Late tee times see USGA playing with fire — and lightning

Right smack in the middle of Sunday lunch hour, the insufferable humidity was putting its chokehold around Pinehurst No 2 when a glance at the tee sheet showed that we were still three hours away from the assigned starting time of the US Open leader, Martin Kaymer.

Late tee times see USGA playing with fire — and lightning

Three hours!

Shameful, the way professional golf tournament officials have manipulated the competitions in this era so that weekend rounds conclude so late and bump up against darkness when there’s no reason to do so.

If they counter that it’s all for the sake of television, it’s a shallow excuse, especially when measured against the risk they run of compromising the competitions.

Sitting around for six or seven hours hardly seems conducive to a challenger’s frame of mind, yet Kaymer and Rickie Fowler were assigned the last starting time yesterday, 3:35pm (8.35pm, Irish time).

It was their reward for playing so beautifully for 54 holes in the 114th US Open. But their possible penalty hung in the thick, heavy air, too; that is, if any sort of ill-timed weather moved in — and in these parts this time of year, thunderstorms constantly hover — there would be no room to play with, given that officials had squandered several hours at the beginning.

Still fresh in many minds is the way the 2002 US Open concluded, that warm, wet week when the championship was played at Bethpage Black in the shadows of New York City. So enamoured with the chance to play a “prime-time-for-TV” spectacular was the USGA that the leaders were sent out at 3:30pm local time. Sure enough, when a thunderstorm struck at 6pm, it was a very tense and very stressful delay.

Barely was there enough daylight for Tiger Woods to wrap up his second US Open win and while the USGA escaped utter embarrassment that year, it’s not as if golf officials haven’t continued to tempt fate. Adam Scott will tell you that had he not made his winning putt at the second play-off hole of the 2013 Masters, he doesn’t think there would have been enough daylight for he and Angel Cabrera to play a third hole.

Come back Monday morning for one hole to determine the Masters champ? How ludicrous.

Silly and inexcusable is all of this, of course, and so contrary to when these officials thump their chests and boast of the “integrity of the competition”.

Yet these obscene starting times for fourth-round leaders will remain a part of the landscape until that fateful time, perhaps, when a Major championship is forced to conclude on a Monday morning with no one watching.

There didn’t appear to be much chance that the 2014 US Open would be cloaked in such infamy, but surely it might be remembered for other storylines other than Kaymer’s record run (65-65) out of the starting gates.

You are perhaps safe in chalking up this third visit to Pinehurst No 2 as Phil Mickelson’s final legitimate chance to win the one Major that has eluded him.

He will be on the verge of his 45th birthday when this championship visits the untested and unknown Chambers Bay in the Pacific north-west next June and if you are hopeful of US Open wins by him at 46 or 47, well, good luck with that.

More likely, Mickelson will join Sam Snead (no US Open win), Arnold Palmer (no PGA), Tom Watson (no PGA), and Lee Trevino (no Masters) as titans who could not attain the career grand slam.

That Adam Scott (opening 73) and Rory McIlroy (third-round 74) never worked their way into the mix was disappointing, but their 2014 US Open memories won’t be as bitter as will Hunter Mahan’s.

Playing nicely, Mahan on his ninth hole in round two, the par-4 18th, hit his opponent’s golf ball. Jamie Donaldson then hit Mahan’s golf ball, resulting in two-stroke penalties for each.

No big deal for Donaldson, who was six strokes outside the cut, but for Mahan it was crushing. He finished one stroke outside the cut, squandering any chance he had for valuable Ryder Cup points and dealing a serious blow to his chances of making the American team.

All in all, a forgettable week to the 114th US Open for Mahan, though there might have been one bright note: he didn’t have to wait around all morning and into the afternoon for a tee time so that USGA officials could continue the sell-out to TV.

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