Goodbye Tiger. The 118th US Open is underway at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club located in eastern Long Island, and once again Tiger has missed the cut at a major. Thus, once again, we face the controversial question of whether or not he will ever return to his prior dominance, or even compete with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and the various other “young guns.” These guys outdrive him, out-putt him and, most of all, are no longer in awe of him. Tiger used to intimidate other golfers just by his presence. No more.
How will Tiger’s absence affect the tv ratings for the weekend? That remains to be seen, but the USGA and Fox TV will be holding their collective breaths for a close, suspenseful tournament that will attract the casual golf fans. (Note: as I write this, Dustin Johnson has a four-stroke lead. He is certainly capable of running away from the field, and if he does so, the ratings may suffer.) Despite Woods’ varied issues, both golf-related and personal, he remains the most compelling figure in the sport, particularly with respect to casual fans.
Shinnecock is not easy to get to. Most of the access roads in the area have one lane, and there have already been major traffic jams. One golfer missed his practice tee time, and others have come close. A few players have chosen to commute by boat in order to beat the traffic. Today and tomorrow should be better due to fewer people commuting to work and the learning curve of the traffic police.
Arguably, the main story the first two days was the course, itself. On Thursday, it was so windy that many of the pros looked like weekend duffers. Their drives landed in the deep fescue, their irons missed the greens and their putting was woefully inconsistent. There were many three-putts, and Tiger, for one, four-putted one hole. Undoubtedly, many fans watching on tv said, “hey, he looks like me! I can do that!”
Moreover, Tiger wasn’t the only “name” to miss the cut. He was joined by Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Jason Day, and Jordan Spieth, among other notables. In addition, Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson just squeaked through by two strokes.
The Open is one of four “major” championships in golf. The others are the Masters, which is held in April, the British Open (July), and the PGA (August). As in tennis, the majors are considered to be so important that players’ legacies are determined, in large part, by the number they have won.
Originally, the majors were generally considered to include the US and British Opens and the US and British Amateurs. Those were the tournaments that Bobby Jones won for his Grand Slam. However, concurrent with the rise of professional golf in the US in the 1940s and 1950s the Masters and the PGA replaced the two amateur tournaments in importance. After all, it no longer made much sense to include amateur tournaments as majors when most of the best golfers could no longer qualify to compete in them.
The watershed year was 1960. That year Arnold Palmer, who was the best and most influential golfer at the time, won the Masters and the US Open. He observed that if he could add the British Open and the PGA he would have completed a “grand slam” equal to that of Mr. Jones. He failed to do so, but the notion of those four tournaments as the four majors “stuck.”
The Open is always scheduled for mid-June with the final round on Father’s Day. The Open field includes 156 players from all over the world. Golf has truly become an international sport. The Open includes four rounds of stroke play over four days. Until this year, if a playoff were required a full 18 holes was played on Monday. If there were still a tie the winner was decided by sudden death. This year the USGA has instituted new format, which guarantees that the championship will be settled on Sunday. First, there will be a two-hole playoff with the golfer with the lowest aggregate total winning. If there is still a tie, we will go to sudden death. One guess who the architect of this change in format was. Hint: the initials are F O X.
Do you recall the name of last year’s winner? See below.
Only about half of the players in the field are actually required to qualify. The remainder gain entry by one of many exemptions. Some of the exemption categories include:
Winners of the past ten US Opens.
Winner and runner-up of the previous year’s US Amateur Championship.
Winners of the past five Masters, British Opens or PGA Championships.
Winner of the previous year’s Senior Open.
Top 60 ranked golfers.
Special exemptions granted by the USGA. These are usually top-ranked players who, though past their prime, are deemed worthy.
There are other exemption categories, but I think you get the idea. Those who are required to qualify must survive two stages – Local and Sectional. There is no age requirement, so it not unusual to find a teenager in the field. The youngest qualifier ever was 14 (Andy Zhang of China).
Some interesting facts about the Open that only the most knowledgeable golf fans would know:
The winner of the inaugural tournament in 1895 was Horace Rawlins, an Englishman.
The record score is 268 by Rory McIlroy in 2011.
The record for most Open Championships is four and is held by four men. Three of them will be familiar to you – Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan. If you know the fourth, you are either a golf historian or a trivia buff, and my hat’s off to you (even though I don’t wear one). See answer below.
The USGA rotates the site of the Open among various sites. Next year’s will be at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Do you know which site has hosted the most Opens? See below.
The inaugural Open was contested on a nine-hole course at the Newport Country Club. Only ten professionals and one amateur bothered to enter. They played 36 holes in one day. The winner received $150 out of a total purse of $335 plus a gold medal. By contrast, last year’s winner received $2.16 million out of a total purse of some $12 million. I think we can say the tournament and the sport have grown considerably.
Enjoy the Open. Let’s root for a tight, suspenseful tournament that doesn’t get decided until the last hole.
- Last year’s winner – Brooks Koepka
- Other four-time winner – Willie Anderson. Anderson was an interesting and tragic story. He was born in Scotland and emigrated to the US at the age of sixteen. He was one of the outstanding golfers of his time. He won the tournament in 1901,1903, 1904 and 1905. He was an original member of the PGA Hall of Fame and an inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975. Tragically, he died at the age of 31 from epilepsy.
- Oakmont Country Club – 9.