Indeed, the foursome of Peter Uihlein, the eventual champion, David Chung, Byeong-Hun An and Patrick Cantlay was as impressive a group of semifinalists as I've seen in my 13 years covering the championship. Toss in the fact that the NCAA champion (Scott Langley) and a former Walker Cup player (Morgan Hoffmann) also reached the quarterfinals, and it's clear that there would be no flukes contending for the Havemeyer Trophy.
Still, the questions I heard most from those watching the happenings in the Pacific Northwest were these:
Just how fair actually was the set-up at Chamber Bay?
And is the course a true championship test?
Regarding the first, no doubt there was a good amount of griping at the start of the week about how Mike Davis and the USGA staff presented Chambers Bay to the 312 players in the field. Davis' candor in admitted that the course became too dry on Monday afternoon only increased the noise that the USGA had started the championship by making a double bogey.
Part of the issue was that Chambers Bay had never been set up in such a fashion before, this being the first time hosting a national championship caliber event. During the practice rounds, Davis knew how hard the course was getting (literally and figuratively) but wasn't sure exactly how exactly to address it. In fairness to those competing Monday in the most difficult conditions, Davis didn't want to soften things up too much for Tuesday's rounds.
Come Tuesday night, however, Davis told the Chambers Bay maintenance staff to "flood the place," soaking the greens with water to help get moisture to seep six to eight inches below the surface and "recharge" them so that while continuing to present the challenges of a firm-and-fast layout, it also remained fair.
"We didn't anticipate the water-management issues," Davis said. "This is something that at least in my time with the USGA we have never encountered."
To hear some of the competitors who played Monday afternoon, you'd have thought the championship had actually been conducted on the runways at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Granted, the average score for the afternoon was north of 80, and just seven of the 64 players who advance to match play competed in that wave of players. Among those who did though was Chung, who seemed to overcome the bad luck of the draw. All told 25 of the 64 players who advanced to match play had afternoon times either Monday or Tuesday at Chambers Bay, including Uihlein and An.
Ultimately, the overall stroke average at Chambers Bay came in at 79.247, a seemingly high number for a course that was a par 71(only five players broke that number) but not all that out of the ordinary. Five years ago when the U.S. Amateur was held at Merion GC outside Philadelphia, the stroke-play course average was 78.157 with six players breaking Merion's par of 70.
Said USGA president Jim Hyler at the conclusion of the championship: "We were thrilled with the golf course."
Additionally, Davis offered a couple salient points for those concerned about the course set-up as it relates to 2015, when the U.S. Open comes to Chambers Bay. For one thing, the Open being held in June rather than August will likely make it difficult for the course to get to the extreme firm-and-fast condition seen last week. "That's the million dollar question," Davis said. "I think you will not see these wonderful tan and brown hues to it. You'll see tan, but it won't look parched."
Aside from the set-up itself, the topic of Chambers Bay is a true championship test is an intriguing one with arguments to be made on both sides Those who love the course suggest the necessity to think your way around the layout, utilizing the slopes and contours, makes it a breath of fresh air compared to traditional American target-golf facilities.
Conversely, some will argue that watching Uihlein and Chung play the 12th hole, a short par 4 that offers the risk/reward of attempting to drive the green, as an example of the course perhaps being over the top. Twice Uihlein hit the green with his drive during the championship match, each time leaving himself with roughly a 40-foot putts for eagle. Neither time, however, did he actually aim his the putt towards the hole, instead rolling his ball well right of the hole up a "backboard" and then funneling it back down the slope hoping it got near the hole. What's the point of going for the green if you can't actually attempt the eagle putt?
A few other holes also appeared to "outthink" themselves. The first hole plays as either a par 4 or par 5 depending on which tee is used. The green is elevated beside a dune on the right with a massive hill cascading down the left of the putting surface. The contours force players to aim right as the green slopes right to left. Because of how firm and fast the course played, however, even well struck shots toward the right side of the green often rolled off the left side, sometimes trundling 40 yards away from the hole.
Davis acknowledge that he didn't think No. 1 would play quite that way and during a discussion with officials from Chambers Bay and the course architects last Friday suggested taking down some of the slope right of the green to prevent good shots from getting back breaks. Additionally Davis also mentioned some tweak to the seventh and 13th greens he recommened to make them more receptive to long approach shots.
"With most of these things, it's not necessarily change the architecture," said Davis. "It's just taking what they wanted to see happen and massaging it."
Overall, there was something to be said for seeing golfers need to play the ball low to the ground, asking for a more complete examination of a player's skill than another much ballyhooed "links-style" course, Whistling Straits, which offers too few greenside openings for players to run their balls up to the hole to make a true "links."
At the same time doesn't the R&A already hold a British Open each year in July. Does the U.S. Open need to move more in that direction or not?
Personally I liked seeing golfers challenged to be more creative on the course, even if a few the course had a little more elevation changes than you'd find on a true links.
Suffice it to say, the best players in the world have nearly five years to get ready for Chambers Bay. And as they do, they'd be well off to pull out a DVD of Uihlein's triumph over Chung from Sunday to see a blueprint for what it will take to win hard by the Puget Sound.
Selected for the men's squad are U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, runner-up David Chung and NCAA champion Scott Langley.
Uihlein's summer was capped with his 4-and-2 victory over Chung Sunday at Chambers Bay. Additionally the Oklahoma State junior claimed the title at the Sahalee Players Championship in July by seven strokes.
Despite losing to Uihlein in the Amateur final, Chung, a Stanford junior, claimed two prestigious victories this summer at the Porter Cup and Western Amateur.
After winning medalist honors at NCAAs in June, Langley qualified for the U.S. Open, where he finished T-16 securing a share of low amateur honors. The Illinois senior went on to reach the quarterfinals last week at Chambers Bay to secure his spot on the team.
All three golfers have experience competing for the U.S. in international competition. Uihlein was a member of the victorious Walker Cup squad last September, posting a 4-0 record in the competition. Chung and Langley both compete for the American side in the Palmer Cup this June.
"The players selected for the USA team all have played tremendous golf throughout their careers and on grand stages in 2010," Ridley said in a press release. "More importantly, they are fine young men of character and each possess the human qualities which the game of golf represents. It is my distinct honor to captain these young men as they compete for the Eisenhower Trophy. We will represent the United States and the USGA with great pride."
Georgia senior Russell Henley and Oklahoma State junior Morgan Hoffmann have been named the first and second alternates.
The last time the U.S. won the World Amateur Team title was in Puerto Rico in 2004. The competition will take place Oct. 28-31 at Olivos GC and Buenos Aires GC.
Uihlein shot the equivalent of a 66, with normal match-play concessions, making five birdies and an eagle chip-in on the par-5 18th from 40 feet. It helped end a run by Chung, who had cut Uihlein's 3-up advantage after nine holes to 1 up when he won the 11th and 17th holes with birdie.
Chung started slowly, making bogeys on three of his first six holes, missing several putts inside 10 feet. On the back nine, however, Chung got the putter going, making five birdies yet only cut Uihlein's advantage by one hole.
The remarkable victory by Italy's Edoardo Molinari in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles on Sunday earned him a spot on the European Ryder Cup as one of Colin Montgomerie's three captains picks, Montgomerie said on Sunday.
Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald were his other two captain's picks. Paul Casey, who is ninth in the World Ranking, and Justin Rose, who has won twice on the PGA Tour this year, were the odd men out.
Molinari birdied the final three holes at Gleneagles to win for the second time in his last six starts. He'll join his brother Francesco Molinari, who made the Ryder Cup team on points.
"What can one say about today's performance?" Montgomerie said. "In my time, as a player on the European Tour, I don't think I've seen a finish of that quality under such pressure by anyone, ever."
Montgomerie chose Harrington based on his historic standing in the game, rather than his form in the two years that have expired since his last victory.
"Three major championships in the last three years," Montgomerie said explaining the Harrington pick. "The stature of Padraig Harrington and someone that we feel that nobody in match-play golf wants to play. A great competitor."
Donald, who is 10th in the World Ranking, was selected based on his Ryder Cup history.
"Luke Donald, we have someone who can compete in foursomes and four-ball golf. Seven times in Ryder Cup play and has only lost in one particular game," Montgomerie said.
The nine players who earned berths based on points: Ross Fisher, Peter Hanson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Franceso Molinari, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
As for Casey and Rose, Montgomerie said, "I'd rather just comment on the strengths of the ones that have been picked. I feel sorry for Paul Casey and Justin Rose, [the latter] for having won twice in the States this year. We have an embarrassment of riches on this occasion. We had to leave out world stars."
Rose was tied for eighth at the Barclays early in the final round on Sunday.
-- John Strege
With David Chung, a 20-year-old Stanford junior set to face Oklahoma State junior Peter Uihlein, who celebrates his 21st birthday tomorrow, the USGA has its best final-round showdown in its oldest event since Ricky Barnes and Hunter Mahan squared off in 2002.
Chung's marvelous summer run continued when the winner of the Porter Cup and Western Amateur somehow outlasted defending champion Byeong-Hun An, 1 up, in their Saturday semifinal match.
It looked like Chung might have met his match when An got off to the best start of any player this week, making four birdies and an eagle over the first six holes to take a 3-up advantage.
"It was fun for me to watch him play," admitted Chung. "It's not like I was 'Oh man, I can't believe he's doing so well. I'm going to lose.' It was actually more fun to see somebody playing so well."
Still, Chung made three birdies in that same stretch and knew he needed to stay focused on his own game and let things play out. It was a lesson the Fayetteville, N.C., native says he learned in the final round of the Porter Cup in July, when after starting in a tie for the lead he wound up five shots back after just three holes but hung around to eventually claim the title.
So it was that Chung stayed patient even when he was 3 down at the turn, slowly chipping away at An's lead with birdies on the 10th and 12th holes. Chung then made crucial up-and-downs par saves on the 13th and 14th to halve the holes, the latter coming after he played an all-world flop shot from 15 yards right of the green to 2 1/2 feet from the hole.
"I'm always messing around on the practice facility, throwing it up as high as I can," Chung said. "I don't think I could have hit that shot again in 20 shots."
When An hit his tee shot on the par-3 15th over the green, leading to a bogey, the match returned to all square for the first time since the first hole. Chung then took his first lead of the day with an eight-foot birdie on the 16th hole.
Give credit to An, though, who wouldn't end his title defense without a fight. On the par-3 17th hole, when Chung hit his tee shot into the right bunker, An made a two-putt par to force the match to all square heading to the home hole.
With both golfers in the fairway off the tee on the par 4, An's second shot was from a downhill lie. Using a 5-iron, he came out of the shot, the ball landing short left in the greenside bunker. Chung hit his second on the green but 40 feet away. His job became easier, however, when An blasted his third shot over the green, on a similar line to Chung's. An then putted his par putt off the green, allowing Chung to lag his birdie try to few feet. When An missed his bogey try, he conceded Chung's putt for the match.
"I'm more disappointed because I was playing well, but just couldn't get it done in the last few holes, especially the back nine," said An, who now heads down the coast to start his college career at California. "I just missed a lot of chances."
As for Uihlein, he too needed time to get his barrings in his semifinal match versus incoming UCLA freshman Patrick Cantlay. While winning the first hole with a par, Uihlein had to hole par putts of 12 feet, 20 feet, six feet and 15 feet on Nos. 2-5 merely to halve each hole.
"Peter played well and made a ton of putts at the beginning and really never made any mistakes," Cantlay said.
A par on the 11th hole gave Uihlein a 2-up advantage, and pars on the 14th and 15th allowed him to close out Cantlay, 4 and 3.
Uihlein has enjoyed the times he's come to the Pacific Northwest in the past year. He won the Ping/Golfweek Invitational at Gold Mountain GC in nearby Bremerton last fall and then took the Sahalee Players title by seven strokes down the road at The Home Course in July. While attending that event, Uihlein snuck in two rounds at Chambers Bay to get a glimpse of what he was in store for.
"I have a good relationship with David," Uihlein said regarding his final-match opponent. "I think tomorrow will be a lot of fun."
Indeed, the finalists are quite familiar with each other, having first played in the same tournament together when they were 10 years old. Three times they have competed against each other in match play, splitting matches at the U.S. Junior and the AJGA Polo match play. Last June, Chung took a 2-1 advantage when he defeated Uihlein, 1 up, at the NCAA Championship as part of Oklahoma State and Stanford facing off in the quarterfinals.
"I know [Peter's] a great putter," Chung said. "He hits it far, really has no weaknesses. But after the match I had with Ben, I think I'm pretty prepared for anything."
Having defeated Morgan Hoffmann, his college roommate at Oklahoma State the last two years, all Uihlein could do is reach out his hand and give his opponent a hug.
"It's bittersweet. I just took out one of my best friends," said Uihlein, a 1-up winner who faces UCLA incoming freshman Patrick Cantlay in the semifinals. "It's hard because seeing him after, he wasn't happy."
If you think it was difficult for the players, consider how Alan Bratton felt. The OSU assistant coach has been caddieing for Uihlein all week and had to watch as two of his top players faced-off.
"I told both of them last night, they needed to try to thump each others same as they would anyone else," Bratton said. "I was really proud of them though. They played great."
Indeed, both Cowboys brought their All-American caliber games Friday morning, making a collective eight birdies and one eagle during a round in which neither golfer held more than a 1-up lead.
Throughout the match, the two were gracious with concessions on the greens, a conscious decision on both parts. "We both kind of wanted to control the match in our hands," Uilhein said. "So if I had a two-footer for par and he had a six-footer for birdie, he would give it to me because he wanted to be the one to make the putt. I was doing the same thing to him as well."
Case in point: on the 18th green Uihlein held a 1-up lead and faced a five-foot putt for par as Hoffmann rolled his 15-foot birdie try three feet past the hole. Before Hoffmann could get to the cup, Uihlein had already given him the par putt, setting up a must-make putt of his own to win the match. The 20-year-old calmed rolled the ball into the center of the hole for the victory.
While Hoffmann had cruised through his opening matches, a few stumbles on the greens against Uihlein proved costly. Three-putts on the ninth and 12th holes caused him to lose both.
"We each put pressure on each other," Hoffmann said. "But I didn't really give myself many opportunities."
Still, the match was all square as they played the 16th hole, with both players having birdie chances on the 397-yard par 4. Hoffmann missed his 15-foot attempt to the right while Uihlein rolled in a eight footer to take a 1-up advantage that would prove decisive.
"The fact is one of us had to lose." Hoffmann said. "Hopefully He goes on and wins it for our team."
For the first time since Tiger Woods in 1996, the defending U.S. Amateur champion has advanced to the semifinals.
That Byeong-Hun An is among the four players left at Chambers Bay probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise, except if you had talked to An himself only a few weeks ago. After playing in nine professional events, making just one cut, the 18-year-old who missed his first day of classes at Cal Berkeley yesterday admitted to being a bit burned out only a few weeks before arriving in the Pacific Northwest.
Yet An, who knocked off future Cal teammate Max Homa, 1 up, Friday afternoon, has regained some confidence this week.
"I've definitely passed my goal [for the week]," An said. "I just wanted to get into match play."
An takes a perfect 10-0 U.S. Amateur match-play record with him when faces David Chung, arguably the hottest player in the field entering the tournament, in their semifinal match Saturday. Chung defeated NCAA champion Scott Langley, 1 up, setting up a chance for him to claim the Porter Cup, Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur titles in the same summer.
While the Havemeyer Trophy isn't up for grabs until Sunday, there's a fair amount on the line in the semifinals. The winner of the matches will receive an exemption into the U.S. Open at Congressional CC next June and a likely invitation to the Masters as well.
8:30 a.m. (PDT)--David Chung vs. Byeong-Hun An
8:45 a.m.--Patrick Cantlay vs. Peter Uihlein
Clearview GC, which has been threatened by the possibility of a coal mine operation on property adjacent to the historic course in East Canton, Ohio, is breathing a little easier because the mine owner has pulled its application with state officials, according to head professional Renee Powell.
Still, the course is hopeful of finding someone to purchase the land and donate it to the Clearview Legacy Foundation for a permanent solution to the mining dilemma. "That would be the best scenario," Powell said. "We still need to find a final solution."
Clearview is the only course designed, built, owned and operated by an African-American, Bill Powell, who died last year at 93. When the course celebrates the legacy of its founder Saturday with the 2010 William J. Powell Celebrity Golf Tournament, two other pioneering black golf figures, Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder, will be on hand. "Their trip to Clearview is one of paying respect to a man who did so much to to help make golf accessible for all people," said Renee Powell.
Frustrated by discriminatory practices at golf courses and intent on having a place where all golfers were welcome, Bill Powell opened Clearview in 1948. In 2001 it was named a National Historic Site by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
-- Bill Fields
Here is a White House press pool report from President Obama's nine holes at Mink Meadows Golf Club on Martha's Vineyard on Wednesday (and when you read it you'll be reminded why, when recounting a round of golf to friends, it's best just to skip to the last hole out of regard for their tedium threshold):
"Shortly before 5:30 p.m. he and his golfing pals - Whitaker, Nicholson, Wolf - came into view of the clubhouse where pool and a couple dozen patrons were waiting on the porch. POTUS hit the ball just short of the green on the 9th hole.
"His partners took their turns. POTUS walked into the woods a moment, perhaps looking for a fellow-golfer's ball. He rode in a golf cart toward his ball, and got out carrying a putter and a wedge. He dropped the putter but quickly picked it back up.
"With the crowd on the clubhouse porch watching, POTUS took three warm-up swings. He then hit the ball and as it got closer to the hole, the crowd oohed and ahhed and, when it stopped, gave him a golf clap.
"POTUS, who until then had not acknowledged his audience, jokingly tipped his White Sox cap to the people on the porch. They laughed.
"Pool was rushed off the porch and into vans so didn't see how the rest of the hole went.
"POTUS walked to his motorcade in the parking lot at 5:41 p.m. with his jacket slung over his right shoulder."
-- John Strege