The U.S. Open golf tournament concluded last night in dramatic fashion, with Dustin Johnson first setting himself up for an eagle putt to win the tournament, then three-putting to lose it. After four grueling days, and I'm talking about watching, it was apparent some things were great and others fell a bit short.
Great: The Competition: When the back nine leader board includes many of the top players in the world and the tournament goes down to the last putt on the eighteenth hole, it's difficult to want much more. Combine that with the roller coaster finishes of the leaders and you've only added more icing on the cake. Jordan Spieth's birdie, double-bogey, birdie finish and Louis Oosthuizen's six birdies over his last seven holes, combined with Dustin Johnson's birdie on the par three seventeenth, setting up the drama on the final hole, was as exciting a conclusion I can remember since Tiger Woods' playoff victory over Rocco Mediate in 2008. Along the way, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott made runs to get into contention.
Not so Great: The Golf Course: Burned out and bumpy greens, inconsistent surfaces and blind shots all contributed to disrupt some of the players' ability to sustain birdie runs. While I liked the setup for Sunday, with the final hole playing as a par 5 and a couple of par fours set up to be able to drive the greens, the rest of the package at Chambers Bay left me desiring more traditional, well maintained golf courses. Perhaps they'll be back at the venue in the future and if they are, my desire is that the greens are in far better shape.
Great: The Scenery: Some of the shots of Puget Sound were simply magnificent. I've spent a lot of time in that region and it was nice to see the area so well represented. The views of Mt. Ranier were nothing short of spectacular. As much as I was disappointed in the course, the location piqued my interest to head out there for a few rounds of golf.
Not so Great: The Coverage: Fox, even though they improved every day, still fell far short in their ability to adequately cover such a high profile golf event. They didn't roll out some of their graphics until the weekend, making it difficult for the viewer to get a handle on the layout of individual holes. As is Fox's style, they seemed much more enamored with their own broadcast team than with the action on the golf course. And seemingly because of Greg Norman's relationship with Jason Day, we were treated to a minute and a half (or more) of his shot preparation instead of important shots and putts by the other contenders. It was almost as if Fox was concerned they would miss Day collapsing in a heap in real time. Fox needs to get more in touch with the desires of the golf viewer. It's not NASCAR where in depth coverage of the garage area before the race is of interest to the fans. The difference is, the race isn't going on in the background. While you're interviewing or showing Greg Norman standing around talking with Day and his coach, other players, like a charging Rory McIlroy, are actually playing golf. And finally, there were far too many instances where the camera operators totally lost track of the golf ball. Maybe they'll improve, but not if they only cover one tournament a year. Can you imagine next year, when the spotter says the ball's going toward the bunker at Oakmont? Oops. there are almost 200 sand traps at the famed layout. I can't wait to see a camera scanning ten bunkers, looking for a golf ball on, yes, you guessed it, pristine white sand.
Great: Future of American Golf: Six amateurs made the cut at Chambers Bay, all of them Americans. As Woods, Mickelson, Furyk and others fade into that no man's land before the Champions Tour, it's comforting to know that now two time major champion Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and others can compete at a high level. With so many talented amateurs ready to turn professional, it looks like the pendulum that had swung toward the European, South African and Australian players may be swinging back to the United States. I'm totally for global competition, but for the popularity of the game here, it's important for Americans to have our share of guys at the top of game. We need look no further than men's tennis to see how irrelevant a sport can become in this country when no one from the U.S. is competing.
Not so Great: Players' Criticism of the USGA: Golf is above all else, an honorable game. While I've been critical of a number of decisions the USGA has made regarding this U.S. Open, that's a role as someone that is in the sports commentary business is expected to do. I feel it's awkward and unseemly for players to publicly comment in a negative fashion regarding the course, the USGA, etc. While that may seem hypocritical, it really isn't. The players can have their voices heard privately and with leaders of the organization responsible for the course and the setup. My only input is through social media or my blogs and radio appearances. I also feel that Fox needs to be more sensitive to putting players on the spot for comments immediately after their rounds. Obviously, the network knew that Billy Horschel was very upset by the way he acted on the course. To provide him a publlic forum so soon after a round where he missed some make-able putts due to the bumpy greens was an obvious play to create controversy and sensationalize, in true Fox fashion, the issue. That may work in NASCAR, baseball and even the NFL, but there's no place for it at the US Open. For the record, Horschel has since apologized, but it's hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
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