When you think of the U.S. Open, the image that comes to mind is a firm and fast course on the edge of disaster that makes the best golfers in the world look human. A final score of par is good, and birdies are hard to come by. The USGA pushes courses to the limits in an effort to test players with speedy greens and fairways that run out forever. Years ahead of the U.S. Open, courses are manicured and molded into the USGA's image, and we've come to expect angry comments from players and shouts of "UNFAIR."
This year, at Chambers Bay, those shouts were warranted. The effort to push the greens to roll faster took a toll, and the result was bumpy, damn-near-dead putting surfaces that confounded and frustrated the players. But at least they ran at 12, the USGA-preferred blistering fast speed, on the stimpmeter.
It's not like the greens were perfect to begin with. They were delicate, struggling to come back from the winter over the last few years. Push the greens too much and all of a sudden players are putting on dirt, gravel, and some sporadic grass. Or, as Billy Horschel relayed: "A caddie said to -- or a TV anchor for FOX asked the caddie, How much grass -- is there any grass on No. 4 green? He said, Yeah, two blades, and they're nowhere close to each other."
From tee to green, Chambers Bay played just fine. Even Horschel, the most vocal of all critics this week, conceded that the course was fair and generous from tee to green. The problem, as was apparent to anyone watching from the course or at home, was the consistency of the greens, as well as the overall condition of them.
Just a few weeks ago, the greens were fine, too. Horschel played Chambers Bay about a month and a half ago and had the following to say about his experience:
This course was really green six weeks ago. The greens rolled a lot better than they did now, they had grass on them. They weren't very fast. But they weren't bouncing like they are this week. And I think when they went ahead and cut them down, they tried to get them quicker and faster, that's when they lost some of the fescue and that's when all the dirt started showing up, and the only thing that survived was the poa.
Because the greens were running a little slow, they were cut, rolled and firmed up. Because the weather was so nice in the weeks leading up to the championship, the greens continued to bake, and the course continued to brown. It got water, as usual, before and through the tournament, but the damage was already done.
Is it worth it to push a course designed to fit with nature, and surroundings that happened to be an old quarry on a great piece of property, so far in an effort to hit 12 on the stimpmeter? Would greens that ran a little bit slower while staying green and relatively smooth been all that bad? It's fun to laugh at professional golfers kicking the ball all around like amateurs, but the course was already fair.
The way the course was set up pushed Chambers Bay from fair to inconsistent. This wasn't a product of the course design, either. It came down to the final preparations for the U.S. Open and the day-to-day changes in setup.
Chambers Bay is a beautiful course that the Pacific Northwest should be proud of. And it's not a gated club tucked away from public view, available only to elites willing to spend a lot of money. If you want to play Chambers Bay on a random Tuesday, you can. The views are worth the greens fees alone.
There was a lot riding on the 2015 U.S. Open for Chambers Bay. A good showing and nice reviews would've been a jumping off point for a campaign to bring another major to the former gravel quarry. The thought before the week was that poor reviews may spell the end of Chambers Bay as a major host for the foreseeable future. Judging by the comments throughout the week and on Sunday, few are itching to come back.
The course, and the city that rallied around the U.S. Open, deserved better than a heavy hand that pushed its greens past the brink.
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