On the verge of this year’s US Open it is very likely you’ll see the unlikely. I doubt viewers will catch Pamela Anderson running across the fairways clad in a red bikini or David Hasselhoff flexing his pecs, but this edition of golf’s sternest exam is likely to frustrate, baffle, confuse, and ultimately eliminate many top tier players seeking a major. This Open promises to be so obscure an amateur has a chance to climb high on the leaderboard. That may or may not stimulate golf fans to track the travails of Sang Moon Bae battling the likes of other non-household names such as Robert Streb, Shawn Stefani, or Danny Willett but it is a strong possibility. The only known in the second major of 2015 will be the unknown.
The new venue that is Chambers Bay was brought to life by Robert Trent Jones II and a boatload of money from Pierce County in Washington state. John Ladenburg, former Pierce County Executive floated the idea to bring a world class golf course to his backyard. Despite the controversy surrounding the layout, we are now only a few days away from watching the best players in the world try their luck on a rumpled pinball track Ladenburg originally envisioned.
Links golf in a US Open? Surely this idea is bound to fail. In a country where lush fairways, long putters and high ball hitters cash huge checks for top-ten finishes how can Chambers Bay be worthy of providing a compelling US Open story? In two words — it can’t.
Start with the top FedEx Cup players. Jordan Spieth is a great all-around player but will he be able to accept the bad bounces that will surface off the canted surfaces of Chambers Bay? Rory McIlroy has already commented his strength is not links golf. Jimmy Walker may disappear between the dunes while Ricky Fowler will bump-and-run his way to slipping in under the cut line. Tiger and Phil should plan to jet on down to Bandon Dunes for a casual weekend since it’s just down the coast. Neither will be around for prime time Saturday and Sunday.
The list of the final three majors in 2015 reads as follows — Chambers Bay, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits. Not a parkland layout in this threesome.
St. Andrews is the only true links test. Why the USGA and PGA are serving up pretenders is puzzling. What happened to the traditionalists? Wherefore art thou Baltusrol, Winged Foot, Oakmont, Oakland Hills, Shinnecock Hills or even Pebble Beach? Oh yeah, we’ll be in Pittsburgh next June. The defending champion won’t have a clue there.
In 2011 I tromped around the 2017 US Open site, Erin Hills, taking in the US Amateur. Erin is the other new kid on the block catching the eye of the USGA. While walking down the tenth hole during the playoff for final match play qualifiers, I spoke with a contestant that had missed the cut. He also played the previous year at of all places, Chambers Bay. I asked the young man to compare the two layouts. He responded there was no comparison — Erin Hills was flat out the better course. Chambers he noted had too many quirks, severe slopes and putting surfaces that were challenging to three putt. If that is the case you can eliminate half the field from contention next week. Pampered tour players expecting perfect bounces and receptive greens might as well get to the Travelers early. Golf will get back to normal in Hartford the following week.
It is admirable for the USGA to sample an eclectic mix of Open venues but in my mind it has caused me to reshuffle my major rankings. During my youth it was the US Open followed by the Masters, the PGA and the British as I referred to it back then. Now I’ve completely flip-flopped. The Masters is on top by a wide margin. The Open Championship ranks second with the PGA maintaining its position as the US Open drops to last place. Maybe that indicates the fallacy of an amateur golf association running one of the best professional championships in the world. At times things are askew.
This may be one of those years. Next week Bay-watchers are in for an unprecedented set of prime time events. Wayward shots may find the bottom of the hole while well-struck efforts get repelled by grassy sideboards cultivated by Trent Jones II. Entertaining? I suppose so for a few days but I doubt if I’ll watch much if the Open turns into a fiasco. If luck trumps talent in deciding this year’s champion then the USGA has wasted our time. We’d be better entertained by watching reruns of Baywatch. I don’t anticipate seeing any bad bounces with Pamela Anderson.