Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kudos to Mike Davis and the USGA

I said after last year's US Open at Oakmont that the USGA was heading in the right direction with its setups and that it was beginning to surge ahead of the Masters in my ranking of major championships. Despite another winning score of +5, I said that Mike Davis and Jim Hyler were going in the right direction with short par 4s, holes of greatly varying lengths, and an aesthetically pleasing course. Yes, the rough was dreadful. Players complained a lot. But, it was a means to set up the suits at Far Hills for what was coming this year.

Torrey Pines was to be the setup that made or broke Mike Davis as the setup guy for the national championship. He replaced Tom Meeks, who ushered in a new era of Open design that was almost universally hated and practically indefensible for a national championship. Davis had a low bar to beat from his predecessor, but after the last two Opens, some may have been getting impatient.

In reality, there was no reason to be worried. As golf writer Jay Flemma put it in his blog:

The rough and greens at Oakmont and Winged Foot are the toughest in the world. You’re naturally going to have higher U.S. Open scores there. Torrey is not in the same category of difficulty; there is no excuse for a +5 winning score here. He also knows +5 at Torrey would be viewed as a more manufactured result than a +5 at Oakmont.

Davis made sure that he had a lot to work with for this Open at Torrey Pines - only the second daily fee course to host the championship. He had seaside views, big crowds, and awesome hand picked threesomes. He had the longest course in US Open history at his disposal. There were greens rolling at perfect speed being played into from modestly shaped fairways.

Best of all, though, Davis also made sure that he had lots of tees at different angles so that Torrey would play a little different every day. He offered a taste of his genius when he opted to play the par 3 third hole at its shortest 142 yard tee. Then he did not choose to play the monster 13th hole at its longest tee - he waited until Sunday to do that.

And what a Sunday setup. He went for the tees up in the final round. The course played almost 400 yards less than its maximum. In particular, two holes told me that Davis has convinced the brass at the USGA that he makes good sense. He shortened the 435 yard 14th hole to 267 yards and enticed almost 75% of the field to go for the green despite a canyon off of the back of a mowed fringe. That hole played shorter than #8 at Oakmont last year...and that was a par 3. Then, he moved up the tee on 18 to 525 yards and just begged for players to go for it in two. Unfortunately, lousy drives from the final two groups did not allow that to happen, but it made for such intrigue anyway.

This is what the Open is meant to be - tough, long, but fair. There were birdie holes out there. The players may not have made many birdies, but it was because of them, not because of the course. What a treat.

I want to publicly congratulate Mike Davis and the USGA for turning things around at the Open. For as much as I hate corporate sponsorships and not acting on technology that is hurting the game, they have earned my respect for believing in where Mike Davis was going long before it ever manifested itself. The payoff for Davis comes in the form of one of the greatest Opens ever - of course thanks to a man from Greensburg, PA, and the greatest golfer today.

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