The grumbling about Chambers Bay already has begun
, several weeks before the U.S. Open has thrown its first haymaker, a good time to consult the ultimate Open bogeyman, the estimable Sandy Tatum.
A former USGA president, Tatum was the architect of the Massacre at Winged Foot, as the 1974 U.S. Open came to be called, so he understands what USGA executive director Mike Davis is experiencing in the run-up to the Open.
The 13th green at Chambers Bay (Getty Images)
“Players were taking members of the media out onto the golf course and dropping balls into the rough and saying, ‘try hitting that,’” Tatum said of the setup at Winged Foot. “There was a terrible amount of tension about the Open, and the tension emanated from the players, that what the USGA was trying to do was humiliate them. The tension built and built and built until it got pretty pyrotechnic. Criticism was very, very heavy. The average score on the first day was 77.”
Defending champion Johnny Miller called it “ridiculous.” Jack Nicklaus was asked about the finishing holes at Winged Foot. “The last 18 of them are very difficult,” he said.
That was then. This is now: “The reports back are it’s a complete farce,” Ian Poulter said on what he was hearing about Chambers Bay.
Tatum, who will turn 95 in July, does not know Chambers Bay, but he does know Mike Davis, and gives both him and the course his stamp of approval.
“Mike Davis was the originator of that decision [to take the Open to Chambers Bay] and he made it with a great deal of enthusiasm,” Tatum said. “That was impressive for me. I’ve not seen it. I do understand there are some criticisms of it. But knowing Mike, I was much impressed with Chambers Bay, on the basis of somebody who has as much knowledge as he has, to be as enthusiastic as he is.”
He sees in Davis a kindred spirit. Tatum said he “never had the slightest doubt” in his mind that Winged Foot was set up properly. “I never looked back. And Mike Davis will never look back. He’s accomplished in all the respects that matter. I’m confident it will turn out fine.”
The players who don’t grouse about it will have an advantage, he said. “Particularly playing at that level and playing an Open golf course, the central feature is that you have to be very focused. If your mind is wandering around, being critical about the course, you are going to have problems.”
One of the strongest players mentally, Hale Irwin, won the ‘74 Open. “That answered all the questions,” Tatum said, suggesting that the winner at Chambers Bay likely will do the same.