Date: June 22, 2015
Author: Mike Clayton

Fluctuations & controversy, but a serious champion

The U.S Open is always controversial. The organizers rearrange the course from normality to set a test they think will identify the best player. They found Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus four times each and three times Tiger Woods so it’s difficult to criticize.

These last two opens, 2015 at Pinehurst and now at Chambers Bay have been quite different from the norm with the most obvious departures from the otherwise predictable formula being the width players were given to drive into from the tees and the treacherous influence of short grass around the greens.

1965 winner Gary Player went off on a typically emotional rant during the championship calling Chambers Bay ‘the worst courses I have ever seen’

He railed in part about the wildly sloping greens which lead Tom Doak, the American architect to say ‘Mr. Player is consistent in stating that great golf courses are fairly narrow and have flattish greens, rewarding shorter, straighter hitters who are not such great putters. Which just happens to describe how he played the game in his prime.’ Ouch.

Here we have one of the great players of all time and one of the best modern-day architects on polar opposite sides of the question of the legitimacy of Chambers Bay and what style of golf it encourages. 

Golf pro’s love predictability and ‘fairness’. ‘Fair’ is a four-letter work in the Doak office and his courses reflect it as he understands the bouncing ball and dealing with both good and bad fortune are critical parts of the game. The two are the essence of The Old Course at St Andrews and it’s why it is the most interesting course in the game. And probably why Player once likened it to playing golf in a bathtub.

So it was on the final day and fortunes swung wildly and unpredictably right until the very last three putts, all of which were sadly hit by Dustin Johnson when two would have seen him back on Monday with Australian Open champion Jordan Spieth to playoff.  Instead Spieth has, since winning in Sydney, added both The Masters and U.S Opens to his resume.

Adam Scott only made his caddy dilemma worse by bringing Steve Williams out of retirement for the week and shooting a brilliant final 64 for 277 and a 4th place tie. Can he convince Williams to come back and work every week he plays? It’s hardly a full time job anyway as Scott barely plays more than twenty weeks a year.

More impressive was Cameron Smith who had to hit the shot of the week to even be noticed by the American director sending out the television pictures. Here was a twenty-one year old playing in his first major and who has played well enough this year to have earned over four-hundred thousand dollars on the US Tour without having any status. He was never going to win but he came to the par five 18th hole needing something good to happen if he was to make enough money to earn an exemption onto the tour in 2016.

All he managed to do was hit a long slinging three wood, which turned around one of the wild slopes at the right edge of the green and ran down to within a foot of the hole. He tapped in the eagle to tie Scott at 277.

There are peers in Australia who hit further and look more impressive but some of it is superficial and Smith has shown since he won the Australian Amateur in 2013 he is fine player. This was no doubt a surprise but not a massive one.

Coming behind the two Queenslanders were to more from north of the Tweed. A clearly physically struggling Jason Day shot 74 for 280 and John Senden, 68 for two over the strict par of 280.  Geoff Ogilvy was at 283 after an encouraging Sunday 67 and as he often does made one of the more sensible player comments of the week. ‘It’s not my favourite course but I like what they are doing. I like the idea behind it.’

Johnson’s final three putt from fifteen feet down the hill was haunting for all who watched it unravel and he adds his name to others including Sam Snead, Doug Sanders and Scott Hoch who have failed when presented with their biggest opportunity.

Golf is a brutal game at times and it for a slow game it can all happen really quickly. In November though The Australian Open will welcome back Jordan Spieth, a serious champion.