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Chris Gay: Rest in peace, U.S. Open

Posted: June 21, 2017 - 1:24am

What happened to the second-most prestigious professional golf championship in the United States (behind the Masters Tournament, of course)? Thirty-one players finished the event under par. In comparison, only 15 were able to achieve that feat at this year's Masters.

While the Masters is known for its great traditions (pimento cheese sandwiches, fast greens, Amen Corner), the U.S. Open has always been like the bully who lives three houses down. You want to break par? Not today, pal.

What happened to the meanest tournament around? Last year at Oakmont, four players finished under par. That's it. Four.

Even when Tiger Woods was still known for golf way back in 2000, he was the only player to break par at Pebble Beach. That was when his back cooperated and his glutes activated.

This year at the U.S. Open, it looked like Caddy Day at the Bushwood Country Club pool. It was pure bedlam as world Nos. 1-3, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, each missed the cut, while guys like Tommy Fleetwood (Mac) and Xander Schauffele found themselves in contention. As golf-writing legend Dan Jenkins eloquently put it on Twitter: "I'm thinking maybe I should have skipped the U.S. Open and gotten a press credential to Amanda Mickelson's graduation."

I'm sure Erin Hills Golf Club is a fine track. Golf Digest ranked it No. 44 on its 2017 list of top 100 courses in America. But the place yielded 26 weekend rounds in the 60s. I don't blame the course, though. I blame the United States Golf Association for setting up Erin Hills to play too easy.

Yes, Erin Hills played as the longest course in major championship history at 7,741. But length doesn't matter, especially when players hit the ball a mile into welcoming, spacious fairways. The setup was all wrong.

USGA officials should hold the U.S. Open at Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken. It's a short course with small, tricky greens. Miss a shot over the green and you're dead. Miss your approach over the fifth green and you're double dead. Now, that would be a test.

Or hold the U.S. Open at Sage Valley Golf Club in Graniteville. Course officials could make that lengthy course, with its quick, undulating greens, even tougher if they wanted to grow some tall rough. That would be a test, too.

Next year, the U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York. The last time the U.S. Open was held there (2004), Retief Goosen won with a 4-under total, finishing two shots ahead of Phil Mickelson. No one else broke par.

Here's hoping the USGA officials puts the paddles on its premier tournament and resuscitates it. Let's see shorter courses with tighter fairways and quicker greens. Please bring back the bully.

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GET YOUR FACTS, FIRST: There are folks commenting on the Fox Sports coverage of the U.S. Open vs. CBS Sports' stellar golf coverage. I watched some of the broadcast on my phone. I thought that was a nice option. Fox Sports did some good things.

The only issue with the coverage was what happened after the tournament. First, Joe Buck announced champion Brooks Koepka's ex-girlfriend as being his current girlfriend. Awkward. Fortunately, Brad Faxon corrected the mistake soon after.

Then, the trophy ceremony looked - for lack of a better word - weird. There was no big crowd. No loud applause. Just a few USGA folks making some comments and then handing the trophy to Koepka. Compared to the green jacket ceremony for the Masters champion, there was no comparison.

AWKWARD, AGAIN: The Buck mistake reminded me of the awkward interview Dottie Pepper had earlier this year with our local golfer Scott Brown during the final round of the Zurich Classic. She asked him what it was like going for his first PGA Tour win. The problem? He won the Puerto Rico Open in 2013, his first PGA Tour victory.

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