Just ask Dustin Johnson, who three-putted the 18th hole, missing a chance to send the U.S. Open into a playoff with Jordan Spieth, who won the tournament after scoring a birdie on the 18th hole of the Robert Trent Jones II design, located on the edge of the Puget Sound.
It was an exciting U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington – one for the ages, really – that literally came down to the last shot. All week there was talk of Chambers Bay’s setup, especially the fescue greens, which several players labeled “bumpy.” You won’t get any lip service from Joe Sixpack over bumpy greens, but you will from PGA professionals. After the second round, Hendrik Stenson said the greens were like putting on broccoli. Ouch!
Johnson didn’t complain about the bumpy greens after his final round, but you could sense his insinuation that they had plenty to do with him losing the tournament. He said the fast and bumpy greens made it tough to get the ball in the hole.
“Whatever the putt did on the last hole … I might have pulled it a little bit, but to me it looked like it bounced left,” Johnson said. “I tried my damndest to get it in the hole. I just couldn’t do it.”
Meanwhile, Spieth, the 21-year-old phenom, finds himself halfway to golf’s Grand Slam this year with wins in the Masters and now U.S. Open. (The British Open Championship is set for July 12-19 at St. Andrews). Spieth never seemed to let the bumpy greens get in his head. After his third round on Saturday, Spieth noted that the greens “aren’t what we normally see. They don’t putt like we normally see.”
Note: Spieth lost The British Open to Zach Johnson with a tie in fourth.
But instead of complaining about the greens, Spieth embraced his chances of beating the course and winning the tournament.
“I got over it,” Spieth said of the “noise” surrounding the tournament. “The quicker you [do] that and don’t worry about it, the easier it is just to move on with your game.”
Spieth also never forgot which tournament he was in – the U.S. Open. “It’s a grind,” he said.
All U.S. Opens, give or take a few, are set up to make golfers grind. But you could say this year’s U.S. Open was really a grind.
‘A big, bold site’
This U.S. Open was a U.S. Open of firsts. It was the first time that a men’s or women’s U.S. Open was played on a course that is predominantly fescue. It was also the first time a U.S. Open and a golf tournament of this magnitude had been held in the Pacific Northwest.
The course played firm and fast, not unlike other U.S. Opens, although it sometimes played like an asphalt parking lot.
Before the tournament, Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, called fescue “a fascinating grass on which to play.” He said fescue also doesn’t have any “tackiness” to it, noting that balls tend to skid on it, where bentgrass has a tendency to grab a ball. We’re pretty sure some players weren’t happy about their balls skidding, along with their scores.
Davis had also labeled Chambers Bay “a big, bold site,” and said the course isn’t “remotely similar” to any course that a U.S. Open has been played on. He was right about that.
Oh, and Davis said, “It wouldn’t be a U.S. Open if we didn’t get some chirping.” Indeed, the players were chirping. Roy McIlroy said the greens “were not the best I’ve putted on,” and said he would be fine if the U.S. Open doesn’t return to Chambers Bay for 20 years. Sergio Garcia said the greens were as bad as they looked on TV.
If you watched on TV or were there, the first thing you had to be struck with is the utter and absolute brownness of the property. If western Washington is anything in mid-June, it’s green and lush.
So Chambers Bay seemed like such a strange little anomaly – a desert in the middle of the oasis, if you will. The brownness is, of course, the fescue that has been planted nearly wall to wall. The grass does not hold its color in warm and dry conditions, which the area had experienced in the days leading up to the tournament. Throw in many thousands of folks stomping around the property several days in a row and, well, there you go.
Can you see?
While Chambers Bay was built to host a U.S. Open, it wasn’t a very user-friendly golf course for spectators. For the walking fan, it was virtually impossible to follow a single player or group around the golf course. Not only did the layout prevent this, but the placement of ropes, seemingly to protect mounds and grass, often kept fans from getting from point A to B easily, if at all.
Over and over, frustrated fans could be heard saying, “Can we get closer?” or “How do we get over there?” or “What group is this?”
Huge chunks of rough that seemed like they would be great viewing areas were roped off. Instead of allowing the thousands of fans the ability to get up close to the golfers, these areas were wide open, except for a blue-shirted volunteer or two.
Several holes on the course had no viewing, except from behind ropes around the tee and a grandstand at the green (like the first hole, for instance).
A man with a plan
Before the tournament, we asked Eric Johnson if he had a favorite to win the tournament. Johnson didn’t want to get into specific names, but he did say, “I think it will come down to the guys who are the smarter players. It’s their job to figure out how to play golf at a higher level.”
Before the tournament, Spieth was asked about his approach to playing Chambers Bay. Spieth was astute in his assessment, calling the course “inventive” and saying he would keep his game as simple as possible.
“I’m going to use clubs that I know. I’m not going to adapt different shots for this week,” Spieth said. … “I’m just going to take away the complications and try and completely simplify things around the greens. You can use your imagination a lot here. You can take different lines on chip shots to get the ball fed closer to the hole. But you don’t have to do that using a shot that you’ve never practiced.”
To Johnson’s point, Spieth sounded like a man with a plan – and a U.S. Open trophy to boot.