Tiger Woods would love to see a classic US Open test next week at Pebble Beach, where the US Golf Association will be under heavy scrutiny after wind-whipped Shinnecock Hills teetered toward unfairness last year.
Woods, whose 15 major titles include three US Open triumphs starting with a record-setting 2000 victory at Pebble Beach, said the USGA has gotten away from what it does best with the introduction of graduated rough and flexible teeing grounds.
“I thought it was just narrow fairways, hit it in the fairway or hack it out, move on,” he said of the old-school approach. “Now there’s chipping areas around the greens. There’s less rough. They try to make the Open different, and strategcially different.
“I just like it when there’s high rough and narrow fairways and it’s ‘Go get it, boys.'”
Woods traced the introduction of graduated rough to Winged Foot in 2006 and the trend of flexible teeing grounds to Torrey Pines in 2008 — where he won his most recent US Open crown.
“I didn’t agree with the set up at 14 in ’08,” he said of the hole shortened to 277 yards in the final round.
“It was a great par-four, but why move it all the way up there and make it driveable?” said Woods, who noted that tee ground options were a notable factor at Chambers Bay in 2015 — when the first hole played as a par-four and the 18th a par-five for three rounds but swapped those pars for one round.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who won the 2011 US Open on a rain-softened Congressional course, agreed he’d like to see a more traditional US Open set up.
“In my head, growing up watching the US Open, that was what my perception of the US Open was,” McIlroy said. “It was tight fairways. It was thick rough. It was a premium on accuracy and precision. I think some of the golf courses we’ve played and some of the set ups over the past couple of years went a little bit away from that.”
USGA officials were also pilloried last year at Shinnecock Hills, when chief executive Mike Davis admitted their zeal to make the US Open the “ultimate” test in golf backfired as higher than expected winds dried out the sloping greens in Saturday’s third round.
– ‘hard to screw up Pebble’ –
GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / Warren Little
Phil Mickelson reacts to his putt on the 14th green in the second round of the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Davis admitted that by the end of the day, some well executed shots not only weren’t rewarded but were penalized.
The round recalled the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock, where the greens dried out over the weekend to the extent that some were virtually unplayable.
“It’s going to be really hard to screw up Pebble Beach,” American Rickie Fowler said. “But you didn’t think Shinnecock 2.0 would happen, either.”
Pebble Beach, with its breathtaking Pacific Ocean vistas, has evolved into an iconic US Open course since Jack Nicklaus won the first Open held there in 1972.
Tom Watson won there 10 years later and Tom Kite in 1992 before Woods marched to a stunning 15-stroke victory in 2000 and Graeme McDowell triumphed in 2010.
But not everyone is certain that a return to Pebble will see the USGA, as McIlroy put it, “redeem themselves”.
“One hundred percent of the time they have messed it up if it doesn’t rain,” said Phil Mickelson, a six-time US Open runner-up who lacks only his national championship to complete a career Grand Slam. “Rain is the governor. That’s the only governor they have. If they don’t have a governor, they don’t know how to control themselves.”
Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, however, is unconcerned.
“Whatever they’re doing, it’s working for me,” Koepka said.