It's No Beauty Contest Most Tour players never learn what makes the U.S. Open special

June 24, 2001

On Wednesday night in Tulsa, a man with chiseled features and
shiny shoes stepped brightly across a hotel lobby, right past a
golfing blue blood, an accomplished old gent with good club
memberships. In a hushed voice the older man said, "There's
Bernhard." The autograph seekers missed Langer. They were too
busy chasing Fred Funk and Frank Lickliter.

They've become stars, the golfers have, even your Fred Funks and
Frank Lickliters. About 20 of them were congregated in and around
the lobby of the players' hotel this night, waiting for their
courtesy cars, late for their dinner reservations. It was a
scene: players talking on cell phones as thin as Hershey bars;
another, well-cologned, wearing wraparound shades on his
forehead, mousse in his hair and a silk shirt on his gym-built
body; several guys with knockout blondes attached to their hips,
college buddies, managers, even young-looking parents in their
wakes.

Put these guys on TV every week, put a half million in their
money market accounts, spare them the ordinary cares of the
world, and what you have is something glamorous, as glamorous as
the NBA once was. For good or for bad, the Tour has become a
glittering circus.

Except during four days in June, which is exactly the way the
USGA, the stern church watching over American golf, wants it.
What all those guys chilling in the DoubleTree lobby didn't
realize was that there was nowhere to go in Tulsa. In fact
there's never anywhere to go during a U.S. Open.

Some years the USGA screws up and takes the national championship
to a place that's beautiful or charming or interesting: Pebble
Beach, Pinehurst, the Hamptons. That's a nice thing for golf's
accidental tourists: wives of players, sportswriters, traveling
fans. It's nice for NBC. The smart players, however, know it's a
mirage. A day in their lives during the U.S. Open always comes
down to this: hotel-course-hotel, room service. Or,
hotel-course-hotel, McDonald's. They bring their putters back to
the room.

Southern Hills, Oak Hill and Baltusrol. Pebble Beach, Shinnecock
Hills and Pinehurst. You only think you see a difference.
Actually, they're all the same place once the USGA gets through
with them, once the players realize what they're playing for. The
best thing about last week's Open at Southern Hills was that it
was even more boring than usual. That's what the U.S. Open is: a
colossal test in the ability to withstand tedium, a torture so
exquisite that it is, in the end, exciting in its pureness.
Nothing glittery about it.

One of the great cliches of the U.S. Open, born in truth, is that
from a field of 156 men, maybe 20 have enough game, will and
patience to win the thing. Lee Janzen and Tiger Woods have
already shown that they do. Thomas Bjorn, David Duval, Padraig
Harrington, Scott Hoch, John Huston, Tom Lehman, David Toms--one
or two of them might win the tournament someday. Davis Love III
headed back to the hotel right after his Friday round, bags of
fast food in one hand, putter in the other. Add a dozen players
of your own if you like, but no more.

Every freakish once in a while a player with tinsel, a Payne
Stewart, will win the Open. (Woods doesn't count. Yes, he's awash
in sparkle because of TV, but what he really is is golf's
ultimate grinder.) Ben Hogan, Andy North and Scott Simpson, they
are the prototypes, now and forever.

The U.S. Open has nothing whatsoever to do with cell phones, hair
mousse, trophy brides or carefree living. You can light up a
cigar when you win in the desert, have the membership stand for
you when you win at Augusta National or drink single malt at
midnight on the 18th green when you win in Great Britain. Fine.
At the U.S. Open you grind for 72 holes, then look up and find
out whether you've won.

U.S. Opens are mean, and so are their courses. They are Southern
Hills last week. The winner of the Open hits punch shots out of
the rough to exactly the correct layup yardage, hits iron shots
to the fat of the green, hits a fairway wood off the tee without
even a thought of letting loose with a driver. Playing in a U.S.
Open is a trip through hell. There's no deep joy in winning the
thing, only relief. Byron Nelson, Ken Venturi, Tiger Woods,
they'll tell you that. All Retief Goosen did was outlast 20 other
guys. The rest of them, focused on the wrong things, never had a
chance.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: FRED HARPER

What you have is something as glamorous as the NBA once was. For
good or bad, the Tour has become a glittering circus.

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)