Saturday at Shinnecock, a Preventable Disaster

Phil Mickelson
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The integrity of the 2018 U.S. Open golf championship is compromised after another disastrous blunder by the United States Golf association (USGA) in regards to the course set up of Shinnecock Hills.

In trying to set up difficult conditions for Saturday, the USGA neglected to consider changing winds and drying conditions as the day progressed. This led to a massive advantage gained by the players who were teeing off early on Saturday. The advantage was so outrageous that Daniel Berger and Tony Finau, who started the day 11 shots back of leader Dustin Johnson, are now tied for the lead.

There is often a slight advantage in playing earlier in the day in that you get a fresh course without spike marks and sun baked putting greens. The USGA however, in placing the pins in such difficult places, neglected to consider the possibility of an increase in wind (which is actually common at Shinnecock).

This is the crux of the issue.

With the responsibility of putting together a fair course for all the players, they neglected to plan for a worse-case scenario. That’s disastrous mismanagement. So much so that if Finau or Berger were to win the event, there should be an asterisk by their name. Nor is this the first time the USGA has mismanaged a U.S. Open at Shinnecock.

In 2004 play had to stop in the final round to spray the 7th green with water, after 2 groups had already played it at 8 over par collectively. JJ Henry, who triple bogeyed the hole after his fine approach rolled off the green confronted Tom Meeks, the USGA Director of Rules and Competition, in the scoring tent after the round.

“Tom, when you watered the greens after the first two groups had come through, you changed the way the golf course played,” Henry said. “That wasn’t fair at all.” To Meeks’ credit he owned up and said, “You’re absolutely right JJ. We had no choice- we needed to protect the integrity of the championship”. As bad as that episode was, what happened on Saturday at Shinnecock could prove worse.

In 2004, the best player was Retief Goosen, and he won. If Finau or Berger wins tomorrow, that will not be the case. Mike Davis — to his credit — also took responsibility. “We thought it would be a great day. Frankly, we missed it with the wind. The speed of the greens was too much for the wind we had,” Davis said after the conclusion of play Saturday.

Another shame is that Shinnecock is a perfect set up for the U.S. Open if only the USGA wouldn’t meddle with the course. Just let its natural defenses (high rough, tough greens, wind) be used without setting impossible pin locations. Root for Dustin Johnson on Sunday, because if he doesn’t win then it’s likely the U.S. Open trophy is not going to the player who played the best in the tournament.

Follow Dan Redmond on Twitter @danfromdc

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