UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) — The course that was built for a U.S. Open needs a makeover.
And when that’s finished, then it can fix the greens.
Chambers Bay deserves another shot at hosting the U.S. Open for no other reason than the finish it produced. Jordan Spieth, with a big assist from Dustin Johnson, did more to put this course on the map than views of Puget Sound or the design of Robert Trent Jones Jr.
For all the complaints — a tradition nearly as old as the U.S. Open — the lasting image is the guy holding the trophy.
It helps when the winner is a 21-year-old with polished manners and a tenacious short game who made “Grand Slam” a summer topic for only the third time in the last 50 years. Throw in some heartache and it’s an ending that won’t be forgotten. The real mystery is how Johnson’s 5-iron into the 18th green didn’t come off that slope instead of leaving a 12-foot eagle putt that was like putting down a luge track.
That’s ice, not broccoli.
Golf courses don’t always define great players. Sometimes it’s the other way around.
Valhalla, for example, cannot be considered on the A-list of championship courses. But it gave us Tiger Woods winning in a playoff for his third straight major, and Rory McIlroy holding off Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson in the dark.
The greens at Chambers Bay were terrible. Everyone could see that. A few players — Billy Horschel comes to mind — couldn’t wait to say it.
But they weren’t that much worse than Pebble Beach in 2010 (“These greens are just awful,” Woods said that year). They were only slightly more dead than those at Shinnecock Hills in 2004. Go back and watch that 12-foot putt Woods made at Torrey Pines to get into a playoff and try to count the bounces.
This is the U.S. Open, not the Immaculate Open.
It is meant to be the toughest test in golf, even when it gets a little extreme.
The greens should be an easy fix. Poa annua crept into the fescue, which led to Henrik Stenson’s reference that it was like putting on broccoli. Up close, it even looked like broccoli. It was difficult to make putts, though Spieth and Johnson made their share. So did Louis Oosthuizen, with six birdies on the last seven holes (one with a wedge from the fairway). Or maybe they all just got lucky.
The overhaul has more to do with an aspect of the U.S. Open that was sadly overlooked this year — the spectators.
For 50 years, the only way to see a U.S. Open in the Pacific Northwest was on television. And once the fans got onto the course, they were so far away from the action that the players looked about as big as they once did on a 19-inch TV screen with a knob to change the channels.
Adding grandstands isn’t the answer. At midday on Saturday, the 18th bleachers already were filled and the line was nearly 50 yards long, and not moving. Sounds like a fun way to spend the afternoon at a U.S. Open.
Phil Mickelson’s wife was standing near the first tee in the opening round. She looked down the fairway and didn’t see fans on either side. The 18th fairway was on the left. A massive dune was on the right.
“Where am I supposed to go?” she inquired.
Back to the house would have been the most practical answer.
The eighth fairway had no room on either side for spectators. For a course that was built with hopes of landing a U.S. Open, there was no reason it couldn’t have cut viewing areas through the dunes without risking spectator safety.
It’s worth going back to Chambers Bay no matter who won. The USGA wants to move its championship around the country. The Pacific Northwest had to wait 120 years. It’s also important for the U.S. Open to be held on a public course every now and then, so that ticks two boxes.
But too many majors are trending toward made-for-TV events (Kiawah Island in 2012 and Whistling Straits this summer, both sites for the PGA Championship, are examples of that). The atmosphere only adds to the event. What a shame for someone who qualifies for the U.S. Open, and his family or friends can’t walk the whole way around with him.
It sounds minor. It’s a big deal. And it should be fixed if the U.S. Open ever returns to Chambers Bay.
And if it does, golf fans will recall Spieth going birdie-double bogey-birdie to capture the second leg of the Grand Slam. They will recall Johnson having a 12-foot putt to win and then missing a 4-foot putt to lose, all in a span of 48 seconds.
They probably won’t think of Chambers Bay as the course where players lost respect for the USGA because the greens weren’t pure.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.