Changing course at the US Open

For nearly 10 years, I’ve been writing in this very column about how golf’s governing bodies—notably the USGA and the R&A—have often struggled to keep the game of golf relevant in this modern age. Generally, my diatribes have focussed on the organisations’ stubborn refusal to acknowledge or maintain a common-sense approach to many aspects of the game; whether it relates to outdated (and endless) rules, head-shakingly inefficient equipment regulation (like broomstick putters, the modern ball, etc), the confusing/subjective Slope and Handicap system, or (in the USGA’s case) the desire to position their national open as a sort of torture chamber.

In all of these cases (and others I’ve covered) the notable by-product is, effectively, to push people AWAY from the game. The game of golf is hard enough on its own; yet our governing bodies seem to have felt the need to add layer upon layer (upon layer) of hell to the game. (Dante would have been proud.)     

Then, last month, everything suddenly changed.

As you will know, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the US Open. On the one hand, I’ve loved watching the world’s best golfers compete on the United States’ most iconic golf courses, under enormous “Major” pressure. Yet I have also truly hated (and I mean HATED) how the USGA has approached the course setup, choosing to try and “protect par” by making the course as brutal as possible. (And as I have stated every June and July in these pages, this attitude has trickled down to the local courses and clubs, with everyday golfers suddenly finding themselves facing knee-high rough, super-fast greens and ridiculous hole locations at their own local courses.) Then the USGA wonders why handicaps haven’t gone down, why rounds are taking longer, and why golf as a sport is struggling to attract players!    

So I was fairly pessimistic when, in the weeks leading up to this year’s US Open at Pebble Beach, stories began circulating about how the USGA was aiming to “avoid past mistakes”, and making their US Open course more playable, etc. In truth, it felt like the same old sales pitch by a tired old salesperson.

But, unbelievably, something wonderful happened.

The course was actually playable. The professionals were shooting (gasp) under par! And finally…FINALLY…the storylines surrounding the US Open were about the players and their scores (and NOT about the ridiculous course setups or confusing rulings).

And, for once in a very long time, the event was fun to watch again! Golf itself seemed FUN!  The players (when allowed to actually PLAY the game) drew roars from the crowds with bold tee shots, pin-seeking approaches with zip, and aggressive monster putts.

People were enjoying golf again! (Gee, who’d have thunk?)

So I tip my cap to the USGA. While it may be a decade too late, they ran a wonderful, exciting and overall inspiring event. And I can only hope that they continue this trend next year, and that courses across the globe follow suit.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(Also – on a side note…Speaking of inspiration, if you’re looking for a feel-good story/video, be sure to hop online and do a YouTube or Google search of US Open Champion Gary Woodland playing golf with Special Olympian Amy Bockerstette. It’s a cracker.)

See you on the fairways

Richard Fellner

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