Open notes, Fox and our Miss Brooke
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
The 117th US Open certainly gave us plenty to talk about – Justin Thomas’ record breaking 63 on Saturday, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Brian Harman, the brawny Erin Hills course and naturally, Brooks Koepka’s first major. What was your take on last week’s championship?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Before the first drive was hit on Thursday, I thought Erin Hills looked like a monster course that would deliver a classic finish with only a couple of guys under par. But as I look at the final leaderboard, I see 27 guys shooting a collective total of 188 under par… not to mention what must’ve been hundreds of other birdies shot over the course of four days. I also thought that the best players in the game — Johnson, Spieth, Day, Stenson, Rose — would rise to the top, but instead we got a leaderboard with unfamiliar names that could’ve resembled the club championship at Don Valley. So what does this mean? I think it means that almost no golf course is too long or too tough for the modern PGA Tour player, and that the depth of skill and talent in the worldwide professional game is truly remarkable and previously unheard-of.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I did get a little tired of hearing the naysayers complain about the looks of the leaderboard, containing nobody with a Major title. Well, at some point someone has to win their first Major. This must be the Tiger effect, thinking one or two players are going to sweep them all. Koepka is a phenomenal player coming into his own right now. I believe he was 3-1 in his first Ryder Cup appearance, and oh yeah, he made that team, too. I wonder how that miracle happened? Maybe because he’s a world class player. This Major solidifies him as a TOP WORLD CLASS player, and I’m sure this won’t be a one and done effort either. Not with his length and accuracy. Overall I thought the Championship provided great entertainment, the leaderboard changed significantly day to day, we had a record breaking score on Saturday by Thomas and the Rules didn’t complicate the outcome. All in all I think the USGA can be pleased with the Championship. They may not have loved the final winning score but some of that was out of their control.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I thought it was a fascinating tournament. With so many of the top players in the world missing the cut, it became anyone’s tournament to win and Koepka seized the opportunity. He played so well and he deserved it, although I was pulling for Harman because us diminutive lefties need to have each other’s backs!
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): There were certainly a lot of stories to follow at the US Open last weekend, including some incredible play by some amateurs, which I always find amazing. But ultimately the tournament lacked the excitement that’s present when one or two of the top players in the world are in contention. It’s a shame that none of them turned up at all for this tourney, aside from Rickie, if you were to include him in that group. As much as I like feel good stories of guys in contention for their first major, or winning their first big tourney, it just doesn’t grab people’s attention like the big stars do.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It took half the weekend to get over the fact that the top three guys in the rankings, three of the best drivers of the golf ball in the modern era, missed the cut because they couldn’t hit the widest fairways in US Open history. Bizarro world. Adam Hadwin runs off 6 birdies in a row, then can hardly break 80 on Sunday. Justin Thomas goes 9-under, then can’t find the hole 24 hours later. Say wot? I’m left with the whole gamut of the inexplicable, the inexcusable, the inspired, and down right incredible. The amazing part is that this is not the kind of stuff you’re supposed to witness at a U.S. Open. In the end, despite all the handwringing, the apologies in advance, the repeated defences and justifications, Erin Hills provided one of the most entertaining U.S. Opens ever, and very worthy champion.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): This was probably the most boring US Open I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t much different than a typical PGA Tour event dominated by the bomb and gouge crowd. Except for Brian Harman, nobody really showed much finesse and it almost bordered on a shoot-out. Since Erin Hills was a new venue, we didn’t have any historical perspective and once Justin Thomas brought the course to its knees on Saturday, even the monster mystique was gone. Koepka played great as did Matsuyama, Harman, Fleetwood and a few others but with the real star power gone by Friday night, this was like the Quad Cities Open on steroids.
As a US Open course, Erin Hills was distinctly different from any of its predecessors. Do you think it was a proper US Open test and should it be part of a regular rotation?
Deeks: I loved it. Yes, I thought it was very different and very un-American… basically, what Chambers Bay was supposed to have been, instead of the pinball machine it turned out to be. Yes, I thought it was a proper US Open test, and yes, I’d love to see it played again.
Loughry: Erin Hills is awesome. I had the pleasure of walking part of the course on Thursday. It’s a HUGE property. It’s too bad it was a little damp and the wind didn’t blow all week but Mother Nature can’t be controlled. I think it was a good test; scores were simply reflective of the calm and damp conditions in relation to the best players in the world; and it’s not like the whole field lit it up. I’d put it back on the rotation.
Kaplan: It was certainly long enough, but ultimately I didn’t think it played nearly as difficult as I was hoping. Those fairways were just too wide and the scant rough on each hole was nowhere near thick enough. These guys are just too good and will make pars and birdies from those spots almost every time. If this course is to find its way into the regular US Open rotation, then the fairway needs to be narrowed by at least half and the rough must be grown out significantly.
Rule: I was excited to see how the course held up, and I think it held up quite well. It certainly had a different feel than typical US Opens, almost more like an Open Championship, with so many different shot types required. I don’t think it should be in the US Open’s regular rotation, but I’d like to see another tourney there, maybe it’s more suited to the PGA Championship.
Quinn: Erin Hills looked a lot like an Open Championship links but ended up playing like a PGA Championship track. The USGA is trying maybe too hard to slough off its stodgy crested-blazer image, but should be applauded for stepping outside the traditional box. There are enough tree-lined, par is sacred courses lined up over the next few years. I loved the course — except for the thumbprint on the 9th green — and would like to see it host again and again. Had it not rained and had the wind blown all week like it did Sunday morning, 16-under would be a fantasy and we wouldn’t be having this talk around the table.
Mumford: It didn’t look or feel like a US Open course to me. Erin Hills is an awesome layout but it looked more like an Open Championship venue. In the past, US Opens have been a stern test of golf, where disaster lurks around every corner, players collapse down the stretch and the title goes to the last man standing. That’s the trademark of the USGA for the national championship and there was none of that drama at Erin Hills. The course probably deserves another opportunity for an important event – maybe a PGA Championship or WGC – but not a US Open.
This was FOX Sports third time broadcasting a US Open. Did they finally get it right or do you still pine for Johnny Miller and the NBC crew?
Deeks: Much, much better than previous outings. Paul Azinger proved himself to be the most interesting and insightful analyst in golf, followed closely by Brad Faxon. Joe Buck was admirably restrained as anchor, and the field crew were equally competent without talking too much. I didn’t miss — in fact, was happy without — the voices of Miller, Hicks, Feherty, Maltbie, Kostis, Faldo, Nantz, and the always odious McCord, on either of the other two network crews. Well done, Fox!
Loughry: I actually got to watch some golf, like shots and putts too, on many holes. And not just by two friggin’ players in the field either – but by quite a few players. Variety is the spice of life as they say and NBC SUCKS the life out of that in their coverage. Yes, FOX did a great job. However, I still think they could use a little more help with commentators. I did appreciate appearances by Darren Clarke and don’t mind the odd comment by Curtis Strange. They’re getting better.
Kaplan: The graphics and the ball tracers were awesome, but the crew was pretty lousy again. After the first round, we put it on mute for the remainder of the tournament at my place. I’m not sure how much better Johnny Miller and company would have done, though. CBS, NBC, FOX — they’re all just awful.
Rule: They might be improving, but it still doesn’t seem right or natural. Bringing in Azinger and Strange has helped the broadcast, but the non-golf guys still say some stupid things that show their lack of golf knowledge. I still think FOX is trying too hard to be young and cool and it doesn’t fit with me.
Quinn: Not even Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler in stereo could make me pine for Miller & Koch and crew. FOX, of course, did not get it right. They had far too many talking heads — the insightful Julie Inkster, for one: “This putt is all about the line and speed.” — making the mute button mandatory. Greg Norman was canned in large part for defending the awful Chambers Bay but this year’s massive chorus pimped Erin Hills during each and every pause. Meanwhile, the increased use of the tracer technology was welcome and could be used even more, as could blimp shots. But with the gratuitous presence of Holly Saunders in her painted on dresses, it was as if the sexual harassment suits and firings of O’Reilly and Ailes never happened. This FOX ain’t changed its stripes.
Mumford: Fox is definitely learning. Azinger, Strange and Faxon know their stuff and bring a fresh interesting perspective to the play-by-play. They actually sound like a group of guys discussing their game over a couple of pints. Lots of great lines and their own experience as Tour players came through. Ken Brown was awesome with his Brownie Points and Darren Clarke added some solid analysis and humour. Unfortunately, Steve Flesch, who is sharp and witty, was under-utilized. Holly Sonders adds nothing beyond the obvious and Joe Buck proves he knows nothing about golf or Brooks Koepka’s girlfriends. The lead trio kept a boring golf tournament watchable, which would have been untenable with Gary Koch or Ian Baker-Finch nattering on for hours on end. Good job Fox.
Brooke Henderson won her fourth LPGA title on Sunday by overtaking Lexi Thompson and outdueling Michelle Wie. She’s just 19 years old and already has one major to her credit but is often overlooked when the media is talking about the best LPGA players. Should Brooke be talked about as one of the LPGA elite or is she not there yet?
Deeks: I’m surprised the LPGA and the Golf Channel aren’t promoting the hell out of Brooke. She’s pretty, charming, articulate, a good story, and one of the top 3-4 Caucasian players… easily in company with Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen, and Crustie Kerr (use of ‘u’ is intentional). Yet they never seem to give her the airtime that’s warranted, and seem to think she’s some kind of freak because she comes from a small town where people live in igloos and have polar bears as house pets. Yesterday’s win was great, and confirmed her elite status.
Loughry: Brooke Henderson’s 4th LPGA Tour win was absolutely amazing. Let’s keep in mind she’s just 19 years old. And she had to fend off some pretty world class players. To me this solidifies her as one of the Tour’s best. I was slightly concerned as she’s had an inconsistent year but a W sure helps that!
Kaplan: This might not be a popular opinion, but I just don’t think she is there yet. Brooke has a ton of raw talent, and once in a while, it shines through for four rounds and she comes away with a victory. However, when it has not all been clicking for her at the same time, she has really struggled. Brooke needs to shore up several aspects of her game to get to that next level (currently, she is ranked 77th in driving accuracy, 81st in putting average and 61st in sand save percentage) and she will have all the time in the world to do that because she is yet to turn 20! I expect her to be one of the dominating forces in women’s golf for years to come, but I think we’re still a few seasons away from that happening.
Rule: It’s all about consistency, and Brooke isn’t quite there yet with the top players like Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn. For players to be considered elite, they need to get to the top and stay there for a while, and while Brooke has been as high as #2 in the world, it was short lived and she soon dropped back to the bottom of the top 10. With 3 majors in the next 6 weeks, it’s her chance to pick up some big world ranking points and finally get to the top and hopefully stay there. She certainly seems to have the work ethic, and definitely has the talent! I’ll actually be watching a lot more LPGA golf over the next two months!
Quinn: That was one of the gutsiest final rounds on any Tour any year. Henderson started out a stroke back, everyone in the hunt was a top player, the wind was howling, she nailed full swings and putted like a genius. Damn straight, that was a superb performance by one the game’s elite players.
Mumford: It would be natural if we’re not all feeling a little bit of Canadian insecurity but the fact is that Brooke isn’t quite in that elite class yet. She’s close and certainly a phenomenal 19 year old but a little more consistency plus a couple more wins (or another major) and she will be impossible to ignore.