USGA may have gotten it right this time, but it’s just Day 1
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Apparently, they listened.
At least for one day.
From the look of the rampant run of red numbers on the U.S. Open scoreboard — 39 of the 156 players broke par in the first round — it’s quite clear the USGA heard the rants of the players leading up to this anticipated week at Pebble Beach, took heed and stayed the hell out of the way.
At least for one day.
Was the USGA bullied by the public jabs from some of the game’s biggest stars like Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and even Tiger Woods?
It’ll never admit to it. But the fact is this: Pebble Beach, for Thursday’s opening round, was as soft as the sandy beaches along Stillwater Cove.
“I thought today’s setup was great,’’ Rickie Fowler said after shooting 66 to stand oone shot off the lead held by Justin Rose. “There were some good pin placements, nothing that was over the edge or anything like that. The golf course was definitely gettable and scorable out there.’’
Mickelson, two weeks ago at the Memorial, offered these biting words about the USGA: “I’ve played 29 U.S. Opens [and] 100 percent of time they have messed it up if it doesn’t rain. The rain is the governor. That’s the only governor they have. And if they don’t have a governor, they don’t know how to control themselves.’’
No rain is in the forecast for the rest of the week.
On Tuesday night, Mickelson described the course conditions to The Post as “impeccable.’’
After posting a disappointing 1-over 72 Thursday, Mickelson — who was so livid at how the USGA lost the 13th green last year at Shinnecock that he slapped a moving putt of his with his putter in protest — called the Pebble Beach greens “the best I’ve ever seen.’’
Asked if he believes the USGA “got it right this week,’’ Mickelson said, “It seems like it. There’s three more days. You don’t know how the weather is going to be and all that stuff, but it seems like they did a heck of a job.’’
There have been whispers among Pebble Beach insiders this week that the USGA has applied twice the amount of water to the greens than it usually does, and it showed Thursday with players’ approach shots spinning backward as if they were on a yo-yo string.
“They did a fantastic job with the setup of the golf course,’’ Rory Sabbatini said. “All in all, it’s actually not as hard as what I was expecting them to set it up, especially with the rough condition. The golf course is very fair.’’
McIlroy said after his 3-under round that low rounds were “out there,’’ adding, “It’s a very soft start to a U.S. Open, which is a good thing, because you’re completely in control of the golf course.’’
McIlroy, Fowler and a number of other players offered warnings that there still is time for the USGA to manipulate the conditions by dialing back the watering of the greens as the tournament progresses.
The USGA, after all, has developed a reputation for being as welcoming to players shooting low scores in U.S. Opens as the Yankees are at having the Mets beat them in Subway Series games in The Bronx.
So those red numbers figure to become rapidly reduced as the week progresses.
“They [the USGA] can do whatever they want with it from here,’’ McIlroy said. “If they want to dial it up and make it a little bit [harder], they just don’t have to put much water on it [Thursday] night and we’ll come out [Friday] and it will play a little bit trickier. From the scores I’m seeing, that’s really what I expect for [Friday].’’
Based on the way the USGA has handled this championship so far, it’s clear it’s intent on erring on the side of caution considering the calamity it has overseen in recent years for which the organization has been ripped and ridiculed.
“We listen [and] we read,’’ John Bodenhamer, the USGA senior managing director of championships and the man responsible for course setup, said before the tournament. “It’s important for us to listen to those voices. We aren’t going to make all of [the players] happy, but they should understand that we aren’t trying to trick up the course or make it ridiculously hard.”
They have in the past. They didn’t Thursday. The next three days will tell us whether the USGA really did listen and how long its attention span is.
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