UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — The 115th U.S. Open will be remembered for many things: its historic standing as the first held in the Pacific Northwest. The breathtaking moonscape vistas of Chambers Bay, on the site of a former gravel mine. The miserable greens. The shifting par on holes 1 and 18. Tiger Woods’s first-round 80. Jason Day’s courage. And, of course, Dustin Johnson’s three-putt and Jordan Spieth’s victory.
But years from now, Chambers Bay’s most important legacy may be the fact it was the first completely made-for-TV major championship in golf history.
With its majestic peaks, nestled in against Puget Sound, and its golden hues and expanses of sand, Chambers Bay looked great on Fox’s telecast. But that majesty came with a price, one that was paid primarily by on-site spectators for whom the U.S. Open was a challenging viewing experience to say the least.
The massive hills and difficult terrain prevented fans from following groups around the course, — the eighth hole, for example, was played in silence, with no fans whatsoever — and the bleachers set up for spectators often had waits of 90 minutes or more for seats because no one who already had seats would dare leave them.
“It has been a strange atmosphere because [fans] can’t seem to get close and on some holes, there aren’t any,” veteran Lee Westwood said. “I watched Phil Mickelson tee off at the first today, and then people won’t see him until the second shot on the second hole, because you can’t get down the first. From a fan’s point of view, it must have been even a harder trek than for us players.”
Most players reserved their harshest criticism for the condition of Chambers Bay’s greens, which theoretically are planted with fine fescue but which — with a handful of exceptions — have suffered from an infestation of native poa annua grass this month, resulting in inconsistency and bumpiness.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment all week,” a flustered Billy Horschel told reporters at the end of his round Sunday before launching into a lengthy tirade about Chambers Bay. “I lost respect for the USGA and this championship this week. . . . It’s just been a disappointing week with how the greens are.
“It sounds like the players are whining and complaining. We’re not looking for perfect greens. . . . But we’re looking for something that’s consistent, and this week they’re not. The only two that are good are 13 and 7, and 10 is not too bad. I hit a lot of great putts that bounced all over the world. [The fourth green] is god awful. That hole is in dirt. There’s no grass around that hole.”
Horschel said he has heard USGA officials defending the greens by saying they’re better than they look on television. But he added, “That’s a complete lie.”
Horschel also criticized the spectator experience, saying, “The viewing is awful. They tell the fans early in the week, ‘Well, just sit in the stands and watch golf.’ [But] I have my family here. I’m sure there are some fans that want to watch me, just like there’s fans that want to watch all these other great players here. . . . I feel like the fans got robbed this week.”
Rory McIlroy, the world’s top-ranked golfer, started the day eight shots back but put a scare into the leaders when a string of birdies at 7, 8, 10, 12 and 13 got him briefly to 2 under par. But a pair of bogeys at 15 and 17 derailed his hopes of a miracle comeback that might have rivaled Johnny Miller’s legendary run at the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
“When I look back, obviously the last few holes of this golf course haven’t been kind to me all week,” McIlroy said. “And when I look back at this tournament that’s where I’ll rue some missed opportunities. I feel like it’s sort of one that got away, especially the way I putted this week. I don’t think I’ve ever hit the ball as well in a major championship.”
Day, whose battles with vertigo made him one of the most compelling stories of the weekend, started the day in a four-way tie for the lead and hung around until a double-bogey at 13 all but ended his hopes. He shot 74 Sunday for a 72-hole total of even-par 280 and a tie for ninth.
Day, 27, collapsed while playing the final hole of his Friday round and barely managed to complete the hole. He has a history of vertigo, having withdrawn from two tournaments in the past year because of it. Day’s 68 on Saturday, when he was the only player of the top 16 at the start of the day to shoot under par, was one of the emotional high points of the tournament.
Day still appeared woozy and wobbly at times early in his round Sunday, but he said his condition improved over the course of the round.
“After 12 I felt much better,” Day said. “I’m just glad that I got it in on the weekend.”
Denny McCarthy, the Georgetown Prep and University of Virginia product who earned a spot in the field in the Rockville sectional qualifier, closed out his week with a 2-over-par 72 to finish at 7-over 287, missing out on a share of low amateur honors by two shots. Brian Campbell took those honors, closing with a 68 for a 285 total.
McCarthy, who finished his senior season at Virginia this spring, has said he plans to turn pro at the end of the summer.
Day, whose battles with vertigo made him one of the most compelling stories of the weekend, started the day in a four-way tie for the lead and hung around until a double-bogey at 13 all but ended his hopes. He shot 74 on Sunday for a 72-hole total of even-par 280 and a tie for ninth.
Chris Kirk made a 10 on the first hole Sunday, on his way to a 78, to fall into last place among players who made the cut. Afterward, he took to Twitter to add his voice to the chorus of criticism toward Chambers Bay.
“The U.S. Open is a great tournament with incredible history,” Kirk wrote. “The [USGA] should be ashamed of what they did to it this week.”