Instead, sadly, it is once again about the self-inflicted controversy caused by the US Golf Association.
Let’s laud Koepka for his remarkable achievement. Last year, he gave us a glimpse of his potential when blitzing the field at Erin Hills. Winning back-to-back US Open’s says a lot about a person’s character, none more so than Koepka’s. At one stage, early in his second round at seven over par, he looked like missing the cut but rather than looking for an easy way out, he knuckled down, reeling off six birdies over his final 11 holes before playing like an unflappable veteran throughout all thecontroversy of the weekend.
However, the management of the event and the carnage he battled through is a different matter. Administrators of the game should be largely anonymous, but it seems that Mike Davis, (the CEO of the USGA) and his team have, once again, either refused to learn from their past mistakes or take sound counsel from those best equipped to provide it.
Last week the best professional golfers arrived into the most challenging arena of the year, the US Open. They would have had an idea what to expect. As golfers, they thrive on routine and consistency and have an in-built mechanism that helps them modify their game for changing condition., like fluctuating temperatures or gusting winds. But no carefully constructed game plan could have prepared them for the farce that was Saturday afternoon where incorrectly placed pin positions on greens that were too fast for the weather conditions made the tournament a complete lottery.
It’s simply too easy for the man who has as much experience as Davis and has been doing this job since 1997 to spout out explanations like ‘we were caught out by the changing weather conditions’ because any fluctuations should have been factored in. All week long we have known that the conditions for the week were to be sunny and breezy. We would have known that the course would have dried out in the afternoon.
Given that all of the best scores throughout the tournament had come from the early starters, was the USGA guilty of paying too much attention to the early morning rounds rather than keeping the focus on a fair tournament for the field competing for the title?
As for Sunday’s remedy, the solution was not slowing the course down or saturating it with water. It was proper pin positions with flat surrounds and greens running at the right speed but for most of the late starters who had to endure the mental carnage of Saturday, the damage was already done and their chance of victory long gone.
Which brings us to Phil Mickelson’s moment of madness - borne out of frustration - when openly admitting to “trying to gain advantage from hitting a moving ball” on the 13th hole on Saturday. The outcry from his fellow professionals says all that needs to be said. It was wrong (as was Tiger Wood’s illegal drop at the 15th hole at Augusta in 2013) and his actions deserved immediate or retrospective disqualification.
There is no justification the USGA can provide for fudging this decision. and the USGA should have done the right thing and disqualified him under Rule 1-2, which says a player must not “take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play.” - even if it was his birthday.
By setting this precedent where once again the USGA can make up their own rules to justify accommodating a “star player”, they are making a complete mockery of the game. In fact, for an organisation who openly say that they remain committed to providing leadership on the rules of Golf, they may as well tell everyone that they have already torn up and thrown away the book a long time ago.
When it was apparent the USGA would not act, Mickelson should have withdrawn himself. By not doing so, he has forever embarrassed himself, the USGA and the sport.
Finally, a word about our own non-performing contingent, and especially Rory McIlroy. While understanding the difficulty of the challenge, it is clear that for an improving McDowell and an off-form Lowry, this challenge was just too great despite their pedigree, but McIlroy had enough form and experience to do better at Shinnecock. In fact, his non-competitiveness in major championships has now become alarming and unless he is prepared to address key factors like his own “stubbornness” to do everything his way, then we may well have already seen the best of him in terms of regularly winning major championships.
No one doubts his striking ability but he must show more willingness to address important extras like, his mind, his putting consistency, his inexperienced caddie and his dictatorial approach to those offering him advice. His decision-making for the major championships have been shown to be woefully misguided in recent years and I see nothing changing until he himself is prepared to embrace change.