Amateur golfers to pros: just play

The greens were fast. Some tweaks and changes had been made, and not just cosmetic ones.
Tiger Woods hits out of the tall fescue grass on the eighth hole during the second round of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay on Friday in University Place, Wash.
Tiger Woods hits out of the tall fescue grass on the eighth hole during the second round of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay on Friday in University Place, Wash.

The greens were fast.

Some tweaks and changes had been made, and not just cosmetic ones.

The course appeared to be in great shape.

She was ready for her closeup.

And she drew universal praise from the players.

By now, you may have guessed that I’m not talking about Chambers Bay near Tacoma, Wash., site of the U.S. Open. Nope, this was good ol’ Schenectady Muni, where the field for the 65th Schenectady County Am will play the final round today.

In the Bizarro World parallel universe on the other side of the country, Chambers Bay was drawing reviews, shall we say, much less favorable from the pros.

Commenting on TV, Gary Player called it “one of the worst golf courses I’ve seen in my 63 years as a pro.”

Sergio Garcia took to Twitter to whine about the greens, which means that this U.S. Open is different from every other tournament that Sergio has ever played . . . in no way whatsoever. But, still.

And Jordan Spieth was caught on camera during the first round calling No. 18 “the dumbest hole I’ve ever played in my life.” And he’s one of the leaders.

Even USGA executive director Mike Davis admitted that the greens were “splotchy” before the tournament even started.

U.S. Opens are supposed to be gear-grinders. The links-ish Chambers Bay, which was built all of eight years ago, enjoys the distinction of offering a fresh source of angst. The usual m.o. for the U.S. Open is to just grow the rough to Iowa cornfield height and let havoc and shredded wrist tendons ensue.

Don’t expect the guys in the County Am to be a fresh source of empathy.

“Every time there’s a U.S. Open and the scores aren’t that great, most of the amateurs are like, ‘Yeah, cool, good. It’s good to see you playing like us once in a while,’ ” seven-time County Am champion Jim Mueller said. “We couldn’t go out there and break 90 on that golf course.”

“I do like to see them struggle,” Chris Gilbert said. “It’s enjoyable, because I struggle all the time.”

Besides the players’ gripes, one of the primary problems with Chambers Bay, hard by lovely Puget Sound, is that it appears to have been selected based on how telegenic it is. And there’s really nothing wrong with that, unless it comes at the expense of the on-course spectators.

Half the time, I can’t even tell what the target is when a player lines up a shot while facing a twisting, mind-bending hellscape of bunkers. But that’s their problem.

From what I’ve seen on TV and read, the fans attending the U.S. Open have gotten the shaft by gallery layouts that leave them far from the action, with lousy sightlines. Forget about following a specific group, because you have to hike miles out of your way just to keep up, in some instances.

The golfers, meanwhile, face a 7,900-foot layout with steep terrain, those splotchy greens and crazy-fast fairways that usher well-placed shots into troll hovels, and poorly placed shots into happy places. As they say, you want a course to reward good play, not good luck.

Darren Clarke had a

10-footer that was going straight in, then took a hard left a nanometer from the cup and toured its perimeter before stopping on the other side. Save that clip for the next “Poltergeist” remake.

On Thursday, I watched two players approach the same shot in entirely different ways. One putted up and onto the green in the direction of the pin and almost off the green on the other side, using the slope to bring it back toward the hole. The result was not good.

The other player looped the ball around the perimeter of the green and got it to come back down toward the hole from a more lateral angle. The result was pretty good.

Bu-uut . . . that’s their problem.

“I think it’s great for the golfers because it adds a lot of imagination,” Gilbert said.

“The U.S. Open is different from other majors. They design it so it’s even par,” said Brandon Haase, who has played in the County Am 22 times.

“They’ve done their homework, they’re out there for three weeks, they’ve got their caddies, they know where to hit it and where to miss it. The cream rises to the top all the time, whoever is playing well.”

“Everyone’s got to play the same greens,” three-time County Am champ Rob Bigley Jr. said. “Every time I watched, Dustin Johnson seemed to make every putt outside 10 feet. It’s all about attitude, with any golf course. If you’ve got a good attitude, you’re going to play well; if you don’t, you’re going to struggle.”

Perhaps the harder part is to keep a good attitude after you struggle, and for that we turn to, of all people, Tiger Woods.

During his opening hole on Friday, Tiger fell on his tail looking for his ball in the tall fescue on a slippery sidehill. On Thursday, he shot his worst-ever U.S. Open round, an 80, while playing partner Rickie Fowler was trudging his way through an 81.

“The bright side is I kicked Rickie’s butt today,” Tiger said, and by Saturday, both of their butts were out the door and are probably far from Tacoma, Wash., by now.

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