Not sure who is exhaling a bigger sigh of relief today – Dustin Johnson or the officials at the U.S. Golf Association.
After several close calls in majors the last two years, Johnson finally got into the winner’s circle despite a possible penalty stroke hanging over his head on the back nine Sunday at Oakmont.
What was the USGA thinking?
Here are my top 5 lessons learned from the 2016 U.S. Open:
Mr. Cool overpowers Oakmont
It’s been said that Johnson has a short memory. That served him well Sunday as he didn’t let the possibility of being assessed a penalty shot get in his head. Instead, he rendered the point mute with what turned out to be a three-stroke victory. (He initially finished at 5-under but was indeed assessed a one-stroke infraction following the round.) How good is Johnson playing in majors? He has a T4, T2 and win in the last three U.S. Opens, a T6 and T4 in the last two Masters and a T7 in last year’s PGA Championship. He also has a T2 in the British Open. Yah, that good.
USGA upends credibility
Let’s rewind. On the fifth green, Johnson was preparing to putt when the ball moved. He called over a rules official and said he did nothing to cause the ball to move. No penalty was assessed. It should have ended there but then on the 12th tee USGA officials told Johnson they would re-assess the situation after the round. That incited a flurry of ambiguity that was unnecessary. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy ripped the USGA on Twitter and rightfully so. If the USGA insists on pros putting on glass greens, then it needs to take a serious look at the rule in question (18-2). The USGA should consider itself lucky Johnson won by more than one shot. It would have been a nightmare otherwise.
U.S. Open is a different game
Golf on the PGA Tour is a bomber’s paradise. But the U.S. Open is all about accuracy and the short game. Greens were rolling at 14-plus on the Stimpmeter (it goes that high?). And one TV analyst crowed that hitting out of the rough at Oakmont is akin to trying to hit a ball cleanly out of a tennis shoe.
JC Golf pro or Nostradamus?
Two JC Golf pros accurately predicted that Dustin Johnson would win his first major. Bryon Penfield, head pro at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, even said Johnson would finish at 5-under (which would have been right if not for the USGA’s dumb call). Lloyd Porter at Oaks North was spot on when he said Johnson would win by three shots, which he did. Nice job boys. Sounds like a trip to Las Vegas is in your future.
Fox Sports technology too tricked up
The telecast was much improved from last year’s mess at Chambers Bay, but Fox has a tendency to overreach. I liked the exclusive microphone placements that picked up a mouthy Spieth and unique camera angles from inside bunkers, but the graphic of balls flowing across the green to show break didn’t work at all. And the shot tracer showing a ball’s flight was overused. Fox needs to be reminded that this if golf, not NASCAR.
Marc Figueroa is a freelance writer who has been covering golf in San Diego for more than 20 years.