The 2012 U.S. Open is over, one long week, two completely sore legs and a pair of red feet later. From Tuesday to Sunday, The Olympic Course beat the heck out of me, just as it did to the golfers who tried to tame it. The hilly terrain, toasty weather and miles logged each day (somewhere around 10) were absolutely exhausting. And every minute of it was incredible.
So what was learned in San Francisco this week? Here are the final thoughts from the tournament.
The Olympic Club won
On Thursday, Bubba Watson said The Olympic Club beat him by eight strokes after posting a first-round 78. Watson wasn't alone: The course beat every single player that teed off this week. A 1-over winning score wasn't all that surprising considering the history of U.S. Opens at the course.
After last year's birdiefest at Congressional, the USGA bit back and the leaderboard speaks for itself.
That said, the course was fair
USGA executive director Mike Davis set the course up wonderfully and it showed. There may have been complaints about the course from players, a tradition of the U.S. Open, but Davis accomplished his goal. Par was, in fact, a good score, and The Olympic Club required players to be on their games from the first tee to the 18th green.
There was the 670-yard par-5 16th, requiring three solid shots to even have a look at birdie. The first six holes threw players into the fire right away, challenging them from the first shot of the day. And there was the 18th green, creating plenty of drama on Sunday.
All in all, Davis and the USGA did a superb job preparing the course. The U.S. Open absolutely lived up to its "Toughest Test In Golf" slogan.
It takes an army to pull off a U.S. Open
Thousands of volunteers descended on The Olympic Club to take care of every single detail one could imagine. There were crews on the course two weeks before the tournament started, building the numerous tents and television compounds. Photographers had runners, marshals lined each hole and security was ever-present, especially as some of the well-known players took the course.
Each and every one of the volunteers I came into contact with was amazingly personable, and each had a fun story to tell. From the flight instructor who came out to California to work his fifth U.S. Open, helping build television sets and running equipment around, to the sunburned marshal walking along with Tiger's group on Sunday, they were an incredible bunch.
The U.S. Open is like a magnet, drawing volunteers from around the country -- many of which have been making the pilgrimage every year. These people, unknown to most, were the real stars of the tournament. They made everything go, and did so with a smile.
Natural amphitheaters are incredible
The third hole at The Olympic Club is a natural amphitheater, surrounded by a hill on one side and a grandstand around the green. The eighth is the same way: A par-3 surrounded by a massive herd of people on the hillside and behind the green. The same holds true for the finishing hole, with people surrounding the green in a bowl shape.
Standing near the green for a moment that induces a roar is an absolutely incredible feeling. The wave of sound that builds as a putt nears the hole is enough to make your heart skip a beat. The deafening roar that follows is an experience in itself.
It's one thing to see the raucous celebration on television. It's another to stand in the middle of it, soaking up the scene.
"Nice layup" is the way to do audience comedy
There were a lot of stupid things yelled by the crowd, including the billion times GET IN THE HOLE was screamed over four days at Olympic. But this man was effective in his heckling. Nobody was laying up on the driveable par-4 seventh -- I never saw a player try to leave their tee shot some 100 yards short. So when Nicolas Colsaerts took out an iron on the tee, he heard about it.
To be fair, it was a nice layup.
The stories make the tournament
There were so many fun players to root for, beyond the usual suspects. The storylines that emerge at the U.S. Open are a product of its "open" nature. Anyone with a plus handicap can, theoretically, make the tournament by going through the qualifying process. While they may not stand much of a chance, some of these qualifiers emerge as crowd favorites.
Walking along the front nine on Sunday, I always knew where 17-year-old Beau Hossler was. Chants of "Let's Go Hoss-ler" rang out everywhere he went. Even as he struggled through the final round, fans pushed up against the rope lines to cheer him on until the very end. Few knew his name, and there he was at the end of the week having turned into an overnight semi-celebrity.
Or Casey Martin, most well-known for his lawsuit against the PGA, reemerging and capturing the hearts of fans. His best U.S. Open finish came at this very club in 1998, and years after giving up the game professionally he made a triumphant return by going through the qualifying process. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see his par putt on eight miss, ending his U.S. Open ride.
Finally, there was 14-year-old Andy Zhang, the youngest competitor in U.S. Open history. He didn't light up the world or contend like Hossler, but watching him watch his heroes was special. Zhang enjoyed the U.S. Open, taking in every moment. On Sunday, as the final group made its way up 18, there was Zhang, blending in on the hill above the green. The wide-eyed look, mouth agape, that he had on Tuesday was still there. He was just enjoying the moment, from the second he found out he was in until the tournament came to a close.
San Francisco and the USGA were wonderful hosts
There's nothing quite like the weather in San Francisco, where sun and hot temperatures can turn to fog and mist in an hour. It's a beautiful city and a wonderful host for a major tournament. Now if someone could just find the sun, or The Olympic Club in the heavy fog, we'd appreciate it.
Once again, the USGA aced a major tournament. The years of prep work that goes into each U.S. Open is often forgotten, but shines through in the finished product. Every detail was taken care of; every accommodation was made. The USGA did it up right for its major event, and put its best foot forward for the world, and those attending in San Francisco, to see.
Oh, and Bird Man stays stuntin'
Because a wild week needed an ending to match: Holla at the Bird Man one more time.