The Greatest Open? I Think Not Pinehurst was fun for a while, but then the sameness of it all got to be a bore

July 04, 1999

Yes, the U.S. Open was riveting, and, yes, Payne Stewart was a
heroic winner. Even so, several things disturbed me about the
tournament. Excuse me, the championship. Call me a heretic, but
Pinehurst No. 2 did not cause me to genuflect.

Granted, I was not on the premises, but I did do a full couch
potato, watching virtually every minute of the 29 televised
hours, from the ceremonial opening of the telecast at 11 a.m. on
Thursday to Stewart's joyous celebration on Sunday evening. In
the early going, I found those approach shots to the false
fronts of the greens fascinating, heartbreaking, amusing--take
your pick. "Nice shot," Johnny Miller and Co. would say. But
then you would hear "Hold it.... It's still moving.... There it
goes," as ball after ball rolled down the steep embankments.

By the weekend all the greens began to run together in the mind,
18 cereal bowls turned upside down. "The green is 6,000 square
feet," I was told, "but the safe landing area is only 1,000
feet," and then television would show a cartoon image of the
green with an inner ring designating the safe area. At times
even Miller seemed to despair as approaches from 200 yards that
landed 15 feet short of the pin rolled by the cup, appeared to
stop, then trickled on and down, winding up well off the green.

At first it was interesting to see what clubs the players would
use from these awkward positions. NBC showed us the options on
tape: wedge, middle iron, putter, fairway wood. But after a
while I really didn't care which club was used. More often than
not, the player "rescued par." By Sunday evening we television
viewers had probably seen 200 such shots, none of which were
memorable, save those that fell short and rolled back to a
player's feet.

The players were nearly unanimous in their praise of old No. 2,
so I'm clearly in the minority, a golfing dolt among
connoisseurs. Tiger Woods hopes the tournament--excuse me again,
the championship--will return to Pinehurst soon, a natural
sentiment because this was his best Open, and Lee Janzen was
quoted several times as saying that he has often been asked
which is the most difficult course he has ever played. "Now I
know," he said. Fine, but for viewing pleasure, give me Augusta,
Pebble Beach or St. Andrews.

The clock-watching business bothered me, too. "Let's bring the
USGA's David Fay in here because we have a slow-play problem," we
were told during the third round. "David, what's up?" With that,
Fay explained that the final pairing that day, Stewart and David
Duval, was "on the clock" because the players had lost touch with
the pair ahead, Woods and Tim Herron. Duval, Fay explained, had
been given a warning for taking more than 45 seconds to hit a
shot. Minutes later Fay said that Duval and Stewart were off the
hook because they had caught Herron and Woods, who themselves
were now on the clock for falling behind the group ahead of them.
The entire scenario, with different players, was repeated during
the final round.

Give me a break! First, you sentence the players to a course
designed by the Marquis de Sade, then you zero in on the
leaders, each struggling to be identified--a USGA term--as the
national champion, and you tell them to get a move on. It's one
thing to caution some slow-playing oafs in the middle of the
pack who are on their way to shooting 29 over par, but if the
leaders are playing a tad slow, whom are they holding up?
Besides, it's academic. You will never, ever see the day when
the USGA slaps a two-stroke penalty on the leader. "Sorry,
Tiger, you were ahead by one, but now you're a stroke behind."
No way.

I was glad to see the Open end. I understand why the players
came off the 18th green drained. Just watching for roughly seven
hours a day was draining. But if they played it again next week,
you know what? Warts and all, I wouldn't miss a moment.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK

Showing his metal Woods often chipped with a three-wood, and
after his best Open he praised the course.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)