Saturday, November 27, 2021
Nov. 27, 2021

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Turns out, U.S. Open was more than just the course

Micah Rice: Commentary

By , Columbian Sports Editor

UNIVERSITY PLACE — Thankfully, the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay will not be remembered for the golf course.

Sunday, it was the golf itself that took center stage.

After all the grousing about the greens having more roughage than vegetables.

After all the players crying foul about fairways that were dryer, harder and browner than a clay plate.

But after it all, no matter the setting, we were reminded that the final round of a major golf tournament brings drama and tension unlike any other spectacle in sports.

Years from now, the words “Chambers Bay” will conjure memories of Jordan Spieth’s triumph and Dustin Johnson’s tragic three-putt.

In the tournament’s final hour, we saw two men experience the full range of emotions that sports provide. We even felt a few ourselves.

We saw something that made us reverent. Spieth made golf history, becoming the first to win two majors by age 21.

We also saw something that made us sympathetic, if not a little queasy. Everyone who has golfed on the local muni has three-putted from 12 feet, the distance Johnson did Sunday. We will never feel the sting of losing a major tournament, but we can recall our own frustration and imagine it multiplied by one-thousand.

The 72nd hole of the tournament was quite a feast. But what an appetizer the previous two holes served up.

First, Spieth seemingly won the tournament when his 27-foot birdie putt on 16 gave him a three-stroke lead.

But a double-bogey on 17 loosened his grip on the trophy. He tightened it again when his second shot from 274 yards settled 16 feet from the hole, leading to a tap-in birdie.

But Johnson was playing his own yo-yo game of highs and lows. After leading by two strokes for most of the front nine, he fell two strokes off the lead after bogeying three of the back nine’s first four holes.

Johnson was out of contention; then he wasn’t. A birdie as 17 opened the door for him to win with an eagle or force an 18-hole playoff with a birdie.

After a 353-yard drive on 18, he knocked his second shot to 17 feet. Playing partner Jason Day even had a putt on a similar line just before Johnson.

But Johnson gauged neither the speed nor lack of break correctly. He hit his downhill put well left and three feet by the hole. And Seattle sports fans know the final yard is never a sure bet.

On the sport’s world stage, the scablands of Chambers Bay hardly represented the best that Northwest golf has to offer. But for the United States Golf Association, that was never the point.

On some holes, golf was more a carnival game of chance than of skill. Good shots ended up in bad places. Putts were rolled onto steep embankments; luck decided how close to the hole each would stop.

The USGA embraced the freak show. If created buzz, stirred up criticism and attracted TV viewers.

But Sunday, the USGA let golf be the main attraction.

Greens were watered and softened to let good shots stick. Hole 18, which Friday played as a par-4 only the most sadistic golfer would like, was kept at a par-5. The tee at the 16th hole was moved forward, making that a drivable 337-yard par-4.

That opened the door to late-round scoring and drama.

And man, did drama ensue.