The United States Golf Association has become accustomed to firefighting at its marquee event. US Opens became mired in controversy long ago. From watering greens mid-round at Shinnecock Hills to Dustin Johnson’s rules farrago at Oakmont and all manner of complaint about course set-up in between.
This is a major that has carried the whiff of cordite as routine. In the background, the USGA is front and centre of a knotty situation regarding whether or not the distance golf balls fly should be rolled back.
There is a debate to be had over LA Country Club as a suitable site for one of golf’s prime events on the basis of exclusivity. Not allowing Hollywood A-stars as members is mildly amusing but more troublesome is the history in this area of discrimination against Jews, Catholics or others of a political standpoint that did not meet with club approval. Hillcrest Country Club was founded by the Jewish community in western Los Angeles in the 1920s as a direct response to being locked out elsewhere.
LACC is infamously rigid and stuffy. It carries a $200,000 (£155,000) entry fee. Is it the right message, in terms of growing golf, to bring a US Open here? While Augusta National remains such a celebrated part of this sport, perhaps all bets are off.
Golfers stay out of such conversations. There has, however, been no shortage of background noise to accompany the 123rd staging of this tournament. Take Wyndham Clark, who was irked at concluding his third round in the dark after teeing off post-3pm local time on the West Coast to accommodate television needs. Clark did birdie the 18th in fading light but produced a messy bogey on the preceding hole. Rickie Fowler, who was alongside Clark, bogeyed the last.
“It was a little ridiculous that we teed off that late,” said Clark. “I would say right around hole 15 or 16 it started getting to where you couldn’t see that well. We played twilight golf. I 100% think my bogey on 17 was because I couldn’t see. I think Rickie’s bogey on 18 was because he couldn’t see.
“I’d like to see us go off an hour and a half, two hours earlier. I’m not trying to make an excuse, but it definitely was a challenge. My putt on 17, I literally couldn’t see it, and we just played off of feel. How Rickie’s putt came in, and then my putt on 18, same thing. So it’s kind of tough and it’s crazy to think that we’re doing that on the last two holes of a major when we could have teed off two hours earlier.” Indeed, Clark’s point does raise questions about the integrity of the competition.
Bryson DeChambeau branded the LACC test as “diabolical”. It must be noted DeChambeau uses this word so often that he may not intend it to be as critical as appears in black and white. Brooks Koepka made plain his indifference towards the venue. So, too, did Matt Fitzpatrick. Viktor Hovland soon joined the chorus.
“I’m not a big fan of this golf course, to be honest,” said Hovland. “I think there’s some good holes. I don’t think there’s any great holes. I think there’s a few bad holes.” Talk about damned by faint praise. The Norwegian is hardly prone to caustic comment.
Golfers moaning about venues is not a novel concept but Fitzpatrick, the 2022 champion, had a further swipe at the Californian atmosphere.
“Very poor,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s disappointing on the USGA side. They want a great tournament. From what I’ve heard a lot of members bought tickets and that’s why there’s so many less people. Hopefully it’s not the same for other US Opens going forward.” In what looked like belated panic over the hare he had sent running, Fitzpatrick later took to social media to insist he was not being critical of the USGA.
“We work with our host site to determine onsite access and availability of tickets,” said a USGA statement on Sunday. Reports have suggested 23,000 tickets have been made available each day to the general public but only 9,000 of them did not involve hospitality. Ground passes routinely fetch more than $300 (£233) per day; one can join the dots about the price of those corporate passes. The USGA may argue a $3.6m (£2.8m) prize for the winner has to be found somehow.
Next year, the US Open will return to a quaint corner of North Carolina and Pinehurst. The course typically earns rave reviews. Light relief for the USGA? It would be unwise to bank on that.