US Open dominated by controversy as USGA come under fire... again!
Last Updated: 27/12/18 5:43pm
David Livingstone's review of the 2018 majors continues with the US Open, where Phil Mickelson and the USGA dominated the headlines ahead of back-to-back winner Brooks Koepka...
The US Open should have been about Brooks Koepka becoming the first back-to-back champion since Curtis Strange in 1989. Unfortunately, most of the headlines at Shinnecock Hills were dominated by Phil Mickelson and the USGA.
The officials that run the US Open really need to get a grip on a historic tournament that often ends up being a laughing stock. This year, the negativity started on Friday afternoon when the later groups were coming up the last hole flanked by near-empty grandstands, which was arguably proof that the local golfing public were laughing at the event.
Then, the third round became almost a freak show on certain holes. Some were enjoying seeing good shots go unrewarded, and seeing players putting for birdie from 20 feet and then chipping for par from off the green.
The conditions got worse throughout the day, and what unfolded was just ridiculous. I felt bad for Tony Finau and Daniel Berger, who went out early in the best of the condition, fired a 66 each, and suddenly found themselves having gone from last to first. If either of those had gone on to win on Sunday, I don't think that would have been right at all.
We got the right result in the end, and Koepka successfully defended his title after holding off a late surge from Tommy Fleetwood on the final day. Something seems to spur Koepka when a major comes around. If you look at his record, he now has three major titles but only two other wins on the regular PGA Tour as well as one on the European Tour.
He is clearly a big-time player who is in his element in the high-profile events. And he's a kind of "flatline" type of guy, so all the controversies with the course did not affect him as much as most in the field. Brooks proved that in the final round when held firm after Fleetwood raced round in 63 to pile on the pressure.
There were murmurs that Brooks hadn't won a "proper" US Open 12 months previously as the Erin Hills course played right into his hands. Yes, the fairways at Shinnecock Hills were a little wider than we've seen previously there, but the set-up was still tough and Koepka was a worthy champion again.
While the majority of the attention was on the antics of Mickelson on the Saturday, and how the USGA got the pin positions hopelessly wrong on a number of holes for the third round when the wind got up, Koepka went quietly about his business and got the job done with minimum fuss.
But just how badly did the USGA get it wrong again? In recent years, we've been to Erin Hills, which was just weird, Chambers Bay was a disaster and clearly wasn't in a fit state to host a major, but surely there was no way they could make a mess of things at Shinnecock, particularly after the carnage there in 2004.
Unfortunately, history repeated itself on a remarkable Saturday that made headlines for all the wrong reasons. The USGA seemed to have a knack of pressing the self-destruct button too many times and leave themselves wide open for the critics to dive in.
The Mickelson incident was out of this world, I never thought I'd see anything like that in any tournament, let alone a US Open. We had just gone on air and were still in our early studio discussion when we got word of what had transpired on the 13th green.
The footage of Mickelson running after his putt and then hitting the ball back towards the hole while it was still moving left us bemused to say the least. We were initially informed that Mickelson had disqualified himself, and his US Open was done.
So when we saw him hitting a moving ball, the assumption was that he'd had enough and was about to head back to the clubhouse. But then we saw him heading to the next tee, so there was speculation that he was playing on as marker for playing-partner Beef Johnston.
Then it suddenly dawned on us that he had decided to use the rules to his advantage, and that he had not withdrawn.
There was a flurry of activity after he completed his round and he emerged from the scorers' hut to give an interview to Curtis Strange and explain the bizarre incident. Curtis was very direct with him and pointed out that many would not accept his reasoning that he had hit a moving ball on purpose, and that Phil had been considering doing something like that many times.
But the fact that Mickelson did not admit to any wrongdoing in the aftermath did not sit well with me. So many people were urging him to DQ himself, but he appeared for the final round and the furore hung over the tournament throughout the final day.
For us Brits, the events of Saturday would have been forgotten if Tommy Fleetwood had ended the day hoisting the trophy. But with Koepka winning, his achievement was overshadowed by the events of the previous day.
There is no doubt that Koepka is a great major champion, nobody can dispute that, but it was a huge shame that his win at Shinnecock was undermined by controversy that he had no control over.