Well, my least favorite major is over.
The 2013 United States Open Championship is in the books and the good old United States Golf Association got just what it wanted. I know some of you will take issue with me being critical of the USGA, but hear me out first. I don't hate "everything they do".
My beef with the USGA is that they turn it into something that is difficult to watch and, more often than not, not very entertaining.
They make the greens as receptive as a concrete driveway. They put the pins on slopes and near edges, and speed the greens up to speeds they were truly never designed for. They make the rough so deep and lush that, without spotters, their typical five-hour rounds would have to be timed with a sun dial.
Many were concerned that Merion Golf Club wouldn't hold up against the onslaught of modern equipment and players. It had been 32 years since this old course had hosted our national championship. It took everything the USGA had to stretch the course out to play a very un-Open-like 6,996 yards. However, I think if you gave the keys to any club to the USGA and let them set it up, they would find a way to make it difficult at best for players to score.
I really wish the USGA would take "par" and toss it out the window. If you are so worried about keeping the best players in the world from "breaking par," then let's make par for a U.S. Open track 66 or 68 strokes instead of 70.
In order to defend par, the USGA performed its usual feats. In addition to the overly narrow fairways, we had pin positions that bordered on insane.
Merion's original architects, Hugh Wilson and William Flynn built the course with distinctive and strategic landing areas. Their design was to that if the golfer hit the proper tee shot to the proper area, it would give him the best approach to attack the green. The USGA decided to put five or more inches of rough in those places. Why would you take away the design of the course? Why keep the players from being able to hit a shot to the properly designed location for a better second shot? Wait, I know... Because you want to make them look silly. To me, the USGA destroyed the nuances of the course and made it play in a manner not fit to its design.
When the U.S. Open was last played at Merion, in 1981, there was 26 acres of fairway. This year there was a mere 18 acres.
I love testing the best players. I think that those who can hit the ball to a target as well as long off the tee should be rewarded. But why penalize the guy who misses a fairway that is only 20 yards or so wide by a foot, the same as those missing the fairway by 20 yards?
In addition to the rough being long and lush, it was also groomed with rakes during the tournament so that shots would nestle down and against the grain of the grass.
I believe in a true, yet fair, test. When you have not a single golfer, out of the 100 best in the world finishing at or under par, there has to be something amiss. The number one and two players in the world finished a combined 27-over-par. Had it not been for softened conditions, the score would surely have been higher.
Merion's greens were also designed in a time when no one ever thought of cutting them to speeds approaching 12 or 14 on the stimpmeter. Putting the pins atop ridges, or on a slope, made for some interesting putting adventures. On tour, averaging 30 putts per round ranks you 169th. At the U.S. Open it put you in 16th.
Don't get me started on the 274-yard par 3. Seriously? We want to watch professionals try to stop a driver or 3-wood on a par-3 green designed to hold a mid or long iron.
I realize everyone there played the same course. But that doesn't mean that it was a true and fair test of golf. It will never change, and neither will its spot on my major list.
Good guys do finish first
Congrats to our neighbor and friend, Ken Duke, from Palm City. Ken won his first PGA Tour event on Sunday evening, defeating Chris Stroud with a birdie on the second playoff hole.
Duke has to be the poster boy for patience and persistence. It took 187 starts for Duke, who joined the Tour in 1994, to cash a winner's check. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
"I've worked hard," Duke told CBS. "I've knocked on the door a lot and here we are."
Way to go Ken. Drop by; the victory cigars are on me!
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.