News & Opinion

Will USGA defend par in Open? It’s Greek to us

Winged Foot GC West Course 18th hole
The 18th hole at Winged Foot Golf Club's West Course in Mamaroneck, N.Y., the site of the 2020 U.S. Open, with the clubhouse set as a backdrop

The world’s best golfers deserve an otherworldly challenge, and Winged Foot is just the place to summon the wrath of the gods

Re: State of the game

Dear friends, we know this is a big week. The U.S. Open for Mortals returns to Winged Foot, your biggest and baddest venue.

As gods, we try to stay out of your small earthly affairs and just keep our heads down, crowns and tiaras carefully tethered in place. (Again, we had nothing to do with Phil Mickelson’s fortunes. That was all him. We simply watched the show.)

But the committee thinks we must not remain silent. Golf is getting away from us. And by us, we mean you ladies and gents at the USGA. In the name of Zeus, it is time to put your foot down.

Make a statement. Remind the golf world who’s in charge. Show that you’ve got a firm grip on the reins of golf. Convince observers that you haven’t gone soft. Step on the necks of the world’s finest players by making sure Winged Foot is the hardest, meanest course they’ve ever played. If the players would rather go two rounds with Cyclops or Medusa than another 36 holes at Winged Foot, then you will have gotten it right. Your reputation is at stake here.

You turned soft last year when you relaxed the Rules of Golf. A golfer may now putt with the flagstick in. Egads, is nothing sacred?

It is no longer a penalty if the player’s golf ball moves due to an outside influence. Since when is golf supposed to be fair?
Players may tamp down spike marks on the putting surfaces. Holy Aphrodite. Why not let them just carve a channel to the cup while you're at it?

It is worse. Pro golfers are hitting tee shots out of sight, shooting 30 under par in playoff events and sometimes – OK, at least once – knocking a tee shot to 7 feet on a critical closing par-4 hole in a major championship. Mockery, thy name is PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa.

The golf ball goes too far. Even Dionysus knows that, and he lives in a goblet of wine. Yet, you have done nothing. Yes, you planned a big announcement this year – maybe you were about to lower the boom and impose restrictions on the ball and drivers, or maybe not. The pandemic put your potentially bold plan on hold, however. So here we are, watching Bryson DeChambeau launch the kind of drives we used to see only in long-drive contests or when Hercules felt like showing off.

This DeChambeau fellow averaged a PGA Tour-record 322.1 yards per drive, 0.1 yards longer than Cameron Champ, in the recent season. If they were sons of Hercules, the committee could accept that. But they are not. They are among hundreds of would-be sons of Hercules. This is a trend. We repeat: Step on their necks.

Your golf courses are being obsoleted by absurd distance gains and silly-low scores. Exhibit A: Dustin Johnson won the Northern Trust at 30 under par. Exhibit B: Scottie Scheffler fired a 59, and it was the day’s low round by a mere stroke. As Odysseus said when first faced off against the Cyclops, “Yikes!”

According to your historical documents, the 1974 Open for Mortals was known as the Massacre at Winged Foot. Make this week the sequel.

We were pleased earlier this week to hear former Masters champion Patrick Reed say Winged Foot’s rough is the hardest he’s ever seen. That is the formula. Some Winged Foot greens have false fronts and false sides and possibly false identities, too. No man can say for sure. They are like Hecate, the female god of mystery who could appear in three forms. You know the type.

The best score posted by a mortal in the 2006 Open at Winged Foot was 5 over par. The committee believes you can match that in this 2020 edition. (Is it really 2020 already? Great Hera, the centuries pass quickly!)

Remember, the puny human known as Gary Woodland won last year’s Open at Pebble Beach with a score of 13 under par. That was an abomination that must be avenged, just as Johnny Miller’s closing 63 in the 1973 Open for Mortals was avenged at the next year’s so-called Massacre at Winged Foot. It was not a coincidence. We helped … a little.

One final reason you should stamp out birdies and eagles this week is an unexpected enemy. The pandemic left you no choice but to move your Open to September, up against Week 2 of the National Football League, the mighty organization that stole Sunday from the church. Even Merlin couldn’t have pulled that off. (No, Merlin wasn’t a god like us, but he was pretty good for an amateur.)

You will require a major spectacle to lift this Open for Mortals from behind the shadows of the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and the rest on Sunday afternoon. It will take a winner such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Sophia Popov. Wait, she is not playing in this major, either.

Given the long odds against Woods or Mickelson without our intervention (that’s still in discussion, but don’t tell anyone), it is left to Winged Foot to make your case.

Weakness must be met with overwhelming strength. Only seven of the past 15 U.S. Opens for Mortals produced winning scores of par or higher. The highest were 5 over par, at Winged Foot in ’06 and Oakmont in ’07. You can do better, USGA friends. You can be stronger.

Bring back fear and loathing, and restore par as a coveted score. The higher the scores in this U.S. Open for Mortals, the stronger the statement you make.

The committee is confident that the winning score this week at Winged Foot will be over par. Should any mortals believe otherwise, here’s a statement based on Winged Foot history:
You are such an idiot.

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