“…To Identify the Best Players
In the Game”
This year is something of a rarity on the PGATOUR. The South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Courses just north of San Diego will host both the Buick Invitational and the U.S. Open. This is unusual but not unique. Pebble Beach has hosted two TOUR events in the same year six times. Other courses that have pulled off this double are Harbour Town Golf Links, Riviera Country Club and Firestone Country Club.
Torrey Pines, a 36-hole municipal treasure, has hosted PGATOUR events since 1968, but it recently underwent substantial renovations at the skilled hands of architect Rees Jones, who won acclaim for his sensitive renovations of such Open tests as The County Club and Congressional Country Club.
Players praised Torrey Pines when they played there in January, but in June they will be facing U.S. Open conditions that include — among other qualities — firm, fast greens, narrow fairways lined with rough designed to punish errant drives, and greens protected by equally penal rough. All that, plus the pressure of playing in a major championship.
In 1974, the U.S. Open was played on the West Course at Winged Foot Golf Club. The course conditions were brutal — so much so that writer Dick Schaap wrote a book on the championship titled Massacre at Winged Foot. Hale Irwin, who would go on to win three Opens, won with a score of 7-over-par 287.
Throughout the week of the Open, players found the course setup so severe that some complained the United States Golf Association (USGA) was trying to embarrass them. Not so, said Frank B. “Sandy” Tatum, a member of the USGA’s influential Executive Committee and the man largely responsible for the course setup.
“We’re not trying to embarrass the best players in the game,” said Tatum. “We’re trying to identify them.”
Tom Watson, winner of the 1982 U.S. Open, agrees.
“The U.S. Open setup is always the most difficult setup we have,” said Watson. “I think it takes the golf course to the limit and it tests the golfer to the limit. Some golfers don’t like that — they’d like a little bit of a cushion or leeway. But the whole idea of the U.S. Open is to identify the best golfer, not to embarrass them like some people think it is. At times the USGA has made mistakes in the setup of the golf course, but overall, the golf courses are fair, very difficult, and it’s always been the number one tournament for me to win because it’s the most difficult to win.”
Nevertheless, critics have long argued that the setup for the Open has worked against players like Sam Snead, Ben Crenshaw, Seve Ballesteros and others whose superb short games were negated by the thick, penal rough protecting the greens.
“You’ve just got to move forward. You’ve got to believe that the whole field is going through
what you’re going through, and you’ve just got to keep going. This is a marathon.”
- Ernie Els
Furthermore, no less a figure thanTiger Woods — winner of two U.S. Opens — came away from this year’s Masters saying that the course changes at Augusta National made the field play more defensively, just as they do at the U.S. Open.
“You don’t really shoot low rounds here [at Augusta National] anymore,” he said.“You’ve got to just grind along. It’s playing more of a U.S. Open course setup than it is a Masters.”
Come June at Torrey Pines, let the grinding begin.