Let’s make no bones about it, Shinnecock Hills was a totally different course on Sunday afternoon than it was on Saturday.
The home of the 2018 U.S. Open had nearly four days of completely different setups to test the best players in the world. Thursday was different than Friday and Friday was different than Saturday which was completely different than Sunday.
Four days of different weather makes setting up a tournament difficult, and while the USGA did a fair job on Thursday and Friday, they botched Saturday. I defended the course on Saturday afternoon, along with the likes of Fox’s Paul Azinger, because I did not believe that the course was lost like it had been in 2004. The problem with Saturday was the ridiculous pin placements the USGA chose on so many holes.
While it’s always been a goal of the USGA to have difficult pin placements, Saturday’s were made worse because of the way the winds picked up and dried the greens out. There were no balls bouncing pin high on Saturday, and although the greens appeared to have lost some color, there were still holes that were playing tough, yet fair. The rest were just playing too tough for even the best in the world.
We, fans and media alike along with players, have grown accustomed to watching and having thick rough two to three feet off the greens that will stop balls if they’re headed over the green. Shinnecock is not designed that way. The area around the greens is closely mowed and forces the world’s best to place their approach shots in small landing areas on the greens lest they run off into collection areas. Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a problem if the pin placements allowed for a reasonable return shot, which on Saturday, they did not.
That is the issue I took with the USGA on Saturday. Many refer to it as a “Mickey Mouse” setup, and by all accounts on the USGA’s side of things, it was, but Shinnecock’s Jon Jennings and his crew had not lost their golf course. It was still there, it was just playing far too difficult thanks to Mike Davis and David Fay’s pin placements.
Sunday gave the USGA a chance to redeem themselves, which they did but they went too far in doing so. While they properly saturated the course and made the greens much more receptive, the pin placements on Sunday left something to be desired and seemed more like practice round placements than final round of the U.S. Open placements.
Of course, this wasn’t too big of a deal considering the damage done by the Saturday placements had already brought everyone in the field together and left four tied at the top of the leaderboard ahead of the final round.
While many don’t care for the USGA and their setups, I enjoy them. The circus of going from a 16-under winner at Erin Hills to a one-over winner at Shinnecock Hills the next year makes the tournament a complete toss-up annually, which thoroughly entertains me. However, I do understand how it could bother many who want to see a similarly difficult test, that is still fair, annually for the U.S. Open.
I get it, I do, but I enjoy it. Why do we have to accept that under par is the norm? Can we not just accept that maybe, just maybe, there should be one test every year where we shouldn’t #LiveUnderPar and the best in the world should be put through the ringer and par should be the goal?
There is also plenty to say about a guy like Brooks Koepka, who didn’t complain about the course and went out and got the job done at two totally different venues with two totally different outcomes to become only the seventh player in U.S. Open history to win the event in back-to-back years.
On top of that, we’ve seen some of the best golfers in the world win this event.
2011 – Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion
2012 – Webb Simpson, a major championship winner and Players Championship winner
2013 – Justin Rose, arguably one of the best golfers in the world who is likely to win another major before he’s done
2014 – Martin Kaymer, a two-time major winner
2015 – Jordan Spieth, now a three-time major winner
2016 – Dustin Johnson, the best golfer in the world
2017-18 – Brooks Koepka, now a two-time major champion
Even though many will claim that the names above have bailed the USGA out, despite all the issues this event has suffered over the years it has been won by some of the best golfers on the planet and isn’t that what we want in a tournament that represents our country’s major championship?
The answer should be yes!