We put a pause on doing tournament previews until the new site was up and running, and we do apologize for the time away. Rest assured, No Laying Up will likely look different the next time you visit it, and we thank you for your patience throughout this process. But it’s a major week, and it needs to be previewed.
First, I broke down the US Open with Shane Bacon from Fox, who will be on the coverage this weekend. Next, I talked about the US Open, Oakmont, the USGA, and a whole host of other topics with Charles Howell III this week. I’m not lying when I say that Charles has gotta be the best guest we’ve ever had, and if you’re ever going to listen to one of our podcasts, please let it be this one. He’s one of the nicest and most genuine guys I’ve ever met, and he gave some fascinating answers to some questions, especially when asked how much of his career earnings he felt he “owed” to Tiger Woods.
2016 has been a bit of a disappointment to many American golf fans like myself. What was shaping up to be a legendary Masters performance ended in horrific collapse, and was followed by the disappearance of the top American golfers over the last two months. Trophies were lifted by Brian Stuard, James Hahn, and William McGirt, while Rickie Fowler missed the cut at the Masters, the Players, and the Memorial.
This week kicks off a 111 day stretch where we get the U.S. Open, the British Open, the PGA Championship, the Olympics, the FedEx Cup, and the Ryder Cup. I’m just saying, The Wire starts out a bit disappointing (let’s be honest, the first four episodes are slow), but we got through it, and it ended up being the greatest television series ever. I’m holding out hope that this stretch starts with a big name winner, and ends with Patrick Reed planting the American flag in Ian Poulter’s chest on the 18th green at Hazeltine.
Oakmont Country Club
One of the topics that Charles and I discussed was of course the U.S. Open. I picked his brain on what he thought about how the USGA sets up golf courses, and here is what he said (13:58 mark of the above link):
“I think Mike Davis, yunno, let’s be honest, Mike Davis has a healthy ego. And Mike Davis wants to put his imprint on professional golf, and he’s running a major, and I think sometimes it gets a little bit overboard, to be fair.”
My beef with the U.S. Open has always been that the golf course becomes the story for the week, with the difficulty and the borderline ridiculousness dominating the headlines. This is our national championship, and I have no problem with this test of golf being different than the routine stops on tour every year. But with the USGA turning a blind eye to ever growing distance issue in golf, the challenge of making a golf course more difficult leaves the margin for error too small. Because guys are hitting wedges and 9-irons into holes that were originally designed for 5-irons, they are forced to grow out rough, dry up and trick out the greens, and move tee boxes sometimes off the property.
Let’s face it, last year at Chambers Bay was a debacle. The golf course itself, failed. Ridiculously unfair bounces, unpredictable greens (with sprinkler heads on them!), lack of viewing areas (which greatly affected the atmosphere), and a virgin broadcaster was the perfect storm for a disaster. Gary Player, though known to exaggerate from time to (every) time, called it a “tragedy.” Thankfully, for the USGA’s sake, they were bailed out by a great leaderboard, an anxious finish, and a chosen winner. The response to the overwhelmingly negative feedback: Let’s get another open to Chambers Bay!
I have no doubt that Oakmont will serve as a much better venue than Chambers Bay, but some of the evidence I’m seeing so far already has me a bit concerned. Insanely fast and undulated greens and ankle deep rough seem to be the theme, and by now I’m guessing you’ve seen some of these:
If the greens are truly rolling this fast, these rounds are going to take six hours. Ain’t nobody got time for dat! I have no problems with players being challenged, but when it stops become a test, and starts becoming a mockery, that’s when they lose me. High scores for the sake of high scores does not make for a great test. Fans often roll their eyes at the pros when they complain about the conditions, but the complaining absolutely has an effect on the way the USGA sets up the course. Last year, Mike Davis let Spieth personally set the tee markers on the 18th hole.
The players know a thing or two about course architecture and course setup, so when someone has a specific critique, I’m willing to listen to it. People often like to cite the “they’re all playing the same course” line, and while it’s true, it doesn’t mean that the whole thing should just become a crap shoot of luck. Good shots should be rewarded, and bad shots should be punished. Last year, there were balls that were landing left of the fairway, and missing the fairway to the right!
I’m not saying this week is going to be a disaster, I’m just skeptical so far. I just wish the golf course wasn’t the main topic of conversation. The course should be the setting, not the story.
In defense of the USGA, I must say that the three US Opens before last year were great tests of golf, worthy champions, and more than fair. The reaction from the players this week doesn’t seem to be one of great concern, despite the videos above. I have to admit my experience with the golf course is limited, so for more detailed insight, I suggest the podcast with Shane Bacon linked above.
The Steel City is going to be out in full force, repping their Penguins gear, and probably even waving their Terrible Towels. As a native West Virginian, it’s in my DNA to hate the University of Pittsburgh. When it comes to the actual city and the sports teams, the state is divided between the “this is the closest professional team to me” Steelers/Penguins fans, and the “I can never root for any team from that city” loyalists like myself. I don’t even have a favorite NFL team, but have managed to work up a hatred for the Steelers in my lifetime, mostly because I know the scum Pitt fans wear black and yellow on Sundays.
I expect the Yinzer fans to bring the noise, and the buzz that was lacking from last year’s event will be long forgotten come Thursday. There’s so much history at this place, and the Pittsburgh fans know their stuff (although I still expect plenty of Baba-booey’s).
I picked Spieth to win the Masters, and the heartbreak was some of the worst sports pain I’ve felt in a long time. I can’t bear to go through that pain again, so I’m going with a guy that I know for sure won’t break my heart….
It’s the trendy pick now, but this was my call before the season and I’m sticking with it. My thinking was that the greens are going to be so hard, that they’re going to kind of neutralize the putting aspect of the entire tournament. That could be some comically awful rationale come Sunday, but I also just think DJ is going to win a major this year, and always pictured the US Open being the one he would win first. He’s in prime form, rolling it well, and can hit iron in a lot of places on this course where most of the field can’t.
If you put a gun to my head, and I had to pick one guy, I would take Spieth. I feel like he’s such a safe bet to be in contention, and someone like DJ is much more likely to bomb out. I get the feeling that we’re going to see Spieth do some major #Reeding and basically just top-5 every major he plays in for the better part of his career.
I hadn’t had strong feelings towards Rory leading up to this event until I saw him in person at the Memorial. He had such control of his golf ball, and rolled the ball really well all week. With rain in the forecast for Thursday, this could actually be a great setup for him. It may depend on how much the course dries out over the weekend.
I’ve poured over the betting sheet, and have talked myself in and out and back in to about 35 different guys, which is tradition. It also means it’s time to get this thing started.
- Sorry that the return of the previews is a shorter one. I exhausted most of my takes in the podcasts. SPEAKING OF WHICH: I know I have been pimping these to death lately, but I’ve been really encouraged by the feedback we’ve gotten recently, both on twitter and on iTunes. Seeing a podcast I ghetto-ly record from my iPad to my iPhone from my apartment 5,000 miles away at #18 in sports podcasts, and #1 in golf in iTunes (at the time of this writing) makes it all feel worth it. Help us out by subscribing here if you do not already do so, and leaving a rating and review. In exchange, we’ll continue to pound out the podcasts, as well as announce a second No Laying Up podcast from Big Randy and Tron here in the very near future.
- Check out Shane Bacon’s U.S. Open mailbag. Dude is plugged into this event.
- I enjoyed Adam Sarson’s ranking of the best winners (for viewers).
- Also enjoyed Kevin Van Valkenburg’s ranking of the misery behind Phil’s runner-up U.S. Open finishes.
(cover photo courtesy of the Post Gazette)