‘There will be whining’ at Winged Foot’s long-awaited US Open
Winged Foot has been waiting.
Winged Foot has been waiting 14 years, dating back to the last time it hosted the U.S. Open, in 2006.
Winged Foot has been waiting through the COVID-19 postponement, moving the 2020 U.S. Open from June to this week.
Winged Foot has been waiting while the 13 PGA Tour tournaments since the restart of its season following a three-month pandemic pause have delivered winners with an average winning score of 17.5 under par.
Winged Foot has been waiting while world No. 1 Dustin Johnson won at 30-under par in the Northern Trust, 21-under par at the Tour Championship and 19-under at the Travelers.
Winged Foot has been waiting for Phil Mickelson, who’s been waiting 14 years to settle a score with the West Course, most particularly No. 18.
Winged Foot has been waiting for Tiger Woods, who in 2006 was barely a month removed from the death of his father, Earl, and never stood a chance to make the cut that week.
Winged Foot has been waiting for the bitching and moaning by the players about how difficult it is, how the USGA’s setup is more appropriate for the Ironman Triathlon than a golf tournament.
In the 20 U.S. Opens since 2000, the winning score has been over-par four times, even-par three times and double digits under-par only four times.
The USGA always has been about defending par, and in that process it’s been known to cross the line of manipulation on occasion (see Shinnecock Hills in 2004 and 2018). And in that process, many of the players have gotten defensive — not only in their play, but vocally, too.
“There will be whining,” NBC Sports analyst David Feherty said this past week. “There always is when you got a golf course that’s so penal off the tee.”
You know what? Too bad.
There’s a place for the tournaments that produce 25-under-par winners. That place is not every week.
There’s a certain fascination that golf fans get out of watching the best players in the world struggle for par instead of hitting gap wedges into par-5 greens with their second shots.
Those who argue that the difficult setups are not fair are missing the point. How can they be unfair if everyone in the field is playing the same golf course?
Geoff Ogilvy won that 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot that Mickelson lost with his implosion on the 72nd hole at 5-over par for the week.
Winged Foot has hosted nine professional major championships and twice the winning score was below par — Davis Love III’s 1997 PGA Championship and Fuzzy Zoeller’s 1984 U.S. Open win.
The most famous was Hale Irwin’s U.S. Open win at 7-over-par in 1974, which was so difficult that Dick Schaap wrote a book about it, titled, “The Massacre at Winged Foot.”
The cut in that U.S. Open was 13-over par. Schaap’s book famously prompted then-USGA championship chairman Sandy Tatum to say “We’re not trying to embarrass the best players in the world; we’re trying to identify them.”
The weather in the days leading up to this week’s U.S. Open has been cool and dry, and that trend is forecast to continue through tournament week. That will make for firmer and faster conditions, which when combined with the narrow fairways and brutal, lush rough will make for tough scoring conditions.
“It’s just a difficult course,” world No. 2 Jon Rahm said after a recent trip to see the course for the first time. “It’s long. It’s narrow. It’s undulated. You just need to play really good golf. I’m not shocked that the winning score last time was 5-over par. And if it gets firm … I don’t see how any of us shoots under par.”
Reigning British Open champion Shane Lowry took notice of Rahm’s scouting report.
“I imagine it’s going to be one of the tougher U.S. Opens that we’re going to face,’’ Lowry said recently. “I heard Jon Rahm’s comments saying that over par will probably win the tournament. It excites me a little bit to be able to see what it’s like, but obviously it won’t excite you too much if you don’t have your A-game with you.’’
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