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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Testing Players VS Protecting Par

Sunday's post was a rant about US Open setups, but this post is more about a mindset that I just don't understand. Can you test players and protect par at the same time?

Brooks from the 6th hole rough on Sunday

USAToday posted an article (from which the photo came) that wonders whether Shinnecock has become obsolete as a US Open course. I believe that's a flawed view to begin with.

The real question is whether the USGA's concept of a US Open setup is obsolete. And that, I believe just as strongly, is very likely.

My Sunday rant took the USGA to task for ignoring the "architect's intent" for the way the course should play -- specifically, the speed at which classically contoured greens should be played. (If you read that post early on, I added an extra paragraph early Sunday because I realized there were a couple of things the USGA does that I don't have a problem with, but I didn't mention them so I wanted that to be clear.) I contend that if you need to challenge the pros, you don't burn the greens out and make them impossibly fast. Rather, you make them a little smaller and still keep them playable.

You see, the USGA's idea of "protecting par" seems nonsensical to me. And I offer Sunday's setup as proof.

A total of 67 players made the cut at Shinnecock. And after the debacle on Saturday, the USGA on Sunday made what most of us -- me included -- consider an overcompensation. And let's be honest, they needed to. They owed Shinnecock an apology for swearing up and down that they wouldn't make the same mistakes they made in 2004... and then they made worse ones on Saturday.

But after looking at how the course played in the final round, I simply don't understand WHY the USGA made the decisions they did on Saturday in the first place!

Let's look at the facts.

Of the 67 players to make the cut, Sunday’s admittedly soft setup produced only 15 scores below par, and only four better than -2. That's just over 22% of the field -- not even a quarter of them broke par. If you want the exact breakdown, there was:
  • one 63 (-7)
  • one 65 (-5)
  • one 66 (-4)
  • one 67 (-3)
  • three 68s (-2)
  • eight 69s (-1)
Of the Top15 finishers, only seven bettered par, while only one bettered -2. That was Fleetwood's 63, of course. Then there were three each of the 68s and 69s.

And the field average was 72.3 strokes. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's an average of two over par for the entire field.

Sunday's setup involved slowing the greens down to what they should have been all along, softening the greens a bit more than necessary, and moving roughly half the flags to the center of their respective greens. They made the course MUCH easier than most of us believe was necessary, yet less than a quarter of the field beat par and the field average was more than two strokes over par.

If that setup didn't test the players, and if if was too easy in the USGA's eyes to "protect par," then what the hell do they think their job is???

If they believe their job is to prevent ANY player from breaking par, then they aren't interested in testing the players' skills. I repeat what I said Sunday -- they can get those kind of results by using a cow pasture, but the results won't be what I'd call 'golf.'

Some will debate that it's the fault of the equipment but, from a historical standpoint, the US Open is typically won with a score close to -8. If there's a need to blame something for good scores, then blame it on the influx of athletes to our game. And since that's presumably what everybody wanted, in order to legitimize our game as a sport in the general public's eyes, then making the course artificially harder to keep them from doing what they do seems a bit myopic to me. It's the equivalent of the NBA raising the baskets an extra five to ten feet during the Playoffs. It defies common sense.

If the debacle at Shinnecock -- and the resultant 'easy' setup on Sunday -- has proven anything, it's that the USGA needs to reexamine its understanding of how to 'test players' and 'defend par.' Because as far as I can see, when you have a legendary course like Shinnecock, you don't really need to push the course to the edge to create a test that protects par.

You just need some respect for the course and a little common sense.