The state of the Shinnecock Hills course has been a hot topic during this weekend’s U.S. Open, with Saturday seeing several top golfers remark on the conditions after struggling, especially during the later portion of play, at Southampton, N.Y.
The United States Golf Association has taken it to heart, admitting that the course was too tough for Saturday’s third round and promising to slow it down for Sunday’s finale.
“It was a tale of two golf courses, and no doubt, we would admit, well-executed shots were not only not regarded, but were punished,” said USGA chief executive Mike Davis, who is in charge of course setup. “We would say that it was a very tough test, and really too tough this afternoon.
“You saw some really low scores this morning, but when it got so dry like this and the wind got up, it didn’t work. This golf course will get slowed down tonight.”
Dustin Johnson, who entered Saturday with a four-stroke lead, shot a 7-over-par 77 and is still part of a four-way tie for first place at 3-over 213.
“I didn’t feel like I played badly at all,” Johnson said. “Seven over, you know, usually is a terrible score, but, I mean, with the greens the way they got this afternoon … they were very, very difficult.”
Also atop the leaderboard with Johnson are Daniel Berger, Tony Finau and defending champion Brooks Koepka. Berger and Finau each carded a 66 in the morning round after beginning Saturday tied for 45th and 11 shots off Johnson’s overnight four-stroke lead. They both finished their rounds before Johnson even teed off, as the course got tougher as the day went on and winds played a factor.
Saturday’s scoring average of 75.33 was the highest for a third round in the U.S. Open since 2000 at Pebble Beach. Berger, Finau and Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand (68) were the only players to break par, and they all played in the morning wave. Rickie Fowler, who was ninth starting the day, shot an 84 on the afternoon, the worst score of the day, to drop into a tie for 61st.
Zach Johnson, who shot a third-round 72, had some particularly strong words toward the handling of the course.
“We’re not on the edge. I thought we could be on the edge, but we’ve surpassed it,” Johnson told Sky Sports. “It’s pretty much gone, especially the latter part of the day for us. It’s pretty much shot. It’s really unfortunate, because in my opinion, some of the best land and certainly one of the best venues in all of golf, especially in this country, is Shinnecock Hills. It’s as good as it gets.
“Unfortunately, they’ve lost the golf course. I feel for the membership, because I know many of them. I feel for the spectators because they are seeing pure carnage — unless that’s what they want. And I feel for the USGA because I don’t think this was their intent.”
Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello sounded off on Twitter after shooting 76.
“It was not a fair test of golf,” he said. “Greens were unplayable, with unnecessary pin positions. [The] USGA found a way to make us look like fools on the course. A pity they managed to destroy a beautiful golf course.”
Phil Mickelson put himself into a controversial spot on the 13th hole when he chased down and hit his ball as it was rolling past the hole and down a hill before it stopped. He was given a two-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball and carded a 10 on the par-4 hole on the way to an 81 for the round.
“Look, everybody has to play it; I’m not saying either way,” said Mickelson, who wouldn’t directly label the course unfair. “Everybody has got to play it. I was playing it worse than most and wanted to get to the next hole eventually, which I did.”
Pin placement was also a source on controversy for golfers, particularly on the 15th green, which Davis addressed.
“We missed it with the wind,” he said. “It blew harder than we thought it was going to blow. The greens got fast, and it was too much for the wind we had. At 15, you were seeing shots well-played, and they weren’t rewarded. We would say it was a very tough test, but it was too tough this afternoon.”
No golfer is under par through 54 holes at the U.S. Open for the first time since 2007.
–Field Level Media