You might not know
this, but Zeus was a sweetheart. Yeah, he hurled thunderbolts, but that was his
job. In person he was laid-back, amiable, a pipe smoker. When Zeus ruined some
Greek's picnic or sank a barge, he'd say, "It's B.C.--it's supposed to be
hard." � I thought of Zeus last week. A bunch of us were in Mamaroneck,
N.Y., for the U.S. Open, and--as is always the case at the Open--the golf gods
were playing rough. They sent Tiger Woods home after two days. They rained nine
bogeys, three double bogeys and a triple bogey on Sergio Garc�a in 36 holes.
They teased Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie for 71 holes before ripping
their hearts out on the threshold of glory. They made the West course at Winged
Foot Golf Club so treacherous that the field's average score for four rounds
was 74.99, almost 20 over par. "I don't know why," said a discouraged
Mickelson, "but this certainly is the toughest U.S. Open venue."
But when you went
backstage and talked directly to the gods, you got a very different picture.
Take Winged Foot's course superintendent, Erik Greytok. Judging from the rough
he had grown for the Open--heavy, moist blankets of grass thick enough to
immobilize a dachshund--I figured him for a chain-smoking martinet with a
sadistic streak. Instead I met a pleasant young man in shorts and a polo shirt
who looked about as excitable as a suburban gardener. There was a sign on his
office door: PLEASE DO NOT ENTER THIS ROOM UNLESS IT IS AN EMERGENCY.
9:30 in the morning," Greytok explained, "I like to take a
I noticed a
similar lack of frisson in Mike Davis, the USGA's new director of rules and
competitions, who succeeded Tom Meeks. Davis is the USGA's resident scourge,
the man responsible for the association's course setups, the man who narrowed
Winged Foot's fairways and chose hole locations so tough that they'd shock a
priest in the confessional. But when I caught up with him last Friday
afternoon, Davis had the relaxed demeanor of a pensioner. We sat in a golf cart
off the 18th fairway and chatted for 30 or 40 minutes, and in that whole time
his radio earpiece chirped only once. "The radio has been wonderfully
quiet," he said. "I don't remember a U.S. Open where it's been so
Winged Foot, it
turns out, is where the golf gods go for R&R. Unlike most U.S. Open
courses, which require extensive tinkering and months of hard labor to be
rendered unplayable, Winged Foot is pretty much impossible by nature. The
greens are small with high sides and swoopy contours. The bunkers are deep and
unforgiving. Narrow fairways dart left and right, denying long hitters the
opportunity to employ the bomb part of their bomb-and-gouge tactics.
"The pros miss
their shots right or left, not short or long," golf architect Rees Jones
told me during the third round, "and this is one of the hardest courses in
the world to recover from the sides." Jones, who stretched the A.W.
Tillinghast--designed West course by 300 yards in preparation for this year's
Open, laughed when I asked if he wanted credit for some of the hard-to-reach
hole locations. "This may be one of the few courses where hole locations
don't matter," he responded. "You could put the hole in the middle of
the green, and the players still couldn't get close."
The golfers must
have understood that, because there wasn't a lot of grousing at Winged Foot.
"There's been some conversation about greens being a bit bumpy," USGA
president Walter Driver acknowledged during a Wednesday-morning press
conference. "These are poa annua greens, and given the weather and the
softness, that's not to be unexpected." Television closeups showed
fast-moving putts bouncing and slow-moving putts zigging when you expected them
to zag. Woods called the greens "slow and bumpy." Darren Clarke, when
asked if they were the worst major-championship greens he had ever encountered,
said, "Yes, comfortably."
There were also
some furrowed brows about the 1st green, which is pitched so severely that the
USGA couldn't measure its speed; there was no surface level enough to use the
stimpmeter. "It's the most treacherous green on all the U.S. Open courses
we use," said Davis, "and we have some doozies." (To no one's
surprise, the 450-yard par-4 ranked No. 1 in difficulty with a 4.47 stroke
average over four rounds.) As for the alleged slowness of the other 17 greens,
Davis pointed out that Winged Foot's ridges and undulations made any stimp
speed over 12 problematic. "If we had pushed it to the high 12s," he
said, "we couldn't have used 20 percent of the hole locations."
the players seemed content with the course setup and grateful that the high
winds predicted for the weekend never materialized. The rough, in particular,
inspired fewer angry tirades than usual. Yes, it was deep. ( Mickelson's caddie,
Jim MacKay, worried that his man might mistakenly hit one of the many Pinnacles
and Top-Flites lost by club members.) Yes, it was dense. ( Padraig Harrington's
third round ended disastrously on the 18th when his all-out swing with a hybrid
club produced a shot that barely cleared his own shadow.) But for the first
time in U.S. Open history the rough was--how shall I put it?--fair.
The difference was
a graduated mowing scheme (sidebar, page G8) championed by Davis. "I always
thought it was ridiculous to see a guy miss the fairway by four feet and have
to wedge out," Davis said last Friday. "This in-between height gives
players a chance to hit a great recovery."