Tuesday 11 June 2019 10:16 am

Pebble Beach can help under-fire US Open chiefs turn the tide after wave of criticism

The US Open returns to Pebble Beach this week for the third time since the turn of the century and organisers the United States Golf Association will be hoping it is not another Major cast in criticism. 

USGA officials have always been keen to make the US Open the toughest, most challenging tournament in golf, but time and again have been accused of getting the balance wrong.

The iconic Pebble Beach, celebrating its centenary, appears to be a chance at redemption. But the organisers have a precedent of not learning from their mistakes. 

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Last year at Shinnecock Hills was just as much of a disaster as it had been at the same venue in 2004. Dry greens and poorly positioned pins left players frustrated, with Phil Mickelson even putting a moving ball on the fast greens.

The 48-year-old has already taken a swipe at organisers ahead of this year’s event, saying: “I’ve played, what, 29 US Opens. A hundred per cent of the time, they have messed it up if it doesn’t rain.”

The 2015 edition at Chambers Bay suffered a similar fate with greens that were more brown than green due to the dried out grass, while Merion in 2013 was tinkered with almost beyond recognition.

In 2017 the problems were overcompensated, with fairways at Erin Hills too forgiving as Brooks Koepka romped to victory on 16 under par.


The criticism has been fierce and unrelenting this decade, to the point where players have even mooted the idea of boycotting the US Open.

As a result, this year is the first since 2004 in which USGA chief executive Mike Davis has stepped aside from course set-up duties, promoting John Bodenhamer, who has been responsible for the organiser’s amateur championship courses since 2011.

Rory McIlroy claimed the Canadian Open last weekend
Rory McIlroy claimed the Canadian Open last weekend

How much of a difference it will make, with Davis overseeing operations, and Bodenhamer insisting it’s “imperative for us to keep our DNA of being tough, stern and challenging”, will only be known come Thursday’s tee-off.

Rory McIlroy won his first Major at the US Open back in 201 but, after struggling in recent years with multiple scores over par, he says this year’s tournament is a chance for the USGA to redeem themselves.

“They’re trying to do as good a job as they can. I think they’ll admit they’ve made a couple of mistakes over the last couple of years. Everyone does,” said the Northern Irishman, who won the Canadian Open on Sunday.

“We should give them the chance to redeem themselves. If they can’t redeem themselves at Pebble Beach, there could be a problem.”

Back to basics

For favourite Koepka, who is going in search of a third successive US Open title, there is little issue with recent set-ups, but this year’s other Major winner, Tiger Woods, has also levied some criticism at the organisers.

Tiger Woods won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2000 with a record-breaking 15-shot win
Tiger Woods won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2000 with a record-breaking 15-shot win

Woods won his first US Open at Pebble Beach in 2000 with a record 15-shot win and has suggested that the USGA need to get back to the basics. 

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“I thought it was just narrow fairways, hit it in the fairway or hack out, move on,” he said. “Now there’s chipping areas around the greens, less rough, graduated rough. They try to make the Open strategically different. I just like it when there’s high rough and narrow fairways, and ‘go get it, boys’.”

In the USGA’s favour is the illustrious history of Pebble Beach, which is hosting its sixth US Open.

While organisers have tried to innovate, perhaps this year it is time to simply look to the past.