Sunday, June 19, 2011

The US Open Golf Tournament 2011

"We're not trying to humiliate the best players in the world. We're simply trying to identify who they are."

~Sandy Tatum, the US Golf Association's vice-president, when asked about the difficult set-ups of the US Open.
I've been an enthusiastic golfer for much of my life. But two aspects of the game continue to mystify me beyond the inherent challenges represented by the game.

The first is that the US Open is a very strange tournament.  Think of it. It aspires, quite rightly, to be the premier golf tournament in the world and as such, one of the toughest. That aspiration is neither strange nor illogical.

But the plan to get there is. For despite the tens of millions of dollars, the care and feeding and hard work required to make a championship golf course, the US Open intentionally kills the golf course to make it difficult to play.

Each golf course that hosts a US Open must close for months after the tournament is finished. Not because of the crowds that trample the roughs and create new paths through the wondrous landscape. But because the designers kill the greens.

No other sport ruins its playing surface. In fact, neither do most golf tournaments. Perfect conditions for play usually involve care and nurturing, not torture. If the essence of a game is playing on a pristine surface, why does the 'best' test of golf involve playing on a dead one?

Rain ruined the intentional killing of the Congressional course in the 2011 US Open. Because of that, scores will be historically high.

The second mystery of professional golf for me is the prevalence of just bad putting on the professional tour. It is not unusual for professional golfers to consistently hit a slow draw 280 yards onto a 30 yard landing strip. That is just plain unthinkable for most humans. But it is quite common at the US Open.

Yet is is also frighteningly common to watch professional golfers take 3 shots to get in the hole from 150 yards. You gotta be kidding me. What is even more frightening is watching them miss 3 footers with the consistency of a 20 handicapper.

Robert Garrigus, arguably playing better tee to green then even the astounding Rory McIroy, can't make a 3 foot putt. On Saturday he promptly turned a 64 into a 69 from inside 10 feet using a child's putter. Can you imagine how much better he must play than everyone else in order to win? We could go on at some length as to why Robert's use of a club better suited to a 12 year old almost guarantees he will putt like one, but there it is.

Happily for Robert, he is not alone. Davis Love III, a wonderful ball striker, never could putt. The same affliction has been hounding Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Stewart Cink and a host of otherwise fantastic golfers for decades. Given the coaching and technology available, and given that it represents almost 50% of the game, we envious amateurs can only respond, by asking, "WTF is up with that?"

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