with Robert Bicknell
With the US Open just one week away, things are beginning to get interesting.
Tiger Woods continues to bloviate about himself being a work in progress. Rory McIlroy is the defending champion but not really playing like one, Zach Johnson keeps forgetting to replace his ball marker and the USGA is getting ready to turn the screws.
In a nutshell, anything can happen.
USGA Executive Director Mike Davis claims that this will be the "hardest start in a US Open" and playing the opening six holes in 2 over par will not be giving anything away to the field.
San Francisco's Olympic Club will play at a par-707,170 yards. That's 373 yards longer than the last time it hosted the national championship in 1998 and the 670-yard 16th hole would be the longest par 5 in the event's history.
Olympic is called "a place where champions go to die".
Arnold Palmer blew a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper with nine holes to go in 1966. Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff at Olympic in 1955, and Scott Simpson won by a stroke over Tom Watson in 1987.
Former USGA Executive Director, Frank Hannigan, once said, "Something always magical seems to happen at Olympic."
Yeah and once the USGA is done tweaking up the course, that magic will seem more like Voldemort in action rather than David Copperfield making a 747 disappear.
On the other hand, that course could make leaders disappear just as efficiently.
The USGA is always being accused of trying to humiliate the best players in the world, rather than their stated objective of trying to "identify" the best players in the world and this year's US Open will undoubtedly do that very thing once again.
C'mon, with the exception of Bubba Watson, how many players are gonna survive a 670-yard Par 5? Yes, Bubba would probably play it with a driver and a three wood, but he's not human.
Some guys might not even make it to the fairway with their drives. It will be a repeat of Bethpage Black for many.
What really makes things especially evil is the San Francisco weather is notorious for turning ugly in a heartbeat. One minute the golf course will be calm and serene and five minutes later it can be all fogged in.
When you see low scores at a US Open, you can be pretty damn sure the greens got softened by rain. Otherwise, the USGA has them as hard as a parking lot and as fast as glass.
Fog, could be either a blessing or a curse, depending on the severity and the timing. If it softens up the greens, players will be popping champagne corks.
Hey, wait a minute! The USGA's specializes in murderously difficult course set-up's. Weather playing a role in a major is a British Open ("The Open") shtick. I think the R&A might have a legitimate lawsuit against the USGA for "gimmick infringement".
Personally, the US Open is my 2nd favourite tournament (Masters always reigns supreme in my book, so sue me) simply because he inevitable train wrecks are too irresistible. Sitting back with a drink and watch the wheels come off the "best players in the world" in a pressure cooker situation is my idea of quality television programming.
When these guys are in regular Tour events, the course is set up to be difficult, but also to allow for some remarkable saves. When was the last time you saw a player with a "fried egg" in a bunker?
Not too often and certainly a lot less often than it happens to your average player at any local course. But it happens quite often when the USGA is setting things up.
If I remember correctly, there was an old saying that "you don't win a US Open, you survive it" and this seems more often the case.
Yes, the same could be said about The Open as well, but the R&A doesn't trick up a course to the point that players are talking to themselves as they wander around with a "deer in the headlights" look on their faces.
The Open lets the weather cause players' gastric distress.
Who will win is anyone's guess, but it will be entertaining nonetheless. — VNS