having missed the halfway cut, prompted the 1995 PGA champion, Steve Elkington to say: "He's bored with golf and has 100 million in the bank". Rory's reply? "I'm not bored and it's more like 200 million". Pathetic for Elkington to say it and McIlroy was misguided for rising to the bait and replying.
I played with both Miller, in the 1984 Open at St Andrews, and Elkington in the Dutch Open at around the same time. The Australian was one of the best drivers of a golf ball I've seen in my career and Miller one of the all time greats. Elkington was an underachiever given his gifts and Miller's major career was short. Maybe therein lies the reason for their comments.
Neither has come out with any credit and it should prove to be a valuable lesson for Rory. In fact, it might just be to his advantage. Injuries, yes, but last week was not good enough in his world. I predict we will see a different McIlroy in the second half of the season.
At the conclusion of the US Open, the announcement of the parting of the ways of Phil Mickelson and his caddie of 25 years, Jim 'Bones' McKay would have surprised many. This golfing marriage has harvested rich fruit during that quarter of a century and given the fact Phil is on the last few holes of his golden career, it's a strange one.
Phil's brother, Tim, a respected coach, will take over the duties for the rest of the season. In there, is perhaps the main reason for the divorce. Mickelson is just inside the top 200 in the driving accuracy statistical category. Maybe it's eyes, not words, he seeks now.
Jim is healthy after two knee operations at the end of last year and with his knowledge, he won't be short of offers. He has much experience to give a younger player so it will be interesting to see whose bag he has on his shoulders in the weeks ahead. Both are outstanding people, caring human beings and I'm not alone in wishing them every success as they explore other avenues.
The next month sees the European Tour's new Rolex Series slip into overdrive. After the BMW this week in Germany, the French Open at Le Golf National begins a rich run of events a little over a year before France hosts the Ryder Cup.
Portstewart host the Irish Open for the first time before the Tour pitches up at another new venue for the Scottish Open, Dundonald Links. These three events are on a higher scale than ever before, they will have a huge impact on the Race to Dubai and, of course, the form of the top players going into the third major of the year. All will four enjoy comprehensive coverage across our channels and are a major part of our summer of golf.
With two majors down and two to go, who would have picked Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka to make it seven first-time major winners in a row? Perhaps more intriguing, who will prevail at Royal Birkdale and Quail Hollow? All that in the future and we will talk about it when the time comes around.
For now let's enjoy the feast in Paris, Northern Ireland and Scotland.