Quick, name something memorable about the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst other than Martin Kaymer running away with the championship. Got nothing? That won’t be the case this year at Chambers Bay. We chose our top five most memorable moments – and they won’t even include Rory McIlroy flirting with a final round record 62, Louis Oosthuizen breaking 200 in the final three rounds (66-66-67), freight trains rumbling through the course, or awe-inspiring views of Mount Rainier. And let’s not forget Jordan Spieth conquering the field, earning his second straight major victory in 2015.
Dustin Johnson 3 Putts on the 72nd hole
If they had switched the final pairings, and Jordan Spieth had been in the final group with Dustin Johnson in the penultimate group, it would have been a heroic finish when the 21-year old Texan became the first U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones to birdie the 18th hole. Instead, it was the other way around and Johnson’s adventures with an eagle putt closed the proceedings with a thud. Of course, the guy did put himself in position with a monster drive and a five-iron on a 593-yard hole, so that should be remembered as well.
The Seemingly Never-ending Struggles of Tiger Woods
Pick your sports analogy. Roger Federer unable to hit a tennis ball over the net. Michael Jordan unable to hit the rim with a free throw. Nolan Ryan not being able to reach home plate with a fastball. It has reached that level of futility with Tiger Woods. Golf has seen top players forced from the game by confidence issues before (see Baker-Finch, Ian) but Woods is either the best player to ever pick up a club or (at the very least) the second best. Golf has never seen a fall from grace quite like what we witnessed from this Nike Golf-endorsed superstar.
The lingering image of his painful-to-watch opening round 80 came on the same 18th hole that skunked Johnson. The USGA inserted a penal bunker in the lay-up area that was nicknamed Chambers’ Basement. It requires nine steps just to get down 12 feet into the subterranean pit. Before the tournament, the bunker came in for a good deal of attention and joking. “I would be surprised if any one went in there,” smiled USGA course set-up guy Mike Davis, since the bunker is so far out of play for the pros. Imagine his surprise when the first player into Chambers’ Basement was none other than Tiger Woods after a brutal three-wood from the fairway.
Learning What Benign Positional Vertigo Is
It is hard to imagine a more unfortunate condition afflicting a golfer than vertigo, which destroys ones balance. Australian Jason Day was bounding up the leaderboard on Friday afternoon when he was foiled by a recurring bout of vertigo on his final hole. Day managed to finish with shaking hands and played through the affliction on Saturday well enough to grab a share of the lead going into the final round. The sidehill lies and relentless pitches and rolls of Chambers Bay finally wore him down on Sunday, but not before the personable long-baller won plenty of new fans.
The Bad Marriage of Poa Annua and Fescue
The greens at Chambers Bay came in for a firestorm of criticism that overshadowed the competition. Apparently the fescue greens suffered an infestation of poa annua grass. By the afternoons the poa annua became more pronounced while the heat-battered fescue flattened out, leaving greens that shoved short putts offline with regularity. Whether it was poor agronomy by the USGA or just plain bad luck, the lingering image of the U.S. Open greens will be Billy Horschel taking his putter to the green like there was a copperhead snake crawling into a campsite. And he was in the process of shooting 67.
This One Was Hard to Watch
Not only were the struggles of Woods and Johnson tough for viewers, but so was the Fox Sports coverage. The network’s first U.S. Open saw about as many flubs as you would expect from an amateur teeing up in his first Open. Coverage misidentified golfers, scores were absent, and the entire on-screen scoreboard checked out for a time. There were lengthy stretches with no action shown at all, and then key players would suddenly appear on the green without explanation. Sometimes it felt as if we were watching an afternoon talk show, as there was far too much time spent with the talking heads in the booth saying nothing of interest. Camera operators even managed to lose track of shots in flight. Whether golf fans enjoyed Fox’s coverage probably boils down to the orange ball tracker employed on every tee shot like a video game. But like it or not, Fox has a twelve-year contract in hand to televise the U.S. Open. Thankfully, there’s plenty of time to get better. We hope.