LITTLE ROCK — Equally effective, two messages were delivered by golf’s biggest stars, past and present.
Using the catch-phrase “While we’re young,” in commercials, Arnold Palmer, Annika Sorenstam, and others hammered the need to speed up play. Without a word, today’s headliners referenced U.S. Open pressure by hitting clunky iron shots, chunking chips, driving out of bounds, missing fairways with irons, and putting poorly.
Championing time-saving measures comes with a clear conscience. Practitioners of ready-golf, our Sunday group can navigate 18 holes in 3 1/2 hours or less without rushing.
Knowledge of the travails of the U.S. Open is only what can be gleaned from TV. Witnessing my favorite golfer lose a three-way playoff in the Open qualifying is the closest I came to participating in our national championship.
When slow play is the topic, a person who has played the game for more than 50 years will have a couple of suggestions for unclogging courses:
• Ban buddy golf. We’ve all been behind these guys. Tee shots 50 yards apart, they ride to a ball and one player sits in the cart, watching his partner play. That done, they travel to the other ball and reverse roles. Instead, disembark. Bond on the 19th hole.
• Card the players who go to the back tees. Admittedly a pipe dream, golfers who stop at the blue tees should have a handicap that indicates they can break 90. The macho thing with the driver is understood, but the game is more fun and faster when there is an opportunity for an occasional birdie. Endorsed by the PGA and the USGA, the “Play it Forward” initiative encourages golfers to play from tees aligned with their average driving distance. After moving up to the senior tees, the oldest player in our group can compete with a long hitter 40 years his junior.
Speaking of long drives, Merion’s embarrassment of the world’s best was welcome. Hearing how superbly fit players, wielding high-tech clubs to pummel golf balls tailored to personal launch angles and swing speeds, will destroy any course under 7,500 yards is wearisome.
Merion played 6,996 and nobody broke par for 72 holes.
High rough and fast, sloping greens played a part. The long holes were plenty long, but many of the players failed to find the short grass on the five par-fours less than 370 yards.
Like him or not, NBC analyst Johnny Miller is the best and he identified the problem during the third round when he said, “I don’t think players of today are precision players.” Instead, they bomb it, find it, and wedge it.
Critical of Phil Mickelson’s attack mode in previous U.S Opens, Lefty deserves a compliment for his decision to dump his driver at Merion. When the tees on the par-four 10th were moved up on Saturday to tempt the players and Mickelson laid up, you knew he was committed to a conservative game plan.
Ironically, he finished two strokes behind Justin Rose after making two bogeys on the 13th, a reminder that being exact is mandatory even when a hole only plays 98 to 123 yards.
While handing out kudos, a personal one goes to Rose.
On the first day of the tournament, the last paragraph of the column said, “Risking ridicule, look for the champion to be a first-time major winner.”
The Open was the initial major for the 32-year-old Rose, who maintained his tempo down the stretch and had the wherewithal to back off his tee shot when distracted on the 71st hole.
The victory does not promise a slew of majors for the Englishman. It does say that on one weekend in June, he was better than anybody else. Since 2005, Michael Campbell, Geoff Ogilvy, Lucas Glover, Graeme McDowell, and Webb Simpson have earned the same crown and no other major.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.