Before we address the dark issues emanating from Shinnecock Hills at the weekend, let’s spend a little time in the light.
Brooks Koepka repeats, aims for the “Pebble Treble”
And why not? The powerful, calm 28-year-old from Florida can argue conclusively that he’s won US Opens back-to-back in widely differing circumstances. What surprise is there at Pebble Beach next year for him?
Since 2014, Koepka has finished outside the top 25 in the majors just twice in 15 tries. Five of them – a third of his starts – are top five finishes, and he was tied for sixth at Birkdale last year.
Brooks surely isn’t going to be an Andy North or Curtis Strange, two US Opens and that’s your lot major-wise. Koepka doesn’t lead the field in any one part of the game, but he’s up close in most categories, and one suspects he’s got a better head than anyone else right now.
There are still mental questions about Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Justin Thomas needs to get into a real man-on-man contest so we can properly see the cut of his gib.
We’ve seen Koepka’s now, for sure. He came out of a sizeable logjam at Erin Hills to win, and on Sunday he asserted his authority on the leaderboard almost immediately.
His calmness – some seem to mistake this for him being “robotic” – helped him through a few minor crises and one huge one at the 11th, where he made the best -constructed damage limitation bogey since Spieth at the 13th at Birkdale last year.
Carnoustie? Again, why not? There’s no daft green complexes and ridiculous stimp speeds there, which opens up the field a little more than Shinnecock. Brooks doesn’t fear anything or anybody now, and that’s half the battle.
What were the odds? Short, obviously
Given all the attention it got prior to the championship, it’s almost beyond belief that the circumstances of the 2004 US Open could be repeated this year.
Except, as we noted last week, this is the USGA, and all bets are off.
Tee to green, Shinnecock Hills was fine. The first round was tough, but acceptably US Open mode. No complaints. Friday was decent.
But still obsessed with having the winner finish on par, still obsessed with ludicrous green speeds, still obsessed with “being on the edge” yet not having the remotest clue how to avoid going over it, Saturday was 2004 all over again.
“We were caught by the winds” said Mike Davis. Really? Long Island, as Curtis Strange put it, is effectively 60 miles out in the Atlantic. 15 mph winds and above are normal. Greens at the speeds for inland, tree-lined, sheltered, target-golf courses are wholly unrealistic.
And whoever set the pins – Davis, one assumes – needs to have the holecutter removed from his hands forever more.
That was the biggest disappointment – parts of a distinguished and eminently playable (if difficult) course were rendered almost unplayable by the USGA’s determination to make everyone perpetually aware who is in charge here.
They can’t muck up Pebble, can they? Of course they can, remember the state of the greens last time there.
Phil’s not really very complex at all
There’s been a spate of articles since Phil Mickelson’s little circus act on the 13th on Saturday suggesting it’s all part of his fascinatingly complex character.
This may have some validity, Phil’s certainly a curious character. But to me this latest was another example of Phil doing or saying something and then having a breathtaking lack of awareness of the consequences, and then trying to spin it to make him look smart when he’s actually been an idiot.
That’s not complexity, it’s entitlement and an overactive ego.
Phil’s act of chasing his ball and diverting it was pure petulance. By the time he’d finished his round, he’d conjured the spurious notion that he was playing with the rules, to give the appearance that a childish act was all part of the plan and a statement on playing conditions.
Contrition? Forget it. It took his wife Amy to make excuses for him – “we all have bad days”.
It reminded me of the infamous 2014 Ryder Cup press conference at Gleneagles when he eviscerated Tom Watson and when challenged for his comments, said “I’m sorry you’re taking it that way”.
Coming out of Gleneagles that evening, I said to a US journo colleague that I couldn’t believe Phil had disrespected Watson that way, even if he had been broadly right.
“Well,” countered my friend, “remember that Tom had disrespected Phil too”. Watson’s crime? He had left out Phil because he was playing like a drain.
Back at Shinny, despite Phil’s differences with the USGA, they bent over backwards to accommodate him with a questionable rules interpretation. Their reward? A defiant “celebration” on 13 as he holed out on Sunday.
This after, apparently offering to withdraw on Saturday night.
He shouldn’t have offered. He should have just withdrawn.