PEBBLE BEACH: Pre-tournament nerves aren’t limited to the players as the US Open Golf Championship returns to Pebble Beach with the US Golf Association under scrutiny.
After four years at which course conditions or rules controversies made headlines at their signature event, USGA senior managing director of championships John Bodenhamer acknowledged Wednesday that it was “critical” the US Open spotlight return to the players and their skills.
“We’ve talked about it all year long,” Bodenhamer said. “We all feel a great obligation in that regard, not just to the championship but also to serve the mission of the USGA.
“But, again, I will say: We feel good about our plan. We feel good about what you see on the golf course and what we’re going to present to the players as a tough but true test.”
Top players uniformly say they welcome the challenge of narrow fairways, punishing rough and treacherous greens that traditionally make the US Open a test of mental and physical stamina as well as skill.
But the build up to the 119th US Open at cherished Pebble Beach Golf Links has included rumbles of discontent over recent miscues stretching back to the shocking condition of the greens at Chambers Bay in 2015 and including the 2016 rules debacle at Oakmont, which saw eventual winner Dustin Johnson play the last seven holes without being certain of his score.
In 2017 the wide fairways of Erin Hills were derided as more fitting to a regular tour event.
And last year at Shinnecock Hills the USGA’s determination to keep the greens savagely fast backfired as unexpectedly high winds made some all but unplayable in the third round.
“Certainly we looked at what happened at Shinnecock last year, we dug deep into that, we understand it,” Bodenhamer said. “And we didn’t have enough water on the greens on the back nine the last year, simple as that.
“We’ve got safeguards in place this year,” he added, saying the USGA was prepared to add water to the greens if necessary between the morning and afternoon waves.
Players have offered glowing practice-round reviews of the course this week.
But 15-time Major champion Tiger Woods, who marched to a remarkable 15-shot victory in the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach, warned that it would be a “totally different ballgame” when the soft greens of the practice rounds firm up.
“Come the weekend they might let them get close to the limit,” he said. “If they get firm and crusty it will be so hard to hold them.”
Brooks Koepka, chasing a historic third straight US Open title, was brusque in shrugging off concerns about course set up.
“Everybody has got to play the same golf course,” said Koepka, who is coming off his fourth Major triumph at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last month. “If you play good enough, you shouldn’t have a problem.”
Even as fog rolled across the course on Wednesday afternoon after days of blazing sunshine, Bodenhamer admitted there were “no guarantees” that the changeable weather of the Monterey Peninsula wouldn’t play a role.
But he noted that in five prior US Opens, Pebble Beach – a scenic beauty hugging the Pacific coast, has produced notable champions. Jack Nicklaus won in 1972, Tom Watson in 1982 and Tom Kite in 1992.
Woods’ 2000 triumph remains a Major championship monument, and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell ended Europe’s 40-year US Open drought with his win in 2010.
“We are endeavouring to set up and play a US Open as the US Open has always been at Pebble Beach and just let history unfold, as it always has, and it will take care of itself,” Bodenhamer said.