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  • Are there problems with the USGA and the U.S. Open? Sure there are. But in a Golf Digest piece, anonymous pros and caddies went too far in their criticism.
By Daniel Rapaport
May 28, 2019

The way these players talk about the big, bad, USGA, you’d think the governing body did something bad. Like, actually bad—worse than letting a couple green complexes get too dry or bruising the precious egos of touring pros.

The “USGA Confidential” article published online by Golf Digest on Monday quotes 57 people, every single one of them anonymous—incredible bravery there, to speak so candidly when you know you won’t have to stand behind what you said—95 percent of whom took the opportunity to rip the organization that puts on the U.S. Open to shreds. The piece, co-compiled by John Huggan and Brian Wacker, is a wonderful work of journalism. But if you’ve been paying attention over the past half-decade or so, the vast majority of what was said wasn’t new information.

The gripes have been repeated ad nauseum by this point, but they’re worth re-visiting: the U.S. Open setups are weird and often unfair; USGA leadership is woefully out of touch with Tour players; Mike Davis—who, until this year, has been the man in charge of U.S. Open courses—and his crew butcher classic golf courses.

There’s some validity there. Saturday at Shinnecock last year comes to mind, when the putting surfaces devolved into unplayable territory. That prompted a chorus of people, led by Zach Johnson, to make the trite-but-hilarious declaration that the golf course has been “lost,” as though it packed up its bags and went somewhere else. And U.S. Opens of recent vintage—Erin Hills was too wide in 2017, Congressional too easy in 2011—have indeed veered away from the tournament’s identity of being the truest, toughest test of championship golf.

But it’s impossible to read the piece and not marvel at just how entitled the people quoted come across, or how ludicrous the logic behind some of their criticism is. Let’s take a look at a few particularly absurd nuggets.

FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: Chambers Bay, the greens were so bad, everyone knew it was going to end the way it did, with someone [Dustin Johnson] missing a short putt.

Pros love to do this—blame their poor execution on the golf course. It’s why you’ll still see players tap down an imaginary spike mark after missing a short putt, even though it’s now legal to pat down spike marks before putting. Here’s video of Johnson’s three-putt, which handed Jordan Spieth the 2015 U.S. Open.

That, my friends, is what we call a dead yank. Look at how the heel of the putter stops right at the ball and the toe keeps turning over. He pulled it badly. That putt, and the one before it, rolled perfectly. That wasn’t the golf course’s fault. But now it’s acceptable to blame anything that goes wrong at a U.S. Open on the USGA, including poor execution. These guys can’t seem to contemplate that not being able to shoot 62 does not mean a course is “unfair.”

You’ll notice that you’ll never find the winner of a tournament complaining about the course. It’s one of many things that makes Brooks Koepka so killer at majors—he accepts the course for what it is, knows that everyone has to play the same track and simply rolls with the punches. It’s no coincidence he won at Shinnecock and Erin Hills, both tournaments where the rest of his competitors spent energy being angry at courses. Take notes, people.

CADDIE FOR MULTIPLE MAJOR-CHAMPIONSHIP VICTORIES: The USGA s--- themselves—there's no other way to put it—after Saturday. Sunday was too easy. They ruined the whole event.

So, to review: Saturday was too hard, Sunday was too easy. This is another problem with the dialogue surrounding major setups these days. There’s always an issue. The course is either too hard or too easy. The greens are either too soft or too firm. The fairways are either too wide or too narrow. The rough is either too penal or not penal enough.

Also, “they ruined the whole event”? What does that mean? There was still a more-than-deserving winner, an electric Sunday that featured a 63 and drama galore, fans enjoyed watching the players struggle for one week out of the year, and $12 million in prize money was still distributed. Ruined is quite the overstatement. The course was tough and maybe you got some unlucky bounces. That’s all.

CADDIE FOR MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNERS: The USGA official with every group always patronizes the caddies on the first tee: “Make sure you've got 14 in there—count your clubs.” That's insulting. That's not their job; it's mine. And if I have 15, it's my fault. I heard a caddie say once, “Don't worry, I've got this. I do it every week of the year. It's only you guys who do it once a year.” That statement applies to so much of the U.S. Open.

If that’s not the definition of being mad simply for being mad’s sake, then I don’t know what is. The official this caddie speaks of is simply being courteous. He’s trying to avoid any penalty. One could argue he’s doing the players and their caddies a favor. To view that as “patronizing” and disrespectful betrays just how sensitive many of the players/caddies are.

The piece reveals that there was talk of a boycott of the 2017 U.S. Open, one year after the USGA erred by keeping Dustin Johnson in limbo after he caused a ball to move while addressing it (he was indeed penalized in the end, and his four-shot victory became a three-shot victory). According to one “multiple PGA Tour winner,” there were 10-15 guys willing to sit out, including Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. I have a very, very hard time believing DJ would have sat out rather than defend his title.

But the most egregious complaint….

WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: The purse should be $15 million, $18 million [versus $10 million in 2015 and 2016, and $12 million in 2017 and 2018; the purse for 2019 is still to be announced].

Yep, apparently $12 million—the largest purse of any golf tournament in the world last year—isn’t enough. $2.16 million for the winner, $280,000 for 10th and $48,000 for 40th isn’t going to cut it.

Are there problems with the U.S. Open? Sure there are. There’s a weird obsession with having even par win the tournament, they tend to get too frisky with their setups, and their PR has been atrocious. It’s why the USGA removed Mike Davis from setup duties (it’ll be John Bodenhammer now) and appointed Jason Gore as the first player-organization representative. But the apocalyptic criticisms simply don’t reflect the missteps. It’s about time someone came to the USGA’s defense. On the record.

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