The shiver shooting down your spine. The quickening of your pulse. The beads of warm sweat gathering in the palms of your hands. It can mean only one thing.
It’s US Open week.
The self-styled “toughest test in golf” unleashes its own, very specific brand of Royal and Ancient hell on Wisconsin for the first time when it visits Erin Hills this week.
What can we expect? If recent years are much to go by, the usual R-rated blend of tricked-up tomfoolery, most likely.
Rough that is to golf balls as black holes are to space junk.
Greens on which Torvill and Dean could skate the Bolero.
Fairways narrower than a bigot’s mind.
Par-3s where the tees and greens could be connected by rail.
All of the above and more? The price the world’s best golfers have to pay for the ‘privilege’ of taking part.
The US Open is notoriously difficult. Its host, the United States Golf Association, has an abiding and profound obsession with par (notwithstanding the fact that it is an entirely irrelevant scoring mechanism in a format of the game where the player who takes the lowest number of shots wins). Tallies too deep into the red only to ruddy the complexions of its obstinate overlords.
And so it has come to pass that they have contrived to make their flagship championship as gruelling as it can be. It’s attritional, it’s onerous, it’s exhausting, It’s like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube, blindfolded, whilst answering questions on Applied Physics, in fluent Mandarin, backwards, in a perfect E flat major timbre… you get the idea.
By all accounts, this year’s set-up is as brutal as ever.
Kevin Na has already described Erin Hills as a “great design [sic] course” but added “the fescue is almost unplayable”. Meanwhile, Martin Kaymer’s Scottish caddie Craig Connelly has labelled the rough “debatable”. Responding to a Twitter user's enquiry if it is “as brutal as reported”, Connelly replied: “Worse!”
No surprise there. As noted, the USGA appears to take a dim view of fun. Birdies and eagles? Not on their watch.
You just wondered (hoped?) if its main men might have been tempted to make this year’s championship a little less punishing given the controversies of the past two years. Lest we forget, the laughable attempt at setting up Chambers Bay in 2015, which was followed by that Dustin Johnson penalty last year (below).
The universal condemnation that followed both fiascos was thoroughly deserved. The USGA made a pantomime of each event, redeemed only by the quality and popularity of the winners.
This year? You just have to hope they get out of their own way, retreat into the wings and let the golfers create the drama.
No golf tournament attracts as much controversy as the US Open. Memo to Mike Davis: that’s not a good thing.
People don’t want to see the world’s best golfers stifled into conservative play.
The USGA needs to acknowledge that it is in the entertainment industry, whether it likes it or not. People don’t want to see the world’s best golfers stifled into conservative play. They want to see them given a platform to show everybody just how good they are. The courses on the US Open rotation can be those platforms… if the USGA allows them.
Golf doesn’t need another Chambers Bay, nor another DJ rules shambles. It needs a golf tournament that engages a global audience for all of the proper, thrilling reasons.
Please, let that be the case this week.