USGA: We listened to players, but US Open still will be ‘toughest test’

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The players have spoken, some rather emphatically, about the inconsistent, if not incompetent, job the USGA has done in recent years regarding course set-up for the U.S. Open.

A year ago at Shinnecock, the USGA lost control of a couple of greens that dried out because of wind and were unplayable.

In recent weeks, there has been an uprising from players. Phil Mickelson, for example, said two weeks ago that the USGA has messed up every U.S. Open he has played in, and that the rain is the only “governor.’’

On Wednesday, in its annual state-of-the-union press conference preceding the U.S. Open, USGA officials defended themselves.

“We have been doing a great deal of listening,’’ USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We’ve been talking to a lot of the players.’’

“I think we’ve listened intently,’’ said senior managing director of championships, John Bodenhamer, who’s in charge of the course set-up. “I know I’ve had individual conversations with a number of our past champions. We are better from listening to those perspectives, and we’ve engaged them. Everybody has an opinion about how the course should play. We’ve listened to it, we’ve taken some of that feedback and incorporated some of it, candidly.’’

Bodenhamer insisted that the USGA philosophy on course set-up has not changed.

“We will continue to endeavor to provide the toughest test, the ultimate test, the most comprehensive test, whatever you want to call it, and really just to create something where players’ shot-making ability, mental resolve, physical stamina are tested,’’ he said. “We’re not going to lose that. Going into this year, certainly, we looked at what happened at Shinnecock last year, we dug deep into that, we understand it. And we didn’t have enough water on the greens on the back nine the last year, simple as that.

“We’ve got safeguards in place this year. No guarantees. There are no promises. The weather can change here on the Monterey Peninsula. But we feel good about the plan, we feel good about the strategy going in, and we have a few safeguards in place that we’ll proactively use if we need them should the weather dictate.’’

Given the issues the USGA has had in a number of U.S. Opens in recent years, Bodenhamer conceded “it’s critical’’ to have a smooth controversy-free Open this year.

“I think it’s important not only for the USGA but for the game and what we do for the game,’’ he said. “We feel good about our plan. We feel good about what you see on the golf course and what we’re going to present to the players as a tough but true test.’’

One of the contingency plans in place is, in the event a green becomes unplayable, like No. 13 at Shinnecock last year, is for the USGA to syringe water onto the green during play if needed.

Davis said of the scrutiny: “There’s been ups and downs over the years. The U.S. Open is going to be just fine moving on.’’

The universal opinion among the players this week has been high praise for the set-up.

“The place is impeccable,’’ Mickelson said.

“I think the setup this week is awesome,’’ Rory McIlroy said. “The greens are perfect, fairways are great, the rough is thick, it’s tough, but if you hit it off line, you’re going to get punished. But it’s fair. I think it’s a very, very fair setup.’’


Cool story about the caddie this week for Australian player Marcus Fraser: He’s a former Australian Rules Football star named Brendon Goddard.

Fraser, 40, a winner of three European Tour events, is playing his fourth U.S. Open this week and is playing for the first time at Pebble Beach. Goddard is a massive star in Australia and in awe of his first Pebble Beach experience.

“Brendon loves golf more than I do; he’s a golf tragic, a competitive guy and pushes me pretty hard,” Fraser said.

Goddard, who retired from football last year after a 334-game career with St Kilda and Essendon, was asked which is more nerve-racking to him, playing in front of 100,000 fans or caddying at the U.S. Open.

“Definitely on the first tee at Pebble Beach as caddie,” Goddard said. “I’m a little out of my comfort zone; being on the footy field in front of 100,000 fans felt more natural to me. But it’s great to feel those butterflies and anxiety again.”

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