I'm not trying to be a Negative Nellie but this isn't golf." So said Bruce Harmon during the telecast of the final round of the US Open.
He was spot on. I've actually played at Oakmont and in all modesty managed to get around it reasonably well apart from a 5-putt, which proves to me at least how tricked up the course was last weekend.
Oakmont's fairways are wide and its greens enormous but they tilt so severely that in reality they are much, much smaller targets than they look. Play aggressively and miss and you make a double bogey; play defensively and miss and you can't make par.
As for Oakmont's furrowed bunkers (they are raked with specially made wide-toothed, wooden rakes): it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how much nerve you have, the only thing you can do is blast away and hope for the best.
I never saw so many poor bunker recoveries by top class pros.
Jack Nicklaus says: “Oakmont might be the most difficult course anywhere. It's the sum of a lot of things you can't see. Instead of streams and lakes, there are man-made ditches that you can hit into very easily.
“The greens have severe tilts, which is the reason so many balls roll off greens. To hit it close, you have to curve your irons in both directions, plus hit them high and low. The greens are extremely firm.
“No greens repel rain like Oakmont greens. The water just rolls off them because of the pitch, and within an hour they're firm again. The US Open is 72 holes of bad breaks with an occasional surprise.”
It may explain why the USGA has brought its Open to Oakmont more often than any other golf course.
Nobody wins the US Open at Oakmont - it wins you, which is all the more reason to admire Shane Lowry's incredible performance until his concentration and resolve were undermined by a scandalous, rules performance by officials who left not only Dustin Johnson - but all of the other players - in the dark as to what the real score in a vital part of the unfolding final round might have been?
Imagine playing in an All-Ireland Final and being told in the middle of the second half to play on not knowing whether a goal 'scored' would, or would not, be allowed? It was grossly unfair that the Offaly man was put in such a position. The USGA really needs to look at itself.
No wonder golf is such a slow game if it takes several hours to declare a ruling, let alone complete 18 holes on courses as difficult as Oakmont. But, why was play so slow? I don't blame the players exclusively.
The course set up had a big part to play too. Reachable par-5s and driveable par-4s by everybody in the field; long putts were taking as long as 20 seconds to complete their journey.
Jordan Spieth, who has to be the biggest slow play criminal ever in golf, was timed at taking up to 85 seconds to study his putts, line them up, set them off and then wait for them to finish rolling.
Taking up 85 seconds extra on the greens may seem trivial but if it happens on every hole it adds up. I don't understand how Spieth continually gets away with being a golfing tortoise.
“It all comes back to the ball going too far," Paul McGinley said during the Sky Sports telecast. Courses are being put right on the edge of 'playability and ridiculousness' resulting in greens running so fast that the ball can move involuntarily (and it did.)
What did Johnson do that caused his ball to move? Nothing! Perhaps vibrations from the nearby turnpike were the cause? To not overrule the referee on the spot decision was farcical.
Today's players are too good. The distance boom brought about by golfers going to the gym, hiring personal trainers and maximizing their fitness and flexibility while, at the same time, equipment manufacturers poured millions into scientific research by NASA engineers, has gone too far.
Manufacturers know it means dollars in their pockets anytime there is an increase in the distance the ball travels.
Manufacturers may be working within the rules but combined together with the superior athleticism of today's golfers has destroyed the game. The USGA and R&A have been negligent in allowing it to happen.
The ability to hit the ball hard every time, because the driver head is so big is the biggest difference compared with days of yore.
Today's golfer doesn't have to "smooth it" and worry about torque. It is a lot different from playing with persimmon or hickory.
The USGA's latest answer to the ball going too far is to bring next year's Open to Erin Hills in Wisconsin, a course that measures 7823-yards - 600 yards longer than Oakmont!
Watching the best players playing on courses like Erin Hills and Oakmont won't entice newcomers to golf.
When one of the best-ever putters, Ben Crenshaw, says: "Oakmont greens make good putters fret about their second putt before they have hit their first one. It does make you think."
Words of the Wise
When people say they dream of playing in the US Open someday, what they're really saying is, they'd like to be good enough to play. Trust me, the US Open is not fun - Tom Weiskopf
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