Monday, June 18, 2007

On the U.S. Open

First, for the best coverage and commentary, go here. As for me:
  • The 280-300 yard par 3 8th hole: Personally, I liked it. I think Phil Mickelson summed it up best when he commented on the "black hole" that exists between about 240 and 310 yards. You never see holes of that length, because it's too long for a par 3 and too short for a par 4. But (and this is a theme I'll be returning to), par is just a number. The idea is to get the ball in the hole in as few shots as possible. If you think you can get there and too putt for a three, have at it. You want to lay it up short and try to get up and down, be my guest. Golf isn't paint by numbers. There are lots of ways to skin this cat, and the best tournaments should feature the best players being creative.
  • The Rough and the Fairways: The conventional wisdom is that the straight hitters have an advantage in the open because the fairways are so tight and the rough is so penal, that you have to keep in the fairway to score. Wrong for a couple reasons. First, as Geoff Ogilvie mentioned, the fairways are so tight and firm in the typical Open that you can hit very good drives and still miss the fairway. So the advantage that straight hitters have is negated because they're chopping it out of the rough all day too. Guys that normally hit 10-12 fairways are hitting 6-7, just like the long hitters. As Ogilvie said:
    I mean, I'm quite happy hitting seven shots out of the rough. I do that every day. They don't.
    If you're going to miss the fairway, you may as well bomb it out there. On top of that, the long hitters are hitting two-iron to where the straight hitters hit 3-wood. That's a big advantage for the long hitters. And not surprising, Angel Cabrera is a bomber. So it Tiger. So is Bubba Watson.
  • The Setup in General: This is the time of year where we hear a lot of "it's great to see those guys hack around like I do on a typical Saturday." I think that's stupid. No one says "it's great to see guys strike out like I would in a major league game", or "it's great to see guys with three inch verticals and no inside or outside game miss all kinds of jumpers", or "it's great to see guys roll gutter ball after gutter ball once in a while". OK, scratch the last one since no one watches bowling. But anyway, these are the best players in the world. I want to see them play like the best players in the world. I don't want to see shots that land on the left side of the fairway roll into the rough on the right side of the fairway. That doesn't mean the winning score should be 20 under, but par is a standard, and the best players in the world should be able to do better than par. That brings me to....
  • Par: Like I said, it's just a number, but to the USGA it's like the virginity of a bible thumper's daughter, to be protected at any cost. That's why courses that routinely play as par 72s for the members play as par 70s in the open. They take two 520 yard par fives and turn them into 500 yard par fours. That's probably a two or three shot swing every day for four days. But here's the thing: Who cares? Other than the USGA, I mean. Tournament golf is a very simple concept. A bunch of players play the same course over four days, and the guy finishes in the lowest number of strokes win. Par is simply a concept that allows us to keep track of who's in the lead when players are on different parts of the course, and it makes following the leader board a heck of a lot easier. But you could get the same result by just making EVERY hole a par 4, or 5, or 10, or 20. It simply doesn't matter. It may matter to you and me when we try to compare how we did at one golf course versus another, but in the context of tournament golf, par is meaningless. They aren't competing against the course, or against their round at the local muni last Saturday. They're competing against each other. So when the USGA says they aren't fixated on par, they're full of shit.
  • Furyk: I can only assume that Jim Furyk was pretty confident that he could at the very least put the ball in a position to make birdie on 17, and no worse than par, even if he hit driver. Sometimes you pull a club that's easier to hit and you don't do any better than you would have with driver, with the added problem of being 20 yards further back. And let's not forget that he was tied at the time. He's trying to make birdie and win it outright. This isn't Jean Van de Velde making mistake after mistake on the 18th at Carnoustie.
  • Tiger: What's strange is that if Tiger is leading after three rounds, the tournament is over. If he isn't leading after three rounds, the tournament is over for him, even if he takes a lead, however briefly, during the final round. For the second straight major, he led in the final round, only to eventually finish as the runner-up. He simply couldn't make a putt when he needed to, and apparently got a bad break out of the bunker on 17, to the extent that's possible. I mean, bunkers are supposed to be hazards, so one should question whether you can really get a "bad break" in a bunker. But the bottom line is that if Tiger is in your rear view mirror on Sunday in a major, ignore him and worry about the other names you see, because he's not the one that's going to get you. One last thing about Tiger, though. If that becomes the conventional wisdom, and I believe it will, then no one is going to work harder to change it than Tiger.
  • Angel: This guy won the U.S. Open. He didn't inherit it. He wasn't the last man standing as everyone else fell apart. He won it by busting par on Sunday. He got up and down from tee box 300 yards away on number 8. And while he nearly gave it back on 16 and 17, he earned the title earlier in the round, especially with an incredible approach on 15. He hit the ball beautifully for most of the round, and when he came to the tournament's toughest hole, with a one shot lead, he hit a perfect drive and made a routine two putt par to maintain the margin of victory. He earned it.
As for me, I choked. I was four over through 14 holes at Dubs on Saturday after hitting a 198 yard five iron to about four feet on the 14th and making the putt for birdie. I played the last four holes in 5 over, including going four over on the last three holes despite hitting the fairway on all three. I was not happy.

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