In a way, the U.S. Open, Chambers Bay, and the United States Golf Association got a huge break with how the championship ended. Dustin Johnson's historic three-putt choke on the 18th hole that gifted Jordan Speith his second straight major title will be remembered for generations. But the prevailing theme of the weekend before the final hole was clear: complaining. From the spectators to the golfers to the broadcasters, most of the conversations around Chambers Bay for the four rounds centered on all the flaws of the course and the way the event was being run. With that in mind, the only way to get a true feel for the weekend is to break down those complaints to determine their validity. (Yes, we'll get more into the bonkers ending. Patience.)
COMPLAINT: The course is unfair to the golfers.
Even before the championship got underway, players and broadcasters were whining about the conditions at Chambers Bay. The greens were "unfair," "a joke," "a disgrace." It didn't let up at any point throughout the tournament. Fox Sports caught the eventual champion Speith calling the 18th hole "the dumbest hole I’ve ever played" when it was set up as a par 4 on Friday. Some analysts even went as far as claiming whoever won the tournament would be illegitimate. Now admittedly, the greens clearly were a problem considering everyone voiced negative opinions about them, but let's take a look at the leader board...
Player - World Golf Ranking Coming Into the U.S. Open
1. Jordan Speith - #2
T2. Dustin Johnson - #7
T2. Louis Oosthuizen - #27
T4. Adam Scott - #12
T4. Cameron Smith - #167
T4. Branden Grace - #40
7. Charl Schwartzel - #46
8. Brandt Snedeker - #30
T9. Rory McIlory - #1
T9. Jason Day - #10
T9. Shane Lowry - #57
That's about as loaded as a leader board gets. If it was truly an unfair test of a player's skills, why did five of the top dozen players finish in the top 10? Isn't that exactly what a the leader board at a major should look like? It was trying at times, but the best players stepped up. The rest are probably still whining.
COMPLAINT: Who cares? Tiger Woods played horribly and wasn't even around on the weekend.
Stop living in the past. Tiger Woods isn't good anymore, y'all. He isn't even decent. He finished tied for 5th worst. Most most of the die-hard golf fans at Chambers Bay didn't even care. They've moved on.
COMPLAINT: It's so dusty out here.
Verdict: //coughs up more dust and pours more sand out of shoes
Who knew the trail connecting the final three holes would turn into a mini Dust Bowl. My shoes are still sporting a sandy brown natural coat.
COMPLAINT: Fox's TV coverage of the tournament was abysmal.
Verdict: Inconclusive, but probably.
When watching on screens in the media room, I wasn't listening to the sound. But Joe Buck was involved, so yeah, it was probably awful. I'll take y'all's word on it.
COMPLAINT: Fire! Fire! Fire!
A warehouse caught on fire in Tacoma about a mile or so from the course during Saturday's action. It didn't impact play, but it certainly looked ominous in the distance.
COMPLAINT: The policy of "no photos"on the course is so, so, so dumb.
Verdict: Obviously, but...
Look USGA, we live in a time when almost everyone has a camera on their phone and they all want to share major life events (like say... going to the U.S. Open) on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. Having a policy of no photo taking isn't just archaic, it's impossible to enforce. People were still taking pictures.
That said... (prepare for a rant)... WHY DO PEOPLE STILL TAKE CAMERA PHONE PICTURES WITH THE SHUTTER SOUND TURNED ON?!? People know they can easily take pictures that sound turned off, right? Right? It only takes a few seconds to make sure photo taking is a silent act. (NEWS FLASH: THERE'S NO ACTUAL SHUTTER ON YOUR PHONES.) So yeah, I can't totally blame the USGA for not wanting golfers' swings to be interrupted by the sound of morons loudly snapping digital pics.
COMPLAINT: This U.S. Open setup is awful for spectators. You can hardly see anything.
Verdict: 100% true.
This was Chambers Bay's first U.S. Open. It could be the course's last too because of how poorly the USGA set things up for the fans on hand. Golf already is a less than ideal spectator sport (it's hard to track a tiny ball hundreds of yards), but navigating Chamber's Bay made it even more of a slog. Fans really had few chances to get up close to the golfers to see them in action, and any time binoculars are basically a required accessory at your sporting event, there's a problem. Areas that could've provided fan views without interfering with play were aggressively roped off. Outside of the 10th hole, there weren't may chances to get behind golfers to watch them tee off. The 8th hole—the highest elevated on the course—offer zero spots for fans to watch (the radio satellite radio broadcast joked that if an eagle happened on a hole where no one's watching, does it count?). It was impossible to walk with a group (i.e. follow the same golfer from hole to hole). You could watch from the grandstands at certain holes, but if you didn't get there early, you had almost no chance of getting in. Pro Billy Horschel slammed the tourney directors for it saying, "I lost a lot of respect for the USGA this week." It was not an isolated sentiment.
Even the ultimate moment of championship choking was unwatchable for many. Instead of opening up the hole 1's fairway to provide ample views of the dramatic conclusion, the USGA kept things tight. I watch from the hill overlooking the 1st hole, hundreds and hundreds of yards away. And, comparatively, that was a relatively great view. For fans bummed that they couldn't get U.S. Open tickets and had to watch from home on TV, don't distress. You had a better viewing experience.
COMPLAINT: "#[email protected]!" - Dustin Johnson's internal monologue
Verdict: Yikes. What the hell just happened?
Dustin Johnson had a 12-foot putt for eagle to win the U.S. Open on 18. In about a minute he had lost it all.
It's hard to describe exactly the feeling of shell shock that swept over Chambers Bay in a few blinks of an eye. After Speith hit a birdie putt in the group in front of him, Johnson trailed by one stroke on the final hole. Because he's the biggest hitter on tour, everyone knew eagle was in play on the par 5. He crushed an otherworldly drive, and followed it up with a precise second shot giving him the opportunity every golfer wants: sink this putt and you win your first major championship. You could feel the crowd getting ready to erupt. It was going to happen. And even if he missed, he'd just tap it in and force an 18 hole playoff on Monday with Speith. As Johnson's playing partner Jason Day took a while to finish out the hole, the anticipation only grew. This was going to happen.
But despite the distance, the putt was hardly a gimme. If everyone learned one thing over the weekend, it's that these greens were tough. Johnson lined it up. He struck the ball. He missed. The crowd let out an anguished sigh of disbelief. But whatever. He now had the 3-footer. Playoff here we com... What. Wait, what? What just happened? He lined that up so quickly and just struck it. He struck it and it missed. He missed the putt. Johnson 3 putted from 12 feet. Speith just won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He missed the putt. What. Wait, what?
A wave of sports trauma washed over the gallery. That last putt had come so quickly that no one had time to process the implications of a miss before it actually happened. Everyone, even the experts, felt the pain instantly. When chatting with Golf Digest's Shane Ryan (the guy who literally wrote the book on Johnson and Speith), he said, "I almost feel like I choked." As Spike Friedman accurately pointed out, Johnson turning what felt like inevitable victory into a quick and crushing defeat mirrored the crushing Seahawks defeat in Super Bowl XLIX. It felt that visceral.
Now Jordan Speith is half way to capturing golf's Grand Slam. Now Dustin Johnson has to live with the infamy of choking away another major title. Now announcers will cite Chambers Bay every time there's an important assumed gimmie putt on the 18th hole at a major; it will be part of every major broadcast for the rest of Dustin Johnson's life (and probably even longer than that). While there were many things wrong with the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, it's hard to keep complaining when you get an all-time moment like that.