The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports

Reflections of Oakmont: A Look Back at the US Open

Photo by Kevin Krest at the USGA US Open at Oakmont

Reflections of Oakmont: A Look Back at the US Open

BY Kevin Krest

@KevinKrest

The Schedule:

One wave played part of a round on Thursday, then finished up early Friday morning. Initially, the first wave was told they would begin their second rounds late Friday, but by about 10:00 am the USGA had abandoned that idea and sent the players off to do whatever they pleased. Meanwhile, the second wave finally played their opening rounds. After the greens were cut and rolled and the pin placements changed, they went back out for another eighteen holes. Play was called for darkness around 8:45 pm with nine groups still on the course. They came back out at 7:15 am Saturday just after the other wave started their second round at 7:00 am. When all players had completed their rounds, the cut was made and pairings set for the third round. The players then went out at 3:00 pm in threesomes off both tees, and all but eight groups completed play. Those twenty-four players returned to Oakmont Country Club at 7:00 am to finish up. The pairings were reset and the fourth round commenced at 10:00 am, with players going off in twosomes from the first tee. Whew! You can imagine why the players, the media and the volunteers had an interesting and tiring week. Because of the schedule, interview opportunities for the media were few and far between, with most players either in the midst of quick turnarounds for second rounds in a day, or not at the course at all because of the off day for half the field on Friday. For example, first-round leader Andrew Landry showed up at the course early Friday morning facing a six-foot putt for birdie. With only a putter in his hand, he probably told the cabbie to keep the meter running and waltzed onto the ninth green and coolly sunk the putt. He wasn’t seen again at Oakmont until Saturday morning for his second round, where he managed a 71 after making birdies on his final two holes and earning a pairing with Dustin Johnson and Scott Piercy for the third round.

Ultimately, the schedule may have had more of an impact than most people may think. Shane Lowry was forced to play thirty-two holes on Saturday and was among the players that had to go back out and finish his third round early Sunday morning. After making two birdies in his four holes to take a four-shot lead heading to the final round, he had to wait some 7 1/2 hours to play again. Eventual winner Dustin Johnson played pretty much the same schedule as Lowry, but it doesn’t take a medical degree to notice that the fitness levels of the two are drastically different. DJ is arguably the best athlete on tour, at least since Tiger Woods is sidelined with a myriad of injuries. As the heat and the pressure wilted player after player, Johnson remained composed and steady, most certainly because his physical well-being allowed him to stay more mentally sharp than his competitors. Was it a long four days? Undoubtedly. Did something finally work in DJ’s favor? Absolutely.

The Penalty Fiasco:

The USGA has since apologized for the way they handled the penalty imposition for a ball that they deemed “more likely than not” was caused to move by Dustin Johnson’s actions. There are a couple of issues here that despite the USGA’s quick response, should still not be dismissed. The first is the penalty itself. Golf is above all other sports one that is based on integrity. At all but the highest level, players call penalties on themselves and post scores that impact handicaps, flightings, and outcomes of club championships. So all players, no matter their skill level or age, have almost an unconscious tendency to assess whether or not they have committed a rules infraction. So if there is a question as to whether a player should be penalized, the final determination should actually fall on the player, not the other way around. In looking at the replay, it was inconclusive to me whether Johnson caused the ball to move on the fifth green. And to get really technical about it, his ball moved backward, so how could an advantage have been gained? Secondly, the USGA waited until the twelfth hole to inform Johnson that they would determine after the round if a penalty was warranted. Really? This was the US Open, not some other USGA sponsored event. Their decision to wait, based on what they usually do, could have had a significant impact on the results had Lowry and Landry not done them a huge favor by collapsing under pressure. DJ had already been through a rules issue that cost him a major championship. So the pressure caused by the uncertainty alone could have unraveled him. But it also impacted him and all of the other guys chasing him from a strategic perspective. No one really knew what the score was. And at Oakmont in particular, there was the issue of how to approach the reachable par four seventeenth hole. Fortunately for the USGA, DJ did them a huge favor by taking control of the tournament and eventually taking four shot lead, pre-penalty of course. But that shouldn’t mean that we give the USGA a pass. Come on. It’s the US Open. I know there were a lot of amateurs in the field, but that doesn’t mean that mentality should extend to the rules officials.

The Roar:

I was in the media center with my wife, watching the last couple of holes of Sunday’s final round. Before heading to the cooler confines and the availability of high definition televisions, we’d been on the course as Shane Lowry pulled his drive on the seventeenth hole to the deep rough left of the green and Dustin Johnson had split the fairway on the finishing hole. As we watched the action on the screen, which was delayed about ten seconds from what was happening on the last two holes, a huge roar could be heard from one of the greens. It was audible from inside a large structure that was located at least six hundred yards from the eighteenth green and four hundred yards from the penultimate hole. My initial reaction was that Lowry must have holed his chip at seventeen, the closer of the two greens still in play. It would have placed the Irishman at three under par, just one shot behind Johnson, who stood at four under but still facing the threat of a one-shot penalty. However, it didn’t take long for us to realize that the sound had emanated from eighteen, where Johnson had stuck his second shot to within four feet behind the flag. With the technology available, especially by virtue of American Express’ distribution of thousands of on-course earpieces that carried live coverage, most of the fans in the grandstands surrounding the green were aware of the perceived injustice that Johnson had been forced to endure the final six holes. I’ve been to a lot of sporting events, including over twenty rounds at the famed stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, and I’ve never heard a roar quite like that. And I was at Sawgrass on the sixteenth hole when Tiger Woods hit his famous putt on the island green seventeenth to stay ahead of Vijay Singh in the 2001 Players Championship. Johnson took all of the suspense out of the result by sinking the putt, resulting in another monster roar, and letting the USGA off the hook for a bad decision all the way around. Good for Dustin Johnson to put the tournament away under very difficult circumstances. The most interesting aspect of the entire issue is how the fans responded in his favor, even if the ruling body of American golf chose not to.
[Photo: Kevin Krest / The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports
/ kevkrestsports.blogspot.com]

 

 

For more follow Kevin Krest on Twitter @KevinKrest and don’t forget to check out my new book, “Offsetting Penalties – A PK Frazier Novel” and my first two, “Illegal Procedure – A PK Frazier Novel” and “Roughing the Passer – A PK Frazier Novel”, available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.  Tune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on “Lou in the Morning” with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.

Reflections of Oakmont: A Look Back at the US Open

Reflections of Oakmont: A Look Back at the US Open

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