The dust, literally and figuratively, is beginning to settle after the highly charged and highly controversial US Open held at Shinnecock Hills last week. The USGA, in charge of the championship, were accused once again of “losing” the golf course, just as they did back in 2004 when it was last played at Shinnecock.
They may just about have redeemed themselves on that front but I’m not so sure that they have got away with their handling of the Mickelson putt-gate affair that occurred on the 13th hole on Saturday. To set the scene, Phil had a slick downhill 20-footer for bogey to a hole perched on top of a perilous slope. It was a super, super fast highway and when he saw it was missing long and on the low side he hurried after it and, while it was still moving, he putted it back up the slope towards the hole again. For a golfer at this level to purposely hit a moving ball is almost unheard of. Lefty was penalised two shots under Rule 14.5 for hitting a moving ball and the score went down as a miserable 10. His explanation afterwards was another jaw dropper.
On the third day I was out with Ian Poulter and defending champion Brooks Koepka in my role as on-course commentator for Sirius/XM radio. As the winds picked up and the course dried out it did indeed move beyond what I would call fair. Koepka, who would go on to win the title again, was unable to get within 40 yards of a couple of flags on the back nine despite beautifully executed, crisp, short irons. The severity of the slopes, coupled with the speed of the greens and the angles into the pins meant that good shots were not only NOT being rewarded, in many instances they were being penalised. That, to me, is when the course set-up is at fault.
Zach Johnson was vocal in his criticism, “We’re not on the edge,” the two-time major champion said when being interviewed by Sarah Stirk of Sky Sports. “I thought we could be on the edge but we’ve surpassed it and now it’s pretty much gone. It’s unfortunate because in my opinion this is one of the best venues in all of golf. Shinnecock Hills is beautiful but unfortunately they’ve lost the golf course.”
“It’s been brilliant. Golf has been my life since I grew up in Portrush. It’s what you do. I never thought after I quit golf that you could get the feeling of winning something and doing something great in golf. As I say, caddying is the next best thing and I’ve got that similar feeling.”