US Open golfers are fan-friendly
What if the Super Bowl was played on a 150-yard field with hills and valleys or the NBA Finals was held on an outside court with 30-mph winds?
The U.S. Open, one of golf’s four majors, is considered the national championship of golf, but the course conditions are so unlike the course on the PGA Tour, that, in many ways, it is a completely different game.
Last week the U.S. Open was played at Shinnecock Hills in the Hamptons.
Even though there are almost no trees and no water on the course, the thick rough on the fairways up to a player’s waist, the greens cut so fine that they resembled a sheet of ice, the pin locations located at the edge of the greens, and the 20-mile per hour winds caused most of the best golfers in the world to shoot scores they last shot when they were in grade school.
Rickie Fowler, the eighth-ranked player in the world, shot an 84 on Saturday and still finished in 20th place. The “cut line” to play the weekend was 8-over-par, yet names like Spieth, McIlroy, Day, Garcia, Watson and Woods didn’t even make the cut.
I was fortunate to attend my fourth U.S. Open and followed the Mickelson-McIlroy-Spieth group on Friday, Dustin Johnson on Saturday and then Johnson and the eventual winner, Brooks Koepka, on Sunday.
Koepka, one of golf’s next generation, defended the title he won last year at Erin Hills.
The two greatest golfers of all time, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, never won back-to-back U.S. Open titles. Koepka won because he was able to accept a bogey and par on holes on which the other golfers were too aggressive and ended up making double- and triple-bogeys.
This U.S. Open will be remembered for Phil Mickelson’s decision on the 13th hole to hit a moving ball.
I was standing only a few feet when Mickelson hit what looked like a fairly simple chip shot from off the green. However, the ball rolled off the green to the other side (forcing him to hit another chip). After hitting the ball on the green, he putted the ball past the hole.
As he saw his ball slide past the hole and probably off the green again, he sprinted to the ball and hit it while it was moving — a two-shot penalty on top of his eight for the hole.
Commentators blasted Mickelson, but on Sunday, when he parred the same hole and gave a fist pump, the huge gallery, gave him the loudest ovation of the weekend.
The course was extremely hard to navigate as a spectator.
Unlike most tournaments that have stands around the tee boxes and the greens, most of the greens and tee boxes were elevated, making it almost impossible to see any of the shots. The ubiquitous tents that you could see on TV were mostly down the fairways and not around the greens.
On Saturday, I went on my friend’s boat, and we were able to avoid the insane traffic — the Hamptons’ main road is only two lanes — and simply docked a five-minute walk to the entrance of the tournament.
For some, the highlight of the weekend was getting a picture with Dustin Johnson’s wife, Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of Wayne Gretzky and a model/instagram star. She followed her husband on the back nine both days and posed for hundreds of pictures with the spectators.
I never saw her refuse a request.
Even though the course conditions were difficult and the golfers were struggling, almost all the golfers were gracious and friendly to the fans — a type of interaction that you do not see in any other sport.
Ira Kaufman is an Altoona native, attorney and traveling sports fan. He hosts a Monday night radio show called “Ira on Sports,” that can be heard on FM95.9 and FM106.9 in West Palm Beach, Florida.