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.
Gary Woodland captured the US Open at Pebble Beach on Sunday by posting a 2-under 69 to hold off a cadre of the best players in the world. What was your take on the championship, and did it surpass your expectations?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Maybe I’m getting less cranky as I get older (although my family would give me a strong rebuttal on that statement), but I thought the US Open was outstanding. I’m sure 99% of the world’s population assumed Gary Woodland would fold like a road map as soon as he stepped on the first tee, but NO! He played as solid a round of golf as could be expected of anyone in the circumstances, and it was the best of the rest who couldn’t quite find the golf course. So, yes, it exceeded my expectations. It wasn’t the least bit boring, and it presented us with a most worthy champion, at least on this day. To paraphrase the late, and sorely missed, Del Shannon… HATS OFF TO GARY!
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: This event had everything anyone could hope for. The course was a great test and the players played. Lots of well-earned scores every day. I have to admit I was cheering for Koepka, but I didn’t want it at the expense of Woodland. What a great finish for both of them. The Tiger fans all got what they came for, they saw spectacular play from #7 to #18 on Sunday. For the Tiger non-fans, he was a non-event again.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I really enjoyed it. The course looked spectacular and played extremely tough but not ridiculous throughout the week. Koepka made a furious charge on the front nine on Sunday but ultimately didn’t have enough to claim his third U.S. Open title in a row, and that set the stage for Woodland to close out the tournament with the performance of his life. It might not have been the most exciting US Open, but it was extremely enjoyable to watch that major unfold on that course without any of the hiccups we’ve grown accustomed to from the USGA over the last decade or so.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The US Open was as good as it gets when the venue is Pebble Beach. Like Augusta National, this is a course viewer know well, and that adds something extra to the coverage. Thankfully, the USGA stayed out of the way and let them play. If anybody couldn’t keep pace with Gary Woodland, they only have themselves to blame. Woodland is a deserving champion. He made clutch shots when he had to and didn’t provide any opportunities for those chasing him. A very deserving champion.
The USGA received considerable criticism for its handling of US Opens going back to Chambers Bay in 2015. This year there was nary a peep from the players or the media about the set-up, course conditions or rules infractions. Players said the course was tough but fair. Did the USGA get this one right?
Deeks: Yes, they did. It would be hard to screw up Pebble Beach, and thankfully, the USGA didn’t try to impose its dastardly will on a masterpiece. It looked like, and played like, a (British) Open Championship, and you can never go wrong with that comparison.
Schurman: Mike Davis is to be commended on doing an excellent job! He realized he was doing a terrible job setting up courses for the US Open and he hired John Bodenhamer. Not only that, he hired Jason Gore to deflect any flack. I’ve played Pebble Beach and think it is already a fabulous course; no tricks needed. I love the primetime viewing you get when using the west coast. One thing I didn’t like that, unfortunately, can’t be avoided is the 10th tee start on Thursday or Friday. Pebble Beach has an 18-hole flow to the routing. Each hole fits a gigantic maze. Play an incorrect shot or display poor judgement and it can throw the player’s ‘balance’ or game plan into disarray for the next few holes. When the sequence from #8 to #14 is disrupted, the course losses something. There is a crescendo of pressure that builds from #1 to #18. Even Phil said the set-up was good, so it must have been to pass that standard. I also appreciate the need for the US Open to have a change of venues, but I enjoy watching events on courses where I know the holes. It adds to the pleasure. Given our rotten weather all spring and then seeing golf at Pebble Beach made me think of the days of yore when the “Crosbie” was played in February – that kicked off a lot of emotional preparation leading into spring. Maybe some spring weather is now on the way. I hope so I’m tired of putting in the basement and I have just about polished my clubs through the chrome.
Kaplan: Yeah, they nailed this one. If you’re going to criticize them whenever they mess a tournament up, you have to give them credit for each tournament they get right. And they got this one right! No rules, officiating, or course conditioning controversies. Just four days of elite golf at one of the best golf courses in the world.
Mumford: Absolutely. They restored the US Open’s character. It’s supposed to be tough but fair, test every club in the bag and identify the best golfer. Chambers Bay and Erin Hills were failed attempts to be something the US Open is not. Oakmont and Shinnecock both pushed the envelope. Pebble Beach rewarded good shots and penalized poor ones, like a good US Open set-up should. There was little need for USGA intervention. They get an A+ on this one.
Gary Woodland has elevated his status beyond the journeyman level with a major victory. It remains to be seen if it’s a one-and-done major or the start of a sustained run at the top. Only time will tell, but given his age and past performance, it’s not a stretch to think he may have reached his pinnacle. Do you like to see someone break through like Woodland did or do you prefer to see majors won by previous major winners and those elites with a proven track record?
Deeks: Frankly, I like to see both happen. Underdogs, or time-worn journeymen who capture light in a bottle, are always pleasant stories to watch — especially if they truly win, vs. lucking into victory as a star flames out. But then, when a bona fide star wins, it’s somehow reassuring that the cream rises to the top. I’m happy either way. (Unless, of course, the underdog is someone I don’t like. Names withheld to avoid libel.)
Schurman: I’m actually a fan of Woodland. He has bounced around through various coaches including Greg Norman and Butch Harmon without ‘big’ success until now. Currently, he is with Pete Cowan and it seems as though he’s found what he needs. I’ve never picked him to win because his putting is mediocre at best but this week he was terrific! He pitched in, chipped in and sunk all the expected putts. Combined with magnificent driving and adequate iron play all that remained was the mindset to win. He had that too! He simply and methodically went about his business. Well done! I don’t have a preference of past winners or first-timers winning; I tend to follow the storylines. Besides, if a first timer never wins, you won’t have past champions to choose from.
Kaplan: With the Raptors and Blues both clinching their first titles, I thought it was only fitting that Woodland broke through for his first major. I like it when we get first-time winners; those tournaments always have more of a historic feel than when players grab their second or third major titles. That being said, it would have been nice to see the first page of the leaderboard peppered with a little more A-list talent besides Koepka, but Rose, Schauffele, Scott, Oosthuizen, Rahm, and Reavie pecking at Woodland’s lead over the final two rounds was very entertaining. To be honest, I’m just glad that the NBA Finals didn’t go to a 7th game because there is zero chance I would have watched golf if the two overlapped.
Mumford: I like professional golf much better when there is a handful of dominant players, or even one. Those players are the gold standard against which all the others measure themselves. Right now, Brooks Koepka is the man to beat but if you look at the preceding 10 years, back to when Tiger was that guy, there has been a rotating cast of a dozen players or more. It’s always fun to watch a breakthrough like we did at Pebble Beach, especially when the battle is with the best in the world, but my preference would be to see Koepka win until someone knocks him off his throne and starts a run of their own. Maybe Woodland has already started but Koepka certainly didn’t look like he was ready for the ash heap.