University Place, Washington
What a fantastic weekend of golf entertainment we had in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. The event, as usual, was full of great stories, sad stories, and course setup controversy.
Chambers Bay is a very new course, not even a decade old. The course was built in the site of an old gravel pit, with the hopes of hosting a major championship. Robert Trent Jones II moved massive amounts of earth to create the artificial dunes, slopes, and elevation changes the course presented the players. Those dunes, slopes, and elevation changes, combined with hard conditions, meant players had to be very creative and accurate with their shots. Drives which landed in the middle of the fairway would not necessarily stay there. Approach shots which hit near the flag or in the center of the green would not necessarily stay there either. Players had to pick landing target areas and play the hard ground and slopes, similar to shotmaking requirements in the British Open.
Chambers Bay – Photo courtesy of HookedOnGolfBlog.com
The course played extremely long with many record breaking holes for a U.S. Open. Several par-4 holes were over 500 yards and par-5’s over 600 yards.
Lastly, the brown putting surfaces were full of Poa annua, an invasive grass which causes the putts to be bumpy. There was a ton of controversy over the greens and how poorly the rolled.
The course layout combined with the U.S. Open conditions provided hugely debated stage for the Open, but did in the end provide great drama whether you liked the setup or not.
Jordan Spieth came into the Open as one of the favorites, having impressed all golf watchers with his resounding win at the Masters a few weeks ago. Spieth was at or near the lead for much of the four days, ending up tied for the lead coming into Sunday. Despite a double bogey on the 17th hole, Spieth closed the event with an eagle opportunity on the 72nd hole. The eagle just missed but an easy birdie gave Spieth a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson in the group behind.
Johnson made a fantastic birdie on the par-3 17th to reach -4, one shot behind Spieth who had finished his round. After a massive drive in the middle of the fairway, Johnson had only a 5-iron (Spieth hit 3-wood) to reach the par-5 finishing hole in two. His 12-foot eagle putt would vault him over Spieth and give him his first major championship.
The putt was very quick and rolled by about three feet. At that point Johnson needed to make birdie to force a Monday playoff. The pressure of the Open got the best of him and he pulled the putt left of the hole, leaving a tap-in for 2nd place. What heartbreak having a putt to win and not being able to even force a playoff.
Other stories were quite intriguing in the Open this year. Tiger Woods opened with an 80 and followed that opening round with a +6 76. At one point Woods was 17 shots behind the lead. His final hole produced a horrid shot, a duffed 3-wood which ended up in the massive pot bunker “Chambers Basement,” which we mentioned last week. At 16-over-par Woods missed the cut badly, leaving fans and media to wonder if he will ever get his game back.
Rory McIlory wasn’t much of a factor until late in the event when he heated up, but it was too little, too late for the Irishman.
Jason Day, tied for the lead a many points in the event, collapsed on Saturday on the final hole due to vertigo. After seeking medical attention Day finished the event Sunday, but didn’t have enough in the gas tank to pull off what would have been a great story.
Branden Grace was in the second to last group with Spieth on Sunday and sat tied with him at -5, two shots ahead of the field on the 16th tee. Pressure caused Grace to block a 3-wood right, out of bounds. The double bogey would knock him out of contention.
Despite the quirks and issues with the golf course, Sunday’s final round was dramatic and entertaining, worthy of a major championship. Spieth’s victory was his 2nd major win of 2015 and his career. The “Spieth slam” is now the talk of golf. Can he win the next major, the British Open at the Old Course in a few weeks? Can’t wait to find out.