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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The 2006 U.S. Open - The Long Hot Grind Begins

Today's piece for Cybergolf will be up shortly.

Here are some snippets. Click on www.cybergolf.com for the rest:

On the tournament in general:

The U.S. Open is not a rock concert. Instead, players will be walking on eggshells, tightroping around a minefield of unexploded double bogeys. Fans will be on edge for a number of reasons. On one hand they’ll be absolutely riveted to the action in the hope of fireworks that so seldom come Open week due to the difficult course setup. On the other hand, they’ll be watching to see which societal profile New York will show – the respectful, reserved, and knowledgeable golf fans or the crude, drunk ugly casual fans that blighted Bethpage in 2002. Even the USGA will be fidgeting, ever overly mindful of protecting the magic, arbitrary number of “par.”

No, the U.S. Open is a crucible. The greedy, careless, reckless, unfocused and otherwise unworthy players are gobbled up early and with ruthless efficiency. The U.S. Open does not suffer fools lightly.

Consider the following figures. In 2005 there were 51% fewer birdies, 67% fewer eagles and 25% fewer pars at the U.S. Open than the three other majors. The U.S. Open has fewest eagles, birdies, and pars of all four of the majors and the highest scoring average to par – plus 4.1.

Have you seen players’ faces when they fall out of contention on Sunday? Where they were once sporting proud, furrowed brows and steely gazes, faces full of conviction, four hours later the long hot grind over dark bloody ground has shrunk the same faces, stressed them, weathered them, eroded them. Sometimes, when players break, they break hard and jagged. For them, the conscious effort to merely play out the string is nothing more than the robotic movements of a man in a freefall off the leaderboard.

On what the players are thinking:

With this devastating fusion of speed and contour, greenside trouble at Winged Foot is much more severe than anything else the players will see all year. Players that short side themselves will often be grateful to two-putt what’s left. Consider this – last week at the Barclay’s, Adam Scott holed out an astonishing five times from off the green – each time between 20 and 99 yards.

Nobody has a chance of doing that this week.

If Winged Foot wants to crush you, it only need roll over in its sleep. And when Winged Foot is awake, it is angry and it roars. Compared to Winged Foot, Attila the Hun was a Franciscan Friar.

Even the players tread lightly. When asked if Vijay would head right to Winged Foot after winning at Westchester he replied “I have no desire to torture myself any more than I have to. I’ll ease my way into the course late tomorrow [Monday] afternoon.”

On rowdy fans:

The USGA should be credited for trying to foster a family oriented product instead of a crazy beer fueled orgiastic frenzy of drunken machismo. Too often members of the media unfairly brand them Luddites.

Maybe “everyone’s a member at Bethpage” (sounds nice on TV) but everyone is most certainly NOT a member of Winged Foot.

Hopefully Winged Foot and the USGA will keep the drunk crazies on a tight leash. This is our national championship, not the county fair. Such displays are anathema to a true sportsman’s soul. To their credit, while the 2002 fans were allowed to torture Sergio all around the golf course for the “sin” of daring to criticize Tiger Woods (talk about mob justice), in 2003, the USGA was quick to act removing the fan who heckled Vijay Singh.

He was gone after strike one.

At Pinehurst, it was a moot point. North Carolinians have golf in their DNA. Hecking a golfer wouldn’t even occur to them. That’s nothing more than a brutal, bilious insult to the game.

Thankfully it seems fans are casting a jaundiced eye on drunk rowdy fans. One fan, who also attended the 2004 and 2005 PGA Championships said, “the best that can be said about it is that the media seems to think such conduct sells the event and build a buzz. But to me it’s like a traffic accident, you can’t help looking form the road, but also can’t help wishing it didn’t happen.


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