- Alistair Tait
Hit and hope shouldn’t decide majors
Tom Meeks left no one in any doubt at Oakland Hills on whether the USGA would allow lift, clean and place during the 1996 U.S. Open.
“This is the U.S. Open. "No, we won't play lift, clean and cheat!"
It’s about as angry as I’ve seen an official get in 30 years covering this game. The USGA’s former director of rules seemed to be seething a journalist had the temerity to ask the question in the first place. (P.S. It wasn’t me.) It was a perfectly reasonable question considering torrential rain had devastated the golf course the day before play was about to begin. Two and half inches of rain in two hours flooded every bunker and destroyed a greenside bunker on the 18th. Most fairways were under water.
No way was Meeks about to break with tradition, however, and do the sensible thing by allowing preferred lies. Common sense be damned. Tradition was far more important.
Nothing’s changed for the USGA twenty-four years on.
Mud could decide the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at the Champions Club in Houston. Maybe it already has. That can’t be right.
Players were lining up to complain about mud balls in the third round due to wet conditions. Stacy Lewis led the charge. The Houston resident returned a 6-over-par 77 and let rip afterwards.
“We get on network TV, we get on this big stage — there’s no other golf events going on — you want us to look good on TV more than anything,” Lewis said. “Either they need to play the ball up (preferred lies) or they need to adjust their setup. Mud balls combined with the way they set the golf course up today set us up for long rounds and bad golf.”
Cristie Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion, wasn’t happy either. After returning a 3-over 74, she said:
“Between the three of us we probably had six mud balls apiece out there, and they definitely affected shots.”
That’s 18 mud balls for Kerr and playing companions Ashleigh Buhai and Sarah Schmelzel. That can’t be right.
“In a way, it was hit it and hope,” Schmelzel. “It’s out of your control. It’s just luck what can happen to it.”
Hit and hope? In the U.S. Women’s Open? Really? That can’t be right.
Lindsay Weaver returned a 4-over 75 and joined the chorus line.
“(Mud) was an extreme issue,” Weaver said. “I’ve never played golf having this many mud balls. I didn’t even know what to expect … Sometimes it was a major factor, and sometimes it was okay, but it was brutal. Really, really brutal.”
We expect U.S. Opens, men’s and women’s, to be brutal. We know the USGA likes to protect Old Man Par. But surely he shouldn’t get a helping hand from bits of mud stuck to golf balls? That can’t be right.
I’m all for tradition. But common sense surely should come into play when conditions dictate it?
The R&A upset traditionalists six years ago when it went to a two-tee start for third round of the Open Championship at Hoylake after forecasts of severe thunderstorms. It was the first two-tee start in Open history. "Sacrilege!" some screamed.
The decision proved extremely wise about 30 minutes after close of play. Rory McIlroy’s post round comments were practically drowned out when a massive rainstorm that would surely have halted play started hammering on the roof of the interview room. McIlroy said:
“It’s the second-best decision the R&A has made this year (after awarding the 2019 Open to Royal Portrush).”
The R&A's two tee start didn't ruin that Open Championship. The sun still came up the next morning and McIlroy went on to win his first Open. In fact, I bet most golf fans don't even remember the two-tee start.
There’s a big difference between tradition and intransigence. Simple common sense dictated that two-tee start at Hoylake. The USGA should have used common sense for the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open and allowed preferred lies. Hopefully it will do so for the final round if mud balls are still a possibility, but don’t hold your breath.
Hit and hope shouldn’t decide major championships. It’s just not right.
#JustSaying: “We’re not trying to humiliate the greatest players in the world. We’re trying to identify them.” Former USGA president Frank Tatum