Monday, June 22, 2015

Open and shut

It's Monday once again, friends, so I hope everyone had a good weekend.  And if your dad is still with us, I hope you had the chance to visit with him for Father's Day!

I had a great Father's Day weekend, thanks.  I didn't play golf for the first weekend in the past four, but my back and psyche probably appreciated the break.  But I did take in a Reds game in Cincinnati with my son (the only one of the three this weekend that they lost, but that matters less than the stellar company).  And my wife and I joined him and his family late yesterday for a carryout picnic of chicken wings and fixings that was very good.

The evening was punctuated by some of the U.S. Open golf championship, which was played in the Pacific Northwest for the first time and televised (also for the first time) by Fox in prime time.  The leaders going into the final round didn't tee off until 6:00 PM Eastern, so that way the entire round could be viewed by the majority of the country on Sunday evening.  I watched a considerable amount of this tournament on television (little on Saturday, since I was traveling to and from Cincinnati) but have some impressions that I want to share.

First, regarding the golf course itself:  Chambers Bay was designed by the golf course design legend Robert Trent Jones, author of the Robert Trend Jones Golf Trail in Alabama and countless courses throughout the country and elsewhere.  So it was conceived and executed by someone who knows a little something about course layout and design elements.  I know that one of the courses of his that I played in the past contains elements of an old quarry that were left in place and are in play.

The land where this course resides is a former sand and gravel quarry with major elevation changes and continual views of Puget Sound.  So far as I could tell the layout was not as friendly to spectators as some have been in the past, as some holes didn't allow a defined area for galleries to stand or to follow their favorite players.  Large grandstands help, but because the hilly terrain claimed some victims among players and caddies during the practice rounds, I would think that spectators were encouraged to view play from flatter areas.

The course contains a lot of native grasses and has a much more natural look than traditional courses do, which I imagine requires less water and fewer chemicals to maintain.  More courses should move in this direction from an environmental standpoint, as I've read numerous pieces over the years of how a piece of land is effectively ruined if overtreated by pesticides and other greenscaping products.  It reminded me more of a course where you'd see the British Open played (sorry, Royal and Ancient, I will always think of it as that and not the "Open Championship," as you insist).  Brownish and difficult to discern the greens from the fairways, but not at all hard to see where the rough is.  The course included exactly one tree.

The competitors in this event were all pretty opinionated about the course and conditions, but I always think that it's fair for all competitors, they all have to play in generally the same conditions.  And that's a good test of skill and creativity and the ability to execute shots under pressure, in my opinion.  Complaints aside, many of them also complained about Shinnecock Hills a few years ago, saying that the greens were too fast, etc.  But the USGA keeps moving play back to that course as it will again host the Open in 2018.

I like the winner, Jordan Spieth.  All-American boy from Texas.  Solid family.  Devoted to a sister with a neurological disorder, if memory serves.  You can almost imagine him saying "gee, whiz" on occasion.  This kid won the Masters this year, and he's only 21.  Others have appeared to be the "next big thing" but I think he's it.  And he appears to be pretty humble while he's at it.  As fascinating to watch as Tiger Woods was when he burst onto the scene by winning the Masters going away in 1997 and for the next ten years, there was so often an inevitability about his success, that he was somehow destined to win, etc.  And it seems that his time may have passed.

So the pros play a few more events and then go across the Atlantic in July and to St. Andrews, the nominal birthplace of golf, for the Open Championship (I did that for you, R&A).  Let's see if this young Texan has what it takes on such a legendary stage.


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