BY Art Thiel 02:20PM 06/23/2015

Thiel: Fussy pros, USGA desires clashed at Open

USGA executive director Mike Davis pushed back at golfers who criticized the greens at Chambers Bay, but admitted they had some problems. Part of the problems included tightly wrapped golfers.

Jordan Spieth, left, celebrates with caddy Michael Greller on the green of the 12th hole Sunday at Chambers Bay. / USGA

Mike Davis was nearly as invested in Chambers Bay as a father might be in a son’s passion. Fortunately, he didn’t have a kettlebell weight to swing at critics of Chambers Bay. But the U.S. Golf Association’s executive director did push back against the golfers who blasted the condition of the greens at the U.S. Open.

“In some ways, they weren’t as good as we would have hoped,” Davis told the Seattle Times, “but some people would make it out that they’re putting on broccoli. I completely disagree with that assessment. That’s an unfair assessment to say they were that bad because we have had bad greens before that were bumpier than these; we just have.”

From the time of the decision in 2008 to award the Northwest with its first Open for a new, links-style course, to Sunday, when the tourney ended with a memorably wild finish, Davis has shepherded the course through setbacks, skepticism and success.

“What happened this time was something that really was beyond the control of the grounds staff here and the USGA,” Davis said. “Having done a lot of these things (conducting Opens), I look at it and say, ‘Yes, we had bumpy greens.’ But at the end of it, we’ve had bumpy greens many, many, many times at the U.S. Open. We’ve played this event 115 times, and the vast majority of them have been on poa annua greens. Later in the day, there’s a bounce to them.

“If you have ever looked at that famous putt Tiger Woods made at Torrey Pines on the 72nd hole, that ball was in the air 30 times.”

Davis’s defensiveness was predictable. But he also mentioned a key point: Part of the problem was out of human control — the weather. In the run-up, the absence of normal rainfall dried out the course faster than daily hand-watering could compensate.

The USGA’s job is to make the course as tough as reasonably possible, which includes fast greens. But the eagerness for toughness may have crossed a point of no return, especially with the invasive poa annua grass that was pushing out the native fescue.

Even Billy Horschel, probably the harshest public critic among the golfers, saying he “lost respect” for the USGA over the greens issue, referenced the contrast from when he practiced at Chambers Bay in late April.

“This course was really green six weeks ago,” he said. “The greens rolled a lot better than they did now. They had grass on them. They weren’t very fast. But they weren’t bouncing like they are this week. And I think when they went ahead and cut them down, they tried to get them quicker and faster. That’s when they lost some of the fescue and that’s when all the dirt started showing up, and the only thing that survived was the poa.

“I didn’t think it would be that bad six weeks ago. I thought they would have plenty of time to get them into a condition that was very playable.”

Others suggested that the greens should have been completely redone, a fact that ignores the notion that a partial or complete shutdown would have cost the public course a chunk of revenue that is helping retire the construction debt.

The ultimate analysis awaits the post-mortems being done by the USGA and Pierce County about what worked and what didn’t, and how to improve things in time to bid for another U.S. Open 10 years out or so.

But one factor that needs to be considered is another invasive species that influenced matters — the privileged touring pro. Many of these guys live in a rare bubble of special treatment — limos, starlets, trembling club officials and jocksniffing CEOs — that tends to warp perspective.

Brandt Snedeker, an 11-year pro with nine tour victories, including this year’s Pebble Beach pro-am, finished eighth Sunday after a 69 left him with a one-under 279. The Vanderbilt grad, ranked No. 25 in the world, volunteered that many of his tour mates take themselves a bit too seriously.

“I had a blast,” he said. “I understand guys were complaining about the greens, whatever it might be. But I played on quite a few greens that were just as bad, if not worse, than this on the PGA Tour.

“I think we get kind of in the moment of the tournament and get wrapped up in everything, and everything at majors seems to be turned on overdose. Every little thing sets you off. I thought the ball rolled fine. If you hit good putts they’ll go in. You can’t beat the venue. The vistas out there were gorgeous. I thought the golf course played great.

“I thought it was a great thing to be here. I love the fans. The fans are golf-crazy because they don’t get to see it very often. I hope we can come back soon.”

Understandably, with the professional stakes, golfers can be as fussy about outdoor conditions as Olympic skiers or race-car drivers. But they aren’t always the most objective observers. As far as the USGA, they knew that choosing a quickly draining links course in a summer climate that has noteworthy droughts was a risk hard to manage.

Chambers Bay should always remain an unconventional course in a breathtaking landscape. In 10 years, the agronomists will have an app for course corrections, and the golfers will have their knickers unbunched.


  • MrPrimeMinister

    Art your point about the weather is spot on. I have some parting thoughts about this tournament. Point 1)Mr Spieth really impresses me. He seems grounded.
    I happened to catch the post tourney tv interview in which the topic of family came up. Jordan, in referrence to his brother, stated “I am Stephen Spieth’s brother.” To draw an unpopular contrast, look at Russell using the media to manuever the contract talks, look at Bennett asking to rip up a contract on which he williingly applied his signature, and look at Sherman, angrily screaming into the camera lens about how he the best. Jordan–what a breath of fresh air. Point 2)Money talks in sports, in the NFL, the NBA, and yes the PGA. They would have a tournament in a hurricane if the price was right. The eastern entrenched wealth guarantees that New York will always have its tournament, Florida will have its swing of tourneys, and heck through some miracle West Virgina—WEST VIRGINIA–is a tour stop. However, the subtle shift of internet-based wealth to the West would in my opinion be a guarantee that more of these tournaments will move out here. Point 3) TV ratings. The final groups teed off at 3pm local. Their entire rounds were played in primetime on the east coast. The viewing numbers must have been asronomical. Having these tourneys on this coast fits the viewing public habits and therefore the ad $$. Point 4)Golf itself is still in trouble. Who has 6 hours on a day off Saturday to devote to questionable play and expenses? Courses are closing all over the place. Tiger is gone. I believe golf is now entering a depression-era type of phase. Point 5)Fox Sports–we now have solid proof that sports telecast skills are not transferable. Just you’re good at football, does not mean you can pull off golf. NBC is always a well-oiled machine when it coems to golf broadcasts. I have a feeling that Fox golf is goint o get worse before it gets better. Thanks for the coverage, SPNW.

    • Jamo57

      I wish someone would let FOX know the island wasn’t named for them. ;-)

      • art thiel

        They probably didn’t know Tiger was staying there in a private home, or they would gone over to broadcast the party,

    • art thiel

      Spieth in the interview was open, earnest and tried to share the experience. He may grow out of that, but he’s the most togther 21 year old I’ve seen.

      TV ratings actually were down from a year ago mostly because of Tiger.

      Golf has trouble spots on the local level, but the tour is in good shape. No concussions.

      NBC wasn’t very good its first year either.

    • Kirkland

      Re: 2), I understand a NW stop doesn’t mesh well with the tour schedule. The “West Coast Swing” is in March/April, when our weather is unpredictable at best; and in our good weather months, the tour’s on the other side of the country, which makes a stop here difficult logistically.

      • art thiel

        True. A tourney needs to give up its spot, and Seattle has to be ready with a big-money sponsor.

  • cusanus

    Snedeker has it right. And Art has it right in his use of the adjective ‘fussy’ to describe the professional whiners. When things go wrong, the great ones adjust, and the mediocre ones complain. The great ones know that conditions are never under anyone’s complete control and are often imperfect; the mediocre ones expect a controlled environment and freak out when there’s an x-factor they’re unfamiliar with. They don’t have whatever that capability is to make the necessary adjustments.

    Nobody’s saying things at Chamber’s Bay couldn’t have done better, but that’s true of anything. Bottom line: one of the soon-to-be great ones won it.

    • art thiel

      The final leaderboard had five of the top 12 in the world rankings finish in the top 10.

  • Jamo57

    I’ve heard the backroom buzz with the USGA is not if they will return to CB but when, which is great IMO. One thing that also plays into why this course is a great venue for the Open is it being played so close or on the Summer solstice, allowing for a prime time Sunday night finish back east. This may have been the only instance or one of a very few that golf was able to air live in prime time.

    I suspect there will be some tweaking, both for justifiable reasons as well as providing ‘cover’ for the USGA to sell the return. But over time, the replays of the final 3 holes will stay while the memories of the griping will fade.

    “But one factor that needs to be considered is another invasive species that influenced matters — the privileged touring pro.” I think that may be your best line of the year, Art. It will be interesting to see if that invasive species will prevail or FOX Sports who had to love what they were given to broadcast.

    • art thiel

      Tim Rosaforte, a national golf writer, tweeted the not if but when idea. Another factor: The merch tent. Everything in there was Needless Markup triple retail, and they sold everything.

      Thanks. I kinda liked the line myself.

      • Chad

        The prices weren’t that bad. I got a nice golf cap for about $25 at the course. That’s about what you would pay for a cap an many golf course pro shops.
        But, they sell tons of merchandise at every U.S. Open, no matter where it is held.
        And, by the way, I think the Chambers Bay U.S. Open logo is pretty lame, unfortunately.

        • art thiel

          I’m not a pro shop shopper, and I think I know why. My quick observation of prices left me aghast. But I bet their haul here was more because it was the first time in the NW.

  • 1putt

    The USGA loved having it here because they raked in 20% higher revenue and merchandise. However, the spectators who paid $500 for gallery tickets got screwed, and that was validated by how much the cost of a ticket plummeted from Thursday $220 to Sunday $80 on Stubhub. They need to shave off some of the mounds and let the galleries sit on the mounds closer to the action. I’ve been to PGA Sahalee, British Open, Ryder Cups, and a dozen other PGA tour events and the viewing at this one was horrific.

    • art thiel

      Your comment is identical to just about every spectator I’ve heard from. Major mistake.

    • rosetta_stoned

      Yep. Access was a major, major challenge.

  • Chad

    Chambers Bay has plenty of sprinkler heads around the course. It does not need to be “hand-watered.” Just flip a switch or turn a knob and the sprinklers do come on. Mike Davis let it die out on purpose, not because of the weather.
    And the greens were bad. Why not just admit that? They were bad. In some spots on greens there was no grass at all — just dirt. Does any golfer, let alone the best golfers in the world, expect to be putting on dirt? This was not the fault of Chambers Bay. It was the fault of Mike Davis who was in charge of the course.
    It sounds like, if they ever get a major tournament at Chambers Bay again, they should re-sod all the greens before the tournament to get rid of the invasive grasses if they want to keep using fescue on the greens, or just give in to nature and make all the greens poa, so there would not be 2 different kinds of grass on most greens. But, to just ignore the complaints and pretend that the greens were great would be a stupid mistake. The greens were bad and that needs to be acknowledged and corrected. Why not have great greens? What is the argument against having smooth greens?
    And all they need to do for spectators is move the ropes. Let spectators climb up on the mounds and get close to the fairways. If there are a few sprained ankles or wrists, so what? At almost every pro tournament lots of spectators get hit by errant golf shots. Is slipping down a slope worse than getting hit in the head with a 300-yard tee shot? I didn’t read about a single spectator at Chambers Bay getting hit by a golf ball at last week’s tournament. Maybe that did happen, but I didn’t see it on tv or hear about it, as you normally do at every pro golf tournament. That alone should tell everyone that the fans were much too far away from the fairways and greens. Let the fans get close to the action so they can see what is actually happening. And let some fans get hit by bad golf shots. That’s part of the fun of watching tournaments on tv — seeing wild shots into spectators knocking a few poor suckers cold. Or a bad shot winding up in some spectator’s pocket. lol
    The USGA did this tournament exactly backwards — they protected the spectators and let the greens get killed. If there ever is a “next time” they need to protect the greens and let the spectators fend for themselves.

    • art thiel

      Of course they used some sprinklers. The USGA also used the term hand-watering.

      I think Davis will get around to admitting in the final report that the greens got away from him, both from drought and poa. And a decision to re-do the greens will be based on the report, and whether Pierce County wants to endure rev shortfalls for the time that takes.

      Regarding spectator safety, Davis admitted they were conservative. They could have done better. But the USGA lawyers will get a little sideways with your desire for spectator-hunting.

      • Chad
        Chambers Bay needs to see some shots like this. The spectators need to be much closer to the fairways and greens, as they are at other pro golf tournaments.
        Greens are hand watered when they want to put very little water on the greens and only in a few spots. The sprinkler system waters the entire greens. So, by hand watering the greens at Chambers Bay, they were admitting that they intentionally did not want to put much water on the greens at all. That was by choice — not because of the weather. They could have watered the greens and fairways just as much as if we had had a couple of inches of rain before or during the tournament if they wanted to. The reason the course was so dried out was not because of the weather, it was because Mike Davis wanted it that way.

  • Pixdawg13

    Art, in the penultimate paragraph, there’s this: As far as the USGA, they knew that choosing a quickly training links
    course in a summer climate that has noteworthy droughts was a risk hard
    to manage.

    Shouldn’t that be “quickly DRAINING”?

    • art thiel

      Fixed. Thanks.

  • notaboomer

    i think the pga tour should play at the alberta tar sands so the 1%ers can be closer to their resources. chambers bay looks a bit like the tar sands anyway.