US Open draws few complaints
Tom Meeks was only half-joking when he suggested the ideal ending for his 10 years setting up the U.S. Open would be for the players to gather around for a big group hug.
He got the next best thing -- silence.
No one beat par at the U.S. Open for the first time in seven years. Even more surprising was that complaints were about as rare as birdies on Pinehurst No. 2.
Jerry Kelly gave Meeks a thumbs-up after finishing last at 25 over par. Rocco Mediate saw the USGA's senior director of rules and competition standing beyond the 16th green in the third round, walked over to congratulate him on a challenging test, then three-putted for bogey.
And yet, there seemed to be enough evidence the golf course was out of control.
The final pairing Sunday -- two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and feel-good story Jason Gore -- played the final round in 25 over par with only one birdie between them. Goosen simply chalked it up to a bad day at the office. Gore wasn't sure what happened, but he sure did have a good time.
``Going from here to anywhere is going to be easy,'' Stewart Cink said after a 69, one of only four scores under par in the final round. ``Somebody is going to light it up next week because they're so happy to be out of Pinehurst.''
But most of them can't wait to come back.
``I think the two Opens they've had here have been great,'' Davis Love III said. ``It's definitely a patience test, and that's what they want.''
Such universal praise can only mean two things:
-- The players realize the USGA is going to punish them over four days, so they might as well get used to it.
-- The USGA has found an ideal spot for the toughest test in golf along the sandhills of North Carolina.
Pinehurst has a way of examining every facet of the game.
The fairways were so firm that tee shots not only had to find the short grass, they had to land at the proper angle to avoid running into the rough. The turtleback greens, which Donald Ross designed and Rees Jones took a little over the top, demanded so much precision that anything missing its mark by as little as 3 feet to the wrong side of the hole often rolled off the green.
Don't have a short game? Don't expect to survive Pinehurst. Players used clubs ranging from fairway metals to long irons to wedges to putters. Imagination was the 15th club in the bag.
``Think about it,'' Tiger Woods said after finishing two shots behind Michael Campbell. ``There's really no rough around the greens. I enjoy the opportunity of not having to pull a lob wedge every time I miss a green at the U.S. Open. That's kind of fun. We get to play shots. We're able to have no rough around the greens, and even par is the winning score.''
Meeks and Mike Davis, his successor as senior director of rules and competition, deserve some credit, along with the rest of the staff in khaki pants and starched white shirts.
USGA president Fred Ridley and vice president Walter Driver, who served as chairman of the competition committee, were out early Saturday morning checking out the course conditions and hole locations, making sure it was a stout test without becoming a silly one.
They are helped with a couple of new toys.
One has tentatively been called the ``Thumper.'' It measures the firmness of the turf to see how a ball bounces off the fairway and lands on the green. The idea is to make conditions uniform.
``The USGA and everyone should be happy about the play for four straight days,'' two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen said, calling the conditions as consistent ``as I've seen them play in any U.S. Open I've played.'' (And speaking of consistency, he shot 74 all four rounds).
The other gadget is called the ``Smart Tool,'' and it looks like a level used by construction workers. Meeks brought that with him while deciding on Sunday hole locations. It measures the grade of the slope at perpendicular directions, and the idea for greens running at 11.6 on the Stimpmeter is keep the combined slope at a 5 percent grade.
That would have been nice to have in 1998 at Olympic Club, when Payne Stewart's 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole of the second round turned away from the cup and didn't stop rolling until it was 25 feet below the hole. Asked what the measurement would have been there, Meeks smiled and said, ``Probably 99 percent.''
Ridley circled every green, showing where not to miss. And he was quick to point out that while several holes were on the edge of the putting surface to invite disaster, every player had the option of hitting into a flat spot away from the hole to give them a chance at birdie -- not a short putt, but a safe one.
The USGA waited only six years to return to Pinehurst, the quickest turnaround for a U.S. Open in nearly 60 years. It will have to wait at least eight more years this time -- 2013 is the next opening.
``Going back over the last 10 U.S. Opens that I've played, I think it's probably the best,'' Cink said. ``You have to execute your shots. You have to plan your shots well. To me, it's the ultimate place for a U.S. Open.
``And I hope they don't come back too often,'' he added, ``because I haven't played it too well.''
That's as close to a complaint the USGA heard all week.
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