At the end of all of the processing about this year’s U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay, Jordan Spieth will be judged to have been a worthy winner. He made a great birdie putt on the 16th hole to take a 3-stroke lead, a shocking double-bogey on 17 in the face of that and a tough as nails redeeming birdie on the par-5 18th, just missing an eagle putt. He finished at 5-under
For his part, Dustin Johnson “called” with a birdie of his own on 17, a thunderous drive into the narrowest chokepoint in the 18th fairway, a mere 5-iron to 12 feet for the win. Unfortunately, that putt slid by on it’s way down to the 4-footer to get into Monday’s playoff. And unfortunately again, he couldn’t get that one to go in either:
They do bounce and when they are fast and bumpy, it’s tough to get it in the hole. Whatever the putt did on the last hole, I don’t know. I might have pulled it a little bit. But still to me it looked like it bounced left. It’s tough. It’s very difficult.
Johnson joined Louis Oosthuizen in the clubhouse who set the back nine on fire with six birdies and a 29 to finish at T2.
Adam Scott snuck up the leaderboard with a Sunday 64 and was joined by, Cameron Smith (68) and Branden Grace (71). Grace was in it until the very end when he inexplicably hit it OB on 16 into the mesh fence that protected people from the adjoining railroad tracks. It was a shock to everybody.
Gave myself the opportunity to actually have a chance to win it and just one bad swing cost me at the end. I was hitting my 3-wood great the whole day. Some good under pressure shots with the 3-wood when I had to do it. A straightforward shot, just spun out of it and that’s costly.
Grace was paired with Spieth and not only had some nice things to say about him and his future, but ratified that the quality of his play gave us a deserving champion:
He’s a great talent obviously. You have to be something special to win the Masters and this one back to back [youngest ever]. Like you said, it’s happened only twice before. He’s a huge talent, exactly what golf needs behind Rory and Tiger. He kept it simple. Until the 17th hole, he never had a foot wrong. He had a three-putt on the first and then he handled himself well. Even when he missed the putts, he came close and he just lifted his head up and kept going. That’s what you have to do to try and contend in a major.
And he also spoke to the fine line between being a winner and waiting until next time. In his case, it was one shot:
Today was great. This whole week was a great experience. I hit the ball great. I played some great golf under the pressure. This is definitely the most pressure I’ve had to deal with in my professional career so far. It’s a pity it came down to this. If I didn’t win, I would have liked to have finished second or something around there. Like I said, didn’t really do a lot wrong. The swing kept up, just one bad swing that cost me.
But what this Open will be remembered for is the shortcomings of the golf course. There were issues with the inability of the patrons to get anywhere near some of the holes; 8 had no spectator access. There was the issue of the “rub of the green” fairways and greens where a good shot on the obviously right line would not hold in hard and fast conditions and balls would be swept away from deserved safety and into the fescue or bunkers.
But most of all, it was the condition of the greens. Billy Horschel began pointing this out in an animated way when his putts began fishtailing to the hole. Because of the poa annua, the greens were so uneven, Henrik Stenson said that it was like putting on broccoli. Rory McIlroy said, no, it was like cauliflower. Later in the media center, Horschel was asked and went into some detail. The following is merely representative:
…It’s just been a disappointing week with the way the greens are. When you’ve got a bunker in the middle of No. 4 green that shouldn’t be there, that’s disappointing.
I’ve had this debate on Twitter the last couple of days with people and it sounds like the players are whining and we’re complaining about this and they’re like, Well, you’re playing for millions of dollars, you’re playing for the U.S. Open championship. And like I said, we’re not looking for perfect greens. We’re not looking for Memorial’s greens or even last week at TPC Southwind in Memphis, at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
But we’re looking for something that’s very consistent. Every green is very consistent. And this week they’re not. The only two greens out here that are really good are 13 and 7. And No. 10 is not too bad. But other than that, it’s just a very disappointing week to be here.
I feel like the greens — when you come to a championship tournament, I think it’s supposed to — obviously you’re going to find out who the best player is, but when you neglect one of the skills or take away one of the skills from a player, and that be putting, and if you’re a really good putter, a great putter, you know, and they take that away from you, you know, that’s what skill that you have above everybody else.
And I understand Jordan is up by the leaderboard and he’s making plenty of putts. But I’m a really good putter as well, and I have not had a great week on the greens. And it’s not due to the fact that my stroke is off or my speed is off, I’ve hit a lot of really good putts that have bounced all over the world.
So it’s just frustrating. I played awesome golf today. I played out my tail, out my ass, to shoot 3-under par. And I really felt like I should have shot 6, 7 or 8-under, but I wasn’t able to due to the fact that some of the putts I hit just hit some really bad spots on the greens and got off line and didn’t go in.
I don’t know if the USGA can level fines for “conduct unbecoming” for its events, but I think perhaps not because Horschel’s comments were very frank and consistent with other rumblings attributed to the locker room.
So unfortunately, the golf course will be a main storyline as the history of this event unfolds. We can only hope that it won’t overshadow the achievement of the great players who did manage to survive its idiosyncrasies.