As I sat there wondering about the irony of purchasing a Powerball ticket in a seedy, crowded convenience store while not wearing a mask, it occurred to me that we are very much at a time where not much makes sense. That’s acutely so in the world of golf. The game’s never been more popular, but the main result is the difficulty of securing a tee time next Saturday. The game’s latest clubs have never been more intriguing and supremely engineered, but more than likely you’ll have to wait two months for your order to arrive. And professional golf seems intent on fighting a fight with itself that looks like that moral injury commercial on Golf Channel from Volunteers of America. Moral injury, indeed.
Thankfully, we have something to restore our sense of the common, as it were. I give you the restorative powers of dependable consistency, a constant regularity in an IBS world, a rock-solid certainty in the face of change, upheaval and chaos. I give you another of my major championship picks that is so assuredly, definitively and unspeakably wrong it ought to be sponsored by Lehman Brothers. Like a folder full of sub-prime, upside-down mortgages, I have never picked the actual winner of a major championship despite nearly a decade’s worth of trying.
But rather than filing for emotional and intellectual bankruptcy, I press on, resolute that I have concocted a methodology that clearly will determine the one true champion at the U.S. Open this week at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
One needs not just common sense but a sense of history to get these things right. My sense, of course, is not particularly common, although it is historic. Hence, repeatedly contracting poison sumac from the same bush in my backyard each of the last 15 summers. History repeating itself. There’s a theme there so pay attention.
I heard in the runup to the U.S. Open that there seems a desire by the USGA to throw a traditional sort of setup at this week’s combatants. This is sort of like hearing you're about to have a "traditional" Scottish dinner. That traditional setup means that in May caddies at the club simply handed a wedge every time an out-of-towner missed a fairway. An edible might have been more effective.
Of course, traditional for The Country Club goes way back. Forget the setup in 1999 for the Ryder Cup when the course was made to play like an arcade game, or more precisely, a promotional video for ticket sales. Even in 1988, it lacked the usual teeth, although it was more famous for the bogeys and pars than the birdies, particularly Curtis Strange’s gritty bunker up and down on the 72nd hole to preserve his next day playoff with Nick Faldo. When The Country Club hosted the U.S. Open in 1963, nine over got you in the playoff. And back in 1913, 12 over got in the playoff and that was when the course played as a par 73 and was only 6,235 yards long.
Now, it’s 1,000 yards longer and three shots less, which is sort of like hearing your dog’s kidney stones require emergency surgery and it’s going to cost you $8,000. Or at least that’s what comes to my mind.
Still, a traditional U.S. Open test requires a more traditional approach to a statistical method to solve who will win. (Technically, my money is on Sam Adams Light to dominate.) It should be as simple as hitting fairways, playing out of the rough, scrambling and putting, all better than most that should lead to victory. It’s a straightforward process of elimination. Which as it turns out is just how the vet explained my dog’s kidney stones. To which my dog gave me a look that only can be described as, “Straightforward? That’s about as straightforward as sipping a chocolate chip milkshake through a broken straw, extra frosty.
My dog doesn’t always talk like that. Only when he’s really upset.
Moving on. My calculus for the U.S. Open winner is simple. Take the field and all those who do not currently rank in the top 100 on the PGA Tour in driving proximity to the center of the fairway are eliminated. That winnowed the field down to 30. Then, given that even the best is going to miss almost half the fairways, let’s look at greens in regulation from the rough. Taking only those who fare better than the PGA Tour average culled the list from 30 down to 19. Interesting. It’s a roster that included Louis Oosthuizen, Dustin Johnson, Will Zalatoris and Joel Dahmen, among others. Fun fact: The working title for the PGA Tour Netflix series originally was “Joel Dahmen Among Others.” Now, I hear it’s going to be called “Kevin Na and the Deathly Hallows.”
From those 19, we further thinned the herd by only taking those with a better than tour average performance at scrambling from the rough. That got us to 11. Then only those with a positive strokes gained/putting, and we were left with eight. Typical of what you might expect, I was now left with not a single player in the top 10 in the world and barely anyone in the top 20. Great. I felt like I was looking at a Powerball ticket with the right numbers but the wrong day. (This, friends, has happened, and it is a cruel, cruel day, though, admittedly, on brand.)
From this list of eight, I felt stymied. What criterion might I pluck from the universe to further filter the candidates? Well, with such a historic venue as The Country Club, a composite layout that isn’t 18 holes anyone would normally play, where “quirky” gives way to “demonic” due to the natural landscapes and humps and hollows, perhaps a player with experience on ancient, old-school lay of the land would have a better chance. So the only players advancing next were those with wins at places more than 100 years old. That left us with three: Scott Stallings, Alex Noren and Matt Fitzpatrick. Stallings has a win at Pebble Beach and both Noren and Fitzpatrick have won the European Masters played at Crans-sur-Sierre in the Swiss Alps, where they’ve been playing some kind of over-the-river-and-through-the-Matterhorn golf since 1906.
But as Gordon Lightfoot used to sing (sort of), a three-way script doesn’t end well, and I needed to pick just one winner. So again, I looked at history. The 1963 U.S. Open was won by Julius Boros and if you watch the footage, you will notice a curiosity. He, like many players of the day, putted with the flagstick in. The rules regarding the flagstick were changed in 1956 so that there was no penalty for striking an unattended flagstick from any distance. They were changed back again in 1968 and then changed again to allow the flagstick in again just three years ago.
So what more definitive way than to choose the one player who still putts with the flagstick in as my winner? There you have it: Matt Fitzpatrick for the win. (Even though the testing is clear that leaving the flagstick in doesn’t work. And yes, I know he won the U.S. Amateur there in 2013 so he should be an even more obvious choice. But as many have come to learn, I don't do obvious. Hence, the Honda del Sol in my past.)
Then again, he also chips cross-handed. Perfect. I use the same method to make my picks.