We were always going to get a few spicy comments on a “new” golf course as the championship progressed and players’ realistic hopes of winning started to fade. It would be silly for players to psych themselves out at the start of the week by expressing some distaste for the course they were soon going to confront. But now, players are starting to speak up. We got a sprinkling of dissatisfaction on Friday night when Brooks Kopeka’s said that he was not a huge fan of the course, noting the lower scores and the preponderance of blind shots.
Saturday brought more negative player reactions. Here are a few, from outright pans to tempered analyses:
Matt Fitzpatrick: “I just think the golf course is interesting, to be polite, I think. There’s just too many holes for me where you’ve got blind tee shots and then you’ve got fairways that don’t hold the ball. There’s too much slope. I think the greens certainly play better when they’re firmer. I definitely think that’s the case. They’re rolling really, really well. Some of the tee shots are just—I think they’re a little bit unfair. You hit a good tee shot and end up in the rough by a foot and then you’re hacking it out. Meanwhile, someone has hit it miles offline the other way and they’ve got a shot. Yeah, not my cup of tea.”
Viktor Hovland: “I’m not a big fan of this golf course, to be honest. I think there’s some good holes. I don’t think there’s any great holes. I think there’s a few bad holes. I think No. 9 is probably the best hole out here in my opinion.”
Padraig Harrington: “I think the one thing you’ve got to—if you produce a golf course in good condition, like these are probably the best greens we’ve ever putted on in a major. I’m telling you, these are just a pure bent surface which is beautiful to putt on. If you produce good greens, you’re going to get good scoring.”
Bryson DeChambeau: “So just numerous holes where you’ve got to play the correct shot shape with how the fairway moves and everything, and there’s some off-wind holes where it’s off the left. It’s just diabolical. It’s a completely different test of golf than a normal U.S. Open.”
The course discussion will always yield a variety of subjective opinions based on the stakeholder or commenter’s biases. What seems less subjective, however, is the unfortunate muting of the crowds at a relatively closed U.S. Open. We’ve heard about this from commenters and media on the ground since the start of the week—Geoff Shackelford sounded the earliest alarms about the large number of tickets allotted to members and corporate interests. We heard there were limited tickets available to the general public. There are meager grandstands in important areas and the course makes it generally tough to follow groups. The players have started to take notice of that as well.
Collin Morikawa, thrilled to be playing at home but admitted this while doing so: “Even though the fans aren’t really close, it’s awesome to be out here in LA.”
Fitzpatrick, again, with another swipe at the overall venue and commenting on the atmosphere, from Barstool’s Dan Rapaport: “Very poor…It’s disappointing on the USGA side. They want a great tournament—from what I’ve heard a lot of members bought tickets and that’s why there’s so many less people. Hopefully it’s not the same for other U.S. Opens going forward.”
The lack of fans was laid bare at an inopportune time and place, when fan favorite Rickie Fowler poured in a 69-foot putt on Saturday night during a U.S. Open to the applause of … a few dozen. It sounded like the gallery at a qualifier or NCAAs. Sure, the putt occurred on the 13th hole, at a hard-to-reach corner of the course, but was illustrative of the larger problem. The facile critique was that L.A. is just a “bad sports town.” But it’s not — this is just the host club really putting its thumb on the scale.
The setup debates or course discussions leave some room for reasonable disagreement. But any disagreement about spectators seems a little more black and white. The tournament should open the gates to more fans and provide greater amphitheaters for them (as opposed to a few clubhouse terraces bought out by Rolex, Goldman Sachs, and others that have the first tee looking like the scene at a member-guest). For a championship that rightly prides and promotes itself on being truly “open,” it’s an unfortunate demerit on this year’s edition.