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Sunday, June 17, 2018

It Happened Again...

And I just don't understand why the USGA keeps struggling with course setup. The solution is simple.

Dustin Johnson

There is a lot of talk about the "architect's intent" and making sure that the course is treated in a way that preserves that intent. Yet the USGA continually tries to set up US Open courses in a way that ignores the clear implications of their chosen course's design.

There are limits to how far you can push any course's design. In their efforts to "test" the players, the USGA takes a classic design, with greens that the architect designed with contours meant to be played at perhaps 10-11 on the stimpmeter, and they push those greens up to 13. They push them until the surface is brown and dying -- excuse me, but aren't they called "greens" for a reason? -- and then act surprised when good shots roll off them like they were made of cheap linoleum.

When the USGA wants to test a player's ability to hit a fairway, do they dry them out until they're so brown and hard that every ball rolls into the rough? No, they narrow the fairway and grow the grass around them a bit higher -- not so much that the ball can't be hit a decent distance -- so shots that aren't hit perfectly (but aren't terrible either) demand a price but can still be played.

So why don't they just do the same with the greens? All they have to do is make the greens a bit smaller. Decrease their perimeter by a foot or two, so that a well-struck shot has room to land but a poorly-struck one won't stay on the green. Let the grass in the surround grow a bit taller -- not so much that the ball must be dug out of the rough, but enough that a putt or a chip takes a little extra skill. And then they can stimp the greens at the speed intended by the architect.

[ADDENDUM: I wrote this late Saturday night and, when I woke up Sunday morning, realized I forgot to mention that shaving the edges of the greens -- so poorly-hit shots rolled off -- would be alright as well. The pin position may demand that you hit away from the pin and leave a longer putt; that's okay too. My point is that green speeds should be appropriate to the design of the green complex, so that a well-hit shot always holds and is not left to luck.]

Is that really so hard, folks? Test the players by giving them a slightly smaller target, rather than transforming grass into stone?

This isn't about testing the players. This is about pursuing an unrealistic goal, one based on how equipment from a century past behaved. If they want players to shoot 15-over, they can play the US Open in a cow pasture. At least it would be played on grass, the way the game was intended.

But it still wouldn't be golf, now would it?

I agree that the 16-under score of last year's event at Erin Hills wasn't what we want to see at a US Open. But setting things up so the game resembles craps instead of golf isn't the answer. This time, the final pairing will be two players who, if the course has been just reasonably consistent all day,  probably would not have been in contention.

If the USGA can't understand how to set up a fair golf course that STAYS fair for an entire round, perhaps it's time they let someone else take over course preparation.

End of rant.