I take nothing away from Webb Simpson who played the best of anyone in the field on Saturday and Sunday shooting back to back 68′s to pick up his first major championship. In fact I applaud his victory as I always prefer to see someone scoring to earn a major title on Sunday than just holding on to receive the trophy or Green Jacket.
However, the real winner of the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club was the USGA, who arguable put together the toughest challenge of any major since the 2007 US Open at Oakmont, striking back to redeem themselves from the unjust criticism leveled at the organization after the lower scoring shootout that was the 2011 U.S. Open at Colonial and Rory McIlroy’s winning score of 16 under par.
It may seem odd to praise a golf organization for their handling of a major, but majors in golf shouldn’t be about creating conditions on a given course that allow the greatest golfers in the world a challenging yet scoreable setup where under par is achieved by the majority of the field. There is already a name for that type of setup…it’s called the PGA Tour. Majors, and particularly the U.S. Open should be the toughest of contests, repeatedly punishing participants for any minute error, draining their mental capacity for rational though, and thereby forcing the most worthy to top of the leaderboard.
And this is exactly what happened over the course of four days at the Olympic Club.
A balance of opportunistic and unforgiving holes allowed golfers to write their own stories. Stories of hope, opportunity, hubris, punishment, and patience were all about abound.
Each golfer’s moxi was challenged with the likes of 1st hole and some of the most unforgiven pin placements of the tournament or the over 600 yard crescent moon shaped Par 5 16th hole which almost seemed more unrelenting in it’s punishment when the tee box was moved up on Sunday. And yet the USGA still created balance (and frustration) with shorter holes like the Par 4 7th and Par 4 18th where aggressive play was reward, but only when accuracy was achieved.
All in all, the USGA produced a course setup that humbled some of the best golfers in the world and ensured that only the worthy were in contention for the U.S. Open Trophy in 2012. In fact three out of the Top 5 golfers in the world didn’t make the cut: Luke Donald, Master’s champion Bubba Watson, and defending champion Rory McIlroy. Even the world greatest modern golf icon Tiger Woods, was broken by the course after having shown the focused eyes of his former self on Thursday and Friday.
This is not to say that these top golfers and all those failed to make the cut or score reasonable well are not great golfers. One has to be great to have found their way into the tournament.
Still no one was able to crack the code devised by the USGA for the Olympic Club. Of a field of 156 players there were only 5 rounds of golf played where a competitor shot 67 or better equating to only 1% of the total rounds played. (Olympic Club was set up as a Par 70 for the US Open).
Meaning the course and the USGA won.
And yet the course’s difficulty didn’t negate the drama during the Final Round (though NBC’s coverage was more about dismissing than enhancing the drama). Spectators and those viewing at home were witness to the ups and downs of each player who was in contention on Sunday and their attempts to overcome not only the course, but the mental strain of winning a US Open.
The tournament culminated in watching the steadfast and sure footed 42 year old Jim Furyk mentally collapse under the strain during final holes, while Graeme McDowell regrouped after a mostly subpar round, showing the resiliency and determination of a championship fighter to nearly force a Monday playoff between him and Webb Simpson.
So I congratulate the USGA for producing a memorable test that humbled the greatest golfers in the world and once again presented the United States with deserving winner of its national championship.
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