Bring a ladder and some sunscreen to see this US Open
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) — If Amy Mickelson wants to see her husband win his first U.S. Open, she might think about bringing a ladder.
Make sure it has a USGA logo on it, too. Everything else at Chambers Bay does, from the soft pretzels to the garbage cans to the grandstands where people waited in long lines Thursday in hopes of actually getting glimpse of someone hitting a little white ball.
At least the USGA is taking responsibility for the national championship it runs. Don’t want to blame the R&A, which knows a thing or two about hosting tournaments on real links courses.
“It’s weird,” Phil Mickelson said of a course with mounds and sand so treacherous two caddies were injured carrying their player’s bags during practice rounds. “Amy wants to come out and follow and she simply can’t. She just can’t come out and first of all see.”
The big experiment in links-style golf at the Open proved OK in the first round for players, if not the fans who hoped to see them. What’s not to enjoy about wide fairways, no wind and fans so far away that even after a few beers, they weren’t loud enough to heckle.
The trains that run between the course and the water didn’t seem to be an issue, and neither did the rough that looks worse than it is. The greens were another matter, with some players muttering about how their balls bounced too much and didn’t always keep their line.
“They are not the best that I’ve ever putted on,” Rory McIlroy said diplomatically.
Still, the course for the most part looked great on television, even if viewers had trouble figuring out where the fairways ended and the greens began. And that was the most important thing for the USGA, which signed a deal worth nearly $100 million a year with Fox that pushed this tournament into primetime.
There were long views of the water, and the trains running by. There were also plenty of shots of Tiger Woods looking miserable, though that’s pretty much a given in recent times. Woods even threw a club, though this time he didn’t mean to as it flew up a hillside as he tried to hack out of the rough on No. 8.
Take that away and it was a beautiful day on the bay where sunscreen was in rare demand and people lined up for a chance to buy USGA branded lemonade to wash down the dust they inhaled from trudging through sand.
Mickelson liked it enough to shoot a 1-under 69, leaving him in good position to add to his record of six runner-up finishes in the only major he has never won. Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson liked it even better, shooting 5-under 65s on a day everyone began to get a sense of what this crazy-looking course is all about.
“About as easy as it can play right now,” said Michael Putnam, who lives a few miles from Chambers Bay and has played here more than 30 times.
Whether it remains that way depends on the whims of the diabolical wizards at the USGA, who surely were planning to gather at midnight on the 18th green to discuss how to dial up the difficulty of a course that on opening day yielded scores better than they want to see.
Much has been made by USGA executive director Mike Davis about his ability to change the course depending on how the players do. That could mean simply switching the par on No. 1 and No. 18, or allowing the course to dry out so much that shots will be difficult to keep on the green.
That power is surely one reason players were so reserved in comments about the course before the Open began. Fearing what might happen if they complained too much, they used words like “interesting” and “inventive” when asked to describe a tricked-up course that was built just eight years ago with the express purpose of hosting the Open.
It didn’t seem terribly inventive to the fans who wandered about trying to get a glimpse of players they needed binoculars and a good pair of hiking boots to see. Even Amy Mickelson, who has followed her husband in hundreds of golf tournaments, couldn’t find her way through a bewildering maze of people and mounds of sand.
“Where do I go?” she asked an acquaintance as Mickelson was getting ready to tee off.
The 18th green might be the answer on Sunday if her husband can do what he has come so agonizingly close to doing and complete his career grand slam at the age of 45.
That would make this an Open to remember, even if those holding tickets never get an actual chance to see it.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg