Golf

Impossible shots, whiny golfers and the terrible beauty of the U.S. Open

This year’s U.S. Open course was too difficult, too exacting and too punitive — the way it is every year. Players complained to reporters about its horrors, and you couldn’t help but think of lost, exhausted adventurers, having just spent hours hacking through the jungle with machetes, taking a break for a good cry.

Even the United States Golf Association, the organization that oversees the tournament, admitted that the course setup for the third round Saturday at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club was unfair, making perfectly good golf shots take hellish detours from which there was no return.

Wasn’t it wonderful?

This is one of my favorite events of the year. The USGA takes pride in making the U.S. Open an extremely demanding test, and almost without fail, players gripe about the injustice of it all.

Phil Mickelson reacts to a shot from the fescue on the fifth hole during the third round of the U.S. Open on Saturday in Southampton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

But if this is what the tournament is every year, and every player knows to expect an absolute grind, why be so surprised by it? Why not embrace the torture of it? What’s wrong with callousness being the U.S. Open’s calling card, the way beauty is the Masters’ and fescue the British Open’s?

What’s wrong with it? The best professional golfers, who look good 98 percent of the time, don’t like looking bad.

Well, welcome to our world, boys. What we have here is a case of the gods descending to earth, rubbing elbows with the rest of us slobs and four-putting greens. They’re in the muck, and they don’t enjoy what it’s doing to their Lacoste slacks.

They do have a point: If your ball hits 15 feet from the hole, it shouldn’t roll off the green. The landing area for a good golf shot should not be the size of an oven mitt.

On the other hand, there is something cruelly pleasing about watching this. And when you get down to it, it really is all about us, isn’t it? The world’s best golfers are on television for our entertainment, and if, for one tournament every year, the entertainment is an unending loop of buildings being razed in glorious clouds of dust, it’s not the end of the world.

And, yet, to listen to these guys, you would think that a meteor the size of Australia had hit the planet.

“It was not a fair test of golf,” Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello tweeted after shooting a 76 Saturday. “Greens were unplayable, with unnecessary pin positions. @USGA found a way to make us look like fools on the course. A pity they managed to destroy a beautiful golf course.”

To review: Not only were golfers made to resemble weekend hackers, a golf course was violated. A moment of silence, please.

How many times have you heard professional golfers complain that a course is too easy, that birdies are as common as ants? How about never? When they shoot 65, it’s about them, not a forgiving layout.

On Saturday, Phil Mickelson was ripped for purposely hitting his ball before it rolled off the green, which led to a two-stroke penalty. He said he did it because the alternative was a very difficult next shot, but it looked more like a frustrated statement about an overly fast green and a ridiculously tough course. It wasn’t very sporting of Mickelson. At a minimum, it was a bad look. Golf is supposed to be above that kind of thing. We know this because the sport’s keepers of the flame tell us all the time.

But this is what the Open will do to a man. Golfers everywhere and of all abilities know that feeling.

I hope the USGA doesn’t change. Officials haven’t caved in to the players over the years. Oh, they’ll admit when they feel they’ve overdone the abuse, as they did after Saturday’s round, but they seem intent on carrying out the tournament’s objective: pain. Players had an easier time of it in Sunday’s final round, with Saturday’s strong winds just a bad memory. Tommy Fleetwood tied the Open record with a 63. Maybe the USGA overcorrected too much. I missed the bloodshed.

I’m sure it will be back next year, along with bullet-train greens, ridiculously thick rough and world-class grousing.

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The trophy that goes to the winner is a silver jug with handles on either side. To better represent what the tournament is all about, the trophy should feature a golfer weeping.

“Do you guys like us looking like a bunch of idiots out there?” Cliff Kresge said. “It’s no fun to hit a ball and watch it go back to your feet. I don’t know how much people enjoy this. Some people enjoy us hacking it around and shooting high scores. But if that’s the only way the USGA can protect par, it’s silly.”

Kresge’s comments came after a final-round 82 at the 2004 U.S. Open. That year’s tournament was also played at Shinnecock Hills.

Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.