Davis’ Olympic proved a real test,
but didn’t deliver ‘interesting’
At a moment when so many things in golf are up for evaluation, the Olympic Club leaves us with another unresolved question: What should the modern U.S. Open be?
Well, sure, the sternest test, the hardest major of the year.
But to paraphrase Joe Pesci—the hardest how?
As a marathon, with a plodding, repetitive pace over 72
holes? That would include narrow fairways and ultra-firm
surfaces, which would produce conservative choices off the
tee and middle-of-the-green approaches. Defensive golf, and
a winning score of around even par.
Or, as a steeplechase, with more figurative jumping and sprinting and strategiz-ing? That would include wider fairways,
more accessible pins, more half-shot pars,
and more stroke swings down the stretch.
Offense, and a lower winning score.
Beginning in the early 1950s under
USGA majordomos Richard Tufts and Joe
Dey, and all the way through former setup
man Tom Meeks, the answer was always
But in recent years, now USGA executive director Mike Davis, who took over
for Meeks in 2006, has suggested it
would be more of the latter.
Davis wants the Open to remain golf’s
toughest tournament, but he also doesn’t
mind a more common winning score in
the four- to nine-under-par range.
“What we really do strive to do,” he said
at Olympic, “is make it a difficult test but
make it interesting.”
The 2012 championship fell short on the
second part. Davis kept saying the course
favored shotmakers—a term which applies
to major winners Els, Furyk, McDowell,
Toms and now Simpson. But the cham-
pionship also got some unlikely names
in the top 10—Michael Thompson, John
Peterson and Casey Wittenberg.
There wasn’t much risk and reward. The drivable
seventh hole was fun and produced 10 eagles, but it was
mainly a rest stop after the brutal opening six. As much
as the closely mown greenside areas that Davis installed
on seven of the 18 holes—most notably right of the 17th—
were supposed to provide defining moments, they simply
didn’t. Even when the 15th hole was shortened to 107 yards
Saturday, no one shot at the pin.
So, has Davis simply been leading us on?
No. He has succeeded in his overall goal of ridding the
Open of cookie-cutter setups, while insuring that each site
remains true to its unique architectural features.
At Olympic he decided not to mitigate the course’s doglegs and sloped fairways by making them slower or wider
than they had been in 1998. That would have introduced
talking with a
will have better
display his setups
at Pinehurst and
more drivers off the tee, which would have led to more
wedge approaches, which would have led to lower scores.
In the end, at Olympic, Davis came down on the side of
Despite some dramatic lengthening, Davis decided
Olympic didn’t have the scale to implement some of his pet
ideas. But with a winning score of one over par, his setup
was even more safe than the play it induced.
Davis will feel even more hemmed in next year at Merion, but the more modern Open will manifest at roughless
Pinehurst in 2014, and at linksy Chambers Bay in 2015. By
then, we’ll know better what the hardest test should be. N