If you’re half-watching the U.S. Open on TV, there’s an easy thing you can do to stir up some action on Twitter. You can look at the leaderboard and then:
1) If you see a lot of red numbers, you can tweet something like “Boy, I remember when even par was a great score at the U.S. Open!” For extra juice, try comparing the tournament to the John Deere Classic.
2) If you see a lot of black numbers, adopt a tone of concern: “Uh-oh. Has the USGA lost control again?”
Either way, the likes and mentions will roll in. Are the followers of yours who are angry that Los Angeles Country Club is too easy the same as the ones who were angry that Shinnecock Hills was too hard in 2018? Possibly. Is that annoying? Sure. But it’s immaterial. The engagement is the thing.
It’s a game you can play every year—because the U.S. Open venue that pleases everyone no longer exists. Today’s top players are so good, and so well-assisted by equipment, that challenging them means pushing a golf course to its absolute edge. The truth is, LACC 2023 is not a million miles away from Shinnecock 2018. If it were a little sunnier, a little windier, if the greens were a touch firmer, we’d be talking about why the USGA seems hellbent on humiliating the best golfers in the world.
I understand the nostalgia for the fiasco Opens that defined Mike Davis’s tenure as the USGA’s setup czar. They made for terrific content: Gary Player conducting a filibuster live on Golf Channel as Damon Hack looked on in helpless silence, Zach Johnson testifying to the horrors of fast putts as though he had just emerged from the wreckage of a plane crash. It was good stuff!
But I also understand why the USGA has begun to err on the side of sensible green speeds and pin positions. As Kevin Van Valkenburg reminded everyone today, a group of top players considered boycotting the U.S. Open after Chambers Bay’s overstressed turf turned into “broccoli” in 2015. Yesterday, on the other hand, the pros were nearly unanimous in their praise for the USGA’s presentation of LACC.
“I thought the course was incredibly set up,” said Phil Mickelson, who staged a kind of protest at Shinnecock Hills five years ago by petulantly whacking a ball that was about to roll off the 13th green. “Granted, the scores are a little bit lower with greens being receptive and so forth, but there’s a lot more teeth in this course if they want to use it.”
So that’s where we are. Either the players will be happy and a lot of fans will be mad, or the players will be mad… and a lot of fans will probably be mad, too. The USGA has chosen the first option, but both are pretty unappealing.
There’s a third possibility for us this week, though. We can just decide to focus on the golf shots.
Don’t fixate on the scores. Extricate yourself from social media. Actually watch the golf shots these guys are hitting at LACC. Watch the slinging mid-iron on the first hole that lands short and rides the slope all the way to a back pin. The fiddly pitch to the shallow, canted sixth green. The tee shot on the 13th hole that manages to hold a 25-yard-wide plateau between rough on one side and oblivion on the other.
Yes, guys are making birdies. But look at what they’re doing to earn those birdies.
Even under a blanket of June gloom that has kept more moisture in the greens than the USGA wanted, I’ve loved watching the golf shots that LACC has inspired and demanded. You may feel differently, and that’s okay. But let’s at least have a debate about the shots, not about the numbers on the leaderboard.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.