U.S. Open 2019: USGA Confidential
It wouldn't be a U.S. Open without a certain amount of moaning about the difficulty of the conditions and the course setup, but something changed last year at Shinnecock Hills. After a final-round debacle there in the 2004 Open, when players began putting balls into bunkers on one of America's finest and most historic courses, the United States Golf Association insisted that things would be different in 2018.
But instead of the image of Brooks Koepka clutching his second consecutive Open trophy, the lingering memory for many is of Phil Mickelson, a six-time runner-up in the event he needs to win to complete the career Grand Slam, running after his ball and stopping it before it could roll off the 13th green. Facing a possible disqualification, Mickelson was instead penalized two strokes and made a 10 on his way to an 81. Was it 27 years of U.S. Open frustration for Mickelson, or was he sending a message for many of the players, speaking to far-greater issues with the ruling body?
Golf Digest interviewed 57 people intimately involved in the game, including 35 current players and 16 major champions, along with caddies, coaches and analysts, and uncovered details on rapidly eroding relationships with the governing body. The resentment ran so deep that at one point in 2016, leading players say, they even contemplated the unthinkable: a boycott of the U.S. Open.
It's not just the long list of Open controversies that have antagonized players (the handling of the Dustin Johnson ruling at Oakmont in 2016 and the ravaged greens at Chambers Bay in 2015, to name but two). The new rules for 2019, and their implementation, have led big names to on-course displays of mockery that would have made Arnold Palmer cringe.
After Justin Thomas vented about a lack of communication with the organizing body, he was called out on social media by the USGA, which later apologized and retracted its allegation that Thomas had canceled meetings.
So what will happen in June when the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach? At least one change: The USGA's Mike Davis, citing his CEO demands, has relinquished course-setup duties to John Bodenhamer, who has run USGA amateur championships since 2011.
As you'll see here, not all players agree on everything, but there's a common tone that the ruling body faces huge challenges to win back trust, on and off the course. Many of the people interviewed, including those who are supportive and/or sympathetic with the USGA, would speak candidly only with anonymity. “The U.S. Open means so much to me and my family,” one former champion says before adding some tough love: “The gap between the players and the USGA is bigger than it has ever been. There is a total lack of respect. And the USGA people brought it on themselves.”
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: They've had a bad run of golf setups, of decisions, and in some cases, golf courses. They know this is a bad time. Controversy is killing the major championship.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: They think they're qualified to do what they do, but, like Bill Parcells says, “You are what your record says you are.” Their record is awful.
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over when it doesn't work. That's where we are.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: They're amateurs who think they know it all—a dangerous combination.
MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPION, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: The USGA could do 10 great things at a U.S. Open, but the one bad thing they do is what gets publicized. They overthink it. It's golf. It's not a math equation. The R&A runs one tournament a year, and we never hear from them, because they deal with flat links greens and they can't get them above 11 on the Stimp.
MULTIPLE EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: People overreact. I can't see Faldo or Nicklaus moaning about all that stuff.
CADDIE FOR MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNERS: The USGA official with every group always patronizes the caddies on the first tee: “Make sure you've got 14 in there—count your clubs.” That's insulting. That's not their job; it's mine. And if I have 15, it's my fault. I heard a caddie say once, “Don't worry, I've got this. I do it every week of the year. It's only you guys who do it once a year.” That statement applies to so much of the U.S. Open.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: The USGA is an organization built on egos. It's full of successful people who are not used to being told what to do. And they're very rich, typically. They don't listen when it comes to golf.
MAJOR CHAMPION: I question the motivation behind a lot of their decisions. They seem to be business-oriented, financially motivated, to try to grow the brand of the USGA.
MAJOR CHAMPION: I think their intentions as an organization changed. It was important to the USGA to get a slice of this golf-industry pie that the PGA Tour has a big share of.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: I don't understand why we can't have a U.S. Open where the greens actually have living grass on them. Why do they turn up at venues insisting they know how to take care of a course when they don't? Last year at Shinnecock, they had a meeting early in the week with the top superintendents from other Open venues. The USGA was told the course needed water. They just don't listen to people who know what they're doing.
MAJOR CHAMPION: Let's be honest: Since Chambers Bay, it's been a disaster every year.
MAJOR CHAMPION: You don't get away with the mess-ups when you're front and center saying, We're the masters of the game; we know what we're doing. Well, they clearly don't.
MAJOR CHAMPION: It takes a special sort of arrogance.
COACH OF MAJOR CHAMPIONS: It's like the NCAA running professional football.
MAJOR CHAMPION: You either have to change that process drastically or change the people coming up with it.
SWING COACH FOR A MAJOR CHAMPION: I hear people say that a ball rollback might stop the USGA from taking the courses so close to the edge, but would it? I suspect they can't help themselves.
MAJOR CHAMPION: Nick Price is on their [Executive] Committee, but they're clearly not listening to him.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: They need a player committee with the likes of Hale Irwin and Nicklaus. But they know best—or think they do. [In March, the USGA named former PGA Tour player Jason Gore as its first senior director of player relations.]
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: I've talked to PGA Tour officials after U.S. Opens, and they always say no one ever listened to them.
MULTIPLE EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: I saw 11 guys out on the greens at Shinnecock last year selecting pin positions. None of them were from the tours, guys who do that every week.
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: The other majors use the tour guys. There's more input.
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: To be fair, it's harder when you go to a course only once every 10 to 15 years. You haven't necessarily seen it in all kinds of conditions.
MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPION, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: Augusta has been doing it a long time at the same course. They know what they're doing before the week starts.
MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPION, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: At the amateur level, the USGA people are the experts. But at the professional level, the PGA Tour and the European Tour are the experts. You've just got to admit that. Nobody wants them kicked [out of the pro game]. I shouldn't say nobody. Some people do. … That wouldn't be good.
Talk of a boycott
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: It will only take player power to turn the tournament on its head. If you had a majority of players say they're not playing—and that nearly happened a couple of years ago—if that doesn't set alarm bells ringing, then nothing will.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: We weren't getting extra money originally [after the USGA signed a 12-year, $1.1 billion television deal with Fox beginning in 2015]. In a player meeting we talked about it, just to raise everyone's attention. [The USGA rights went from $37 million a year with NBC and ESPN to $93 million a year with Fox.] Originally we were getting about 25 percent of the TV money that NBC was giving to the USGA. Then we were getting around 10 percent. After 2016 at Oakmont, we talked about getting players to boycott the U.S. Open for a year because of that and what happened to Dustin Johnson with the penalty. [In the final round, Johnson backed away from a par putt at the fifth hole after his ball moved. He said he didn't make it move, but after the USGA studied video, it delayed a ruling, leaving the field unclear where it stood for hours. After a post-round discussion, the USGA gave Johnson a one-stroke penalty, and he won by three strokes. The rule was later changed to waive the penalty if a ball moves on the green by accident.]
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: The purse should be $15 million, $18 million [versus $10 million in 2015 and 2016, and $12 million in 2017 and 2018; the purse for 2019 is still to be announced].
MAJOR CHAMPION: We already play for so much money.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: We had about 10–15 guys who were willing to sit out after 2016. Some of them were big names—Dustin was one, Rory was another.
David Cannon/Getty Images
ANOTHER MAJOR CHAMPION AND FORMER WORLD NO. 1: I was prepared to do it [take part in a boycott]. Absolutely.
ANOTHER MAJOR CHAMPION: I was one of them.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: I would have boycotted if it had come to that. If it wasn't a major, I wouldn't play it, and a lot of other guys feel that way.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: I figure we needed about 25 guys, and I think we could have gotten there based on what I was hearing from players. Really, just one would have done it, but Tiger wasn't playing at the time. Without us, they don't have a tournament.
MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPION, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: I was in those meetings. It was a lot of emotion of guys supporting another player. And yeah, guys actually searched for where that money was going, thought it was maybe a little bit fishy that the purses weren't going up, given the amount of money they were taking in. But then they came in and raised the purse. I think guys still would like to see it raised more. Clearly the revenue generated is a lot more in a major.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: Finally we went to Jay Monahan [now the PGA Tour commissioner] and asked him to intervene on our behalf, because we didn't want it to come to that. It wouldn't have been good for golf, good for anybody. Cooler heads prevailed.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: I still don't know where [all the additional money from Fox] goes. I've tried a thousand times to get an answer. The USGA is making about $100 million a year that we know about—that's just U.S. TV revenue, not international TV money, merchandise and sales and so on. If you can show us how you're using that money to grow the game, we'd be all about it. But they haven't shown us that.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: They came to us a year later and gave a fifth-grader's pie-chart breakdown of where the funds were going. We counted $23 million that was under “other.” We asked what the “other” is, and I don't think we got an answer.
MULTIPLE PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: I never thought, I'm not gonna play, though. I wanna win a U.S. Open.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: If I held that trophy, I'd be delighted. But I'd quite like to win it and not play it again. You'd be an absolute dick if you did that, but it would make a statement.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 20 PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: If they f--- up Pebble Beach, I can see players not going back. That's America's St. Andrews.
Tough versus fair
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: The players want tough, but they want fair. When I played, a lot of players complained, but it was fair. It was tight fairways, deep rough and hard, fast greens. But those greens ran at 9½ [on the Stimpmeter]. Now it's 14½, or more.
MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPION, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: The Stimp is a culprit in all of this, because there's a common ambition to get the greens as fast as possible. It's no wonder the longest rounds of the year are at the U.S. Open, because you can't go tap in a two-footer. You have to mark it, and you have to be careful and take your time and concentrate.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: Everything that goes wrong at the U.S. Open, the genesis is their obsession with the players not shooting under par. [The average winning score since 2001 is 3.39 strokes under par, including 16 under by Rory McIlroy on a soggy Congressional in 2011 and 16 under by Brooks Koepka on the wide fairways of Erin Hills in 2017, when anticipated high winds failed to blow.]
MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPION, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: They publicly say they aren't trying to chase a score, but it's pretty obvious that they are.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: I get the feeling they're lying. [Laughs.]
WINNER OF MORE THAN 20 EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: Par as the winning score—they have to get rid of that immediately. The game has changed. The Masters tried to do that years ago and failed. The event was boring for a few years, so they put the excitement back.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: The Masters is clearly the most successful professional tournament in the world, by a mile.
SWING COACH FOR A MAJOR CHAMPION: Augusta's greens are stupid, but they put the pins in places that minimize the stupidity. The USGA never does that.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 20 EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: We used to know that, if you shot 65 on Day One of the U.S. Open, the pins would be in silly places the next day.
COACH OF MAJOR CHAMPIONS: Why is there this desire to make the best players in the world look stupid? Nobody at Wimbledon wants to go watch Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have 32 unforced errors. The USGA seems to want carnage.
MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPION: It's just one week. It doesn't matter—I don't care if I shoot 700 over par if I'm lifting the trophy. So if we just said, Hey, here's a hole, now go beat everybody, and had no par, our mind-set would be different, right?
MULTIPLE EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: I played with two leading Americans in the first two rounds last year. One whined for two days. The other's caddie had to tell him to shut up at one point, he was being such a pain. He said it was “clown golf,” but it wasn't. He was just hitting it bad.
MULTIPLE EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: The U.S. Open should be a test of temperament as well as execution and technique.
EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: I've played in three U.S. Opens on three classic courses. I never had a problem at any of them. I thought the USGA did a fantastic job.
MULTIPLE EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: Is it a major test when you're hitting it to five feet on every hole? My idea of a good shot is hitting a 5-iron into a firm green to 30 feet.
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER: I've hit shots into terrible spots without hitting a bad shot. And on top of that, on awful greens, you might three-putt.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: It's pin positions that you look at and think, Is this over the edge? And when you do that, it's over the edge. And they have 12 every day like that.
Course selection and setups
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: I said this a long time ago and was ridiculed: I would prefer for the USGA to buy land on the East Coast of the U.S. and on the West Coast of the U.S., then build two facilities for the U.S. Open. Each would have four courses. And each one would be designed to present the examination they wish to present to the players. If they want tight fairways and long rough, so be it. They're entitled to conduct their championships any way they want. So build courses to fit that ideal, whatever it might be. If they did that, they would stop ruining the classic courses by trying to jerry-rig them.
COURSE DESIGNER: I'd love to see what players could do on an 8,500-yard course where they had to hit long irons. I wouldn't want to build it or play it, but for them? OK.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: There isn't a course that fits the USGA's perfect mold.
COURSE ARCHITECT AND MULTIPLE TOUR WINNER: Either they do something about the ball, or they build their own courses around the country. It would stop them from wrecking courses like Merion.
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: At Merion, they moved bunkers. They moved fairways. They had some terrible pin positions. That wasn't Merion they were playing that week. All of the best, strategic spots were covered in rough.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: Merion was a 7,000-yard course, but you had all these par 4s where you had to hit 2-iron off them because you had rough a foot deep and 18-yard wide fairways. It played like a 7,800-yard course.
Photo by Andrew Redington /Getty Images
COACH OF MAJOR CHAMPIONS: At Merion, one of their longtime members said to me, “Boy, our course has held up really well.” Your course? You never see a course like this. It will never be like this ever again.
ARCHITECT AND MULTIPLE TOUR WINNER: The U.S. Open managed to identify Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods. But among them, Palmer, Snead and Mickelson won only one, total [Palmer in 1960]. Is that bad luck, or something else?
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: Chambers Bay, the greens were so bad, everyone knew it was going to end the way it did, with someone [Dustin Johnson] missing a short putt.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: We're so good now that we can hit shots and do these things to where you're going to make the penalties too severe if we barely miss it.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: The fairways at Chambers Bay were running at the same speed as the greens. Miss some greens by a foot, and the ball finished 100 yards away.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: They don't seem to have a coherent plan. It's meant to be the toughest test, but at the last two or three, you could have landed a 747 on the fairways. So what is it now? Only a small number of players can win if you give length a disproportionate advantage.
BROADCASTER: When Mike Davis first got involved with the courses, I was hopeful. Before, if you missed the fairway by a yard or 20 yards, the punishment was the same, and everyone was reduced to the same hack-out level. He talked about punishments fitting crimes [with rough getting gradually longer to correspond with bigger misses]. And that carried on for three or four years. It was challenging, but it was also really good. But the past few years, I don't know what they're up to.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: Mike Davis over-over-reacted to the criticism of the U.S. Open, the pitch-outs and the narrow fairways. So he tried to make the U.S. Open more democratic but went overboard the other way.
BROADCASTER: It's gone from being too severe, to a really good and appropriate test, to something that makes no sense.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: Rather than presenting a complete examination of all phases of the game—driving, approach shots, pitching, chipping, bunker play, putting, recovery shots—we have what we have. And that's not what golf is all about.
COURSE DESIGNER: Let the superintendent set up the course.
COURSE ARCHITECT AND MULTIPLE TOUR WINNER: I know a bunch of architects who could do a great job setting up a U.S. Open course. Ten under par would win, though. Geoff Ogilvy [2006 champion] would do a great job.
A repeat of 2004 at Shinnecock
MAJOR CHAMPION: I remember talking with USGA guys during the practice rounds at Shinnecock. They assured us they were not going to make the same mistakes [as in 2004]. Then they did.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: You've got more and more agronomists, more data, more information than last time. You had water fall on Wednesday afternoon. Friday morning, everyone got caught in the rain that wasn't forecast. And Friday night, you had one guy under par, and that was the world No. 1 [Dustin Johnson]. They couldn't have had it any better, but they went about their arrogant selves and destroyed the tournament.
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: The speed and slope of the greens is what created Saturday at Shinnecock. The course setup was on the edge. But it crossed the line when the wind started blowing. That was their excuse. But when you're 60 miles out in the north Atlantic, it's going to blow. Every day.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: I've played Shinnecock many times. That piece of land dries out quickly. An afternoon round is played on a course that is much bouncier and firmer than the one you see in the mornings. They should know that. So they can't take the course to the edge, have what happened on Saturday, then claim to be shocked.
MAJOR CHAMPION: The greens on Saturday afternoon were like crusty glass, which was not the case in the morning. It was playable then. Guys went from 45th to tied for the lead, which is unheard of.
MAJOR CHAMPION: On the 15th hole, it was outrageous what was going on. These are the best players in the world—you're going to tell me guys putted off the green from 10 feet? What's going on?
BROADCASTER: I chatted with Zach Johnson when he came off on Saturday. He had played in half-reasonable conditions. He knew what was going to happen. He said it was going to be unplayable within an hour. And it was.
CADDIE FOR MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: Two people barely made the cut, and by Sunday they were in the last groups. You can't have that. [Daniel Berger and Tony Finau, starting on Saturday morning at 10:13 and 10:57, shot four-under-par 66 to lead with Dustin Johnson (77) and Brooks Koepka (72). Rickie Fowler, starting at 2:26 p.m., shot 84, then started at 8:43 a.m. Sunday and shot 65, his 19-stroke improvement setting a U.S. Open record between the third and final rounds. Patrick Rodgers finished 83–67, Hideki Matsuyama 79–66, and Mickelson 81–69. The field scoring average went from 75.33 on Saturday to 72.18 on Sunday, when Tommy Fleetwood shot 63 and the USGA said green speeds averaged 10 to 12 inches slower than the previous two rounds.]
CADDIE FOR MULTIPLE MAJOR-CHAMPIONSHIP VICTORIES: The USGA shit themselves—there's no other way to put it—after Saturday. Sunday was too easy. They ruined the whole event.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: It was two different golf courses. Every shot I hit Sunday came up short, even though I was hitting them where I wanted, and every putt was coming up short, too. I knew it, but it was hard to adjust from the day before.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: They've been lucky the past few years that Koepka won, and DJ.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: They said there were only a couple of bad pins in the third round, and that apart from those, the day was perfect. Give me a break. The greens were three feet too fast. They were probably rolling at 18.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: One of the most frustrating things on Saturday night, when we experienced what we'd experienced, the CEO, Mike Davis, says, “If we got a mulligan, we would have slowed the greens down.” Tell me where mulligan is in the game of golf. How is a mulligan allowed in the professional game of golf? I'm confused as a player, and I'm confused as a fan. [That night, Davis added this: “We saw some examples late in the day where well-executed shots were not only not being rewarded, but in some cases penalized.”]
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: The membership can't be happy. The USGA tarnished your course twice in 15 years.
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: Shinnecock is a rock star of a course, but that was lost. The controversy was the star.
The Mickelson Drama
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: All of this, in a roundabout way, is why Phil did what he did.
MULTIPLE EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: Don't drive the field mad to the point where one of the best players of the last 50 years is running after his ball and stopping it on the green.
MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPION, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: Phil has had a thing with the USGA for a long time. That wasn't a rash decision. He's been wanting to do that for 10 years.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: Phil has never done anything that wasn't pre-planned.
Photo by Fox Sports
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: Phil was sending a message: You cocked up Shinnecock last time, when I should have won, and now you've done it again. So now I'm going to show you up for what you are.
COACH OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: It was a big middle finger to the USGA.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 PGA TOUR EVENTS: We all wanted to do it.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: The only thing Phil got wrong was his bullshit excuse. I loved every minute of it otherwise. It was the right guy saying the right thing: F--- off. I've been playing in this event for over 25 years, and I'm the biggest lover of the event in the world, but you've finally ruined it completely.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 10 PGA TOUR EVENTS: I've talked to Phil since, and he put so much energy and effort into trying to play well that week, and he thought he could go in there and win. And then when he saw that it wasn't going to happen, the frustration got to him.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 20 PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: Phil had fallen for the U.S. Open trap and lost it mentally. That's what they're trying to do—break you mentally.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: Every player should have walked off. I wouldn't have disqualified Phil; I'd have given him a medal.
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER: If I had done that, I would have DQ'd myself. I wouldn't put anyone else on the spot.
SWING COACH FOR A MAJOR CHAMPION: A regular player would have been thrown out. Phil was saved by his star quality.
EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: Do you think the top players get treated the same way as the rest of us? Get real.
MULTIPLE MAJOR WINNER, INCLUDING THE U.S. OPEN: Can you imagine if Phil had done that at Augusta?
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: He must have known he would be DQ'd, but he wasn't. The rule was poorly written, so he got away with it. He should have withdrawn and said to the world he was making a point about the way the USGA runs the national Open. I would have said OK to that.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: Phil's temper tantrum [about 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson] ended up being good for that event. It could have been the same for the U.S. Open.
How to regain the U.S. Open's identity
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: I miss the U.S. Opens of old, where you had narrow fairways and thick rough, and it tested everything.
FORMER EUROPEAN RYDER CUP CAPTAIN: The old DNA was worth defending. It had always been that way. The majors should pose different questions. The Open is about the weather. The Masters is about the course. The PGA is a more difficult PGA Tour event. And the U.S. Open is about narrow fairways. What makes Grand Slam winners so great is that they've passed all four tests.
WINNER OF MORE THAN 20 EUROPEAN TOUR EVENTS: The U.S. Open was always the fairest of the four majors. It was tough, but only bad shots were punished. As we saw at Paris [in the 2018 Ryder Cup], that's the way forward.
FORMER EUROPEAN RYDER CUP CAPTAIN: The Ryder Cup last year was more about accuracy, and the Americans couldn't hit the ball straight. At Erin Hills, the fairways were 60 yards wide. That's not a U.S. Open. But the USGA has adapted to the modern game rather than making the game adapt to the U.S. Open. If a 280-yard drive straight down the middle was most beneficial, no one would be hitting drives 350 yards. Straight should be as important as long.
MULTIPLE EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: The wide-fairways thing is not working. Too many guys have no chance if you don't hit it 350 yards off the tee.
What will happen at Pebble Beach?
MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPION: By playing Augusta every year, we get to see history. We get to see great shots and try to re-create them the next year. To me, the U.S. Open is Pebble Beach. If I was going to pick a venue, I would say Pebble Beach all the time, and same as the British—I would say St. Andrews all the time. And the PGA Championship, you pick a course. Let that one go crazy.
CADDIE FOR MULTIPLE MAJOR-CHAMPIONSHIP WINS: I fear for Pebble. It was close to unplayable in the last round in 2010.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: The story going into Pebble is, “How will they screw this one up?” The greens will be brown again. What other defense does a course that length have? It's so short [7,075 yards, par 71]. And what will they come up with at the [par-5] 14th? I'm betting no ball will stay on that green after they get done with it [even after it was redesigned]. So what will they do? Water some greens and not others? Mow some greens but not others?
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: The last time we played there in the Open, they screwed up 17 [which underwent a restoration in 2015]. You had seven guys on Sunday hit the green in regulation. That's unacceptable. I hit a 4-iron one pace on [the green] in line with the pin, and if it hadn't hit the TV tower it would have gone in the water. Explain how I'm supposed to play this hole. Guys had to hit it in the front bunker, miss the green intentionally, and get up and down. That's not golf.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: That's a prime example of how they could take a great, iconic hole at Pebble, where there's been so much history, and have the 71st hole of a major championship be complete luck.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: In 2010, they were some of the worst greens I've putted on. They were so bumpy. Half of a green would be brown, half of it would be green. You'd hit one wedge, and it would one-hop over the back; you'd hit the next one, and it would land in a green spot and rip back 25 feet. I don't know how much skill is involved at that point.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: No. 8 barely has a pin placement on it.
FORMER U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: The course is exposed to the elements, so the conditions can change in an instant.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: Let's not trick Pebble up. Let's leave Pebble to be Pebble. It's hard enough as it is.
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: Pebble is not a course where they're going to hit driver anyway. Forget trying to make them hit driver. They don't have to. How can it be a U.S. Open if you can leave your woods at home?
TEACHER OF MULTIPLE MAJOR CHAMPIONS: I've seen the fairway cuts for Pebble, and they're obnoxious. The rough on the 18th fairway comes right out to the tree. On the sixth hole, the “fairway” bunker is 35 yards into the rough. It should be on the edge of the fairway, not completely out of play. If they want to make the fairway that wide, put the bunker where it's supposed to be.
MAJOR CHAMPION: DJ has got to be on everybody's list of favorites. I think Phil or Tiger can certainly win there. But you can also have Tommy Fleetwood. He's not overly long, but he's accurate. Francesco Molinari. You don't have to bash it to be able to perform well there, but you have to know where you can and cannot miss it.
MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER: Everyone can win at Pebble, which is what makes it such a great venue. That's what was so disappointing about Shinnecock last year. You had Corey Pavin win at Shinnecock [in 1995] going head-to-head with Greg Norman, and they couldn't be more opposite as golfers. That's what was so cool. At Pebble, anybody is alive.