Broccoli and big bogeys: Top 10 USGA controversies at the U.S. Open

Once again, the USGA is the news at a U.S. Open, despite one of the most clutch performances we've ever seen down the stretch of our national golf championship.

Dustin Johnson's breakthrough week at Oakmont was overshadowed by what might be the United States Golf Association's most ridiculous sideshow of all time .

In case you missed it, on the par-4 fifth hole, Johnson called a referee over to get a ruling on a ball that barely moved on the green just as he was about to putt. The official, apparently being satisfied with Johnson's assertion that he did not cause the ball to move, told him to play it as it lies, where Johnson went on to make a six-footer for par.

But that wasn't the end of it apparently. The USGA approached Johnson on the 12th hole to inform him they may dock him a penalty after all.

This actually falls under Rule 18-2, which was revised last year. It used to be that if the ball moved once a player addressed it, the ball was to be replaced with a one-stroke penalty. Now, if the ball moves, even if a player addresses, as long as the player is not deemed to have caused the movement, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position.

Among the USGA's reasoning apparently was that if Johnson didn't cause the ball to move, then what did?

The collective answer from viewers and media was plain and simple: How about gravity on greens that are so fast that the world's best can barely putt on them?

Anyway, the USGA on Monday, did admit that it blew it in the way that it handled the situation.

"We'd really like a Mulligan," said Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA. "Because we clearly made a big bogey."

Watch: Mike Davis explains Johnson ruling


This is hardly the first time, nor the last time, the USGA has taken heat over the way it runs the U.S. Open. But it may be one of the organization's most embarrassing moments to date. Here are nine more:

How's this for irony? The great Ben Hogan, who finished the final round with a two-stroke lead, was not only caught and tied after the telecast went off the air, but wound up losing to Jack Fleck during an 18-hole playoff after he made double bogey on the final hole because it took him three hacks to get out of the rough. That's when the USGA decided going forward that it would take over the maintenance operation for subsequent U.S. Opens, presumably to make it fairer.

1965: Bellerive

Bellerive was only five years old and at the time, the longest course in U.S. Open history at 7,191 yards. It would also be the first year the tournament didn't have a 36-hole final on Saturday (Bravo, USGA; Ken Venturi risked his health the year before from heat exhaustion in winning at Congressional.) But alas, in 1965, the U.S. Open was contested on a sub-par course with many areas burnt out or diseased, and the USGA didn't allow relief from those areas. In the end, Gary Player survived and completed his grand slam at the age of 29 by claiming the his only U.S. Open title. Much later, he would proclaim the site of the 2015 U.S. Open, Chambers Bay, the worst course he had ever seen, apparently forgetting the debacle of Bellerive 40 years earlier.

"The Massacre at Winged Foot," this was the one in which the USGA, in response to Johnny Miller's record 63 the year before during the final round at Oakmont, made Winged Foot so difficult that not a single player broke par in the first round. Hale Irwin wound up winning with a score of 7-over-par 287 during a tournament that would serve up this famous quote from then USGA Competition Committee Chairman Sandy Tatum: "We're not trying to humiliate the best players in the world; We're trying to identify them."



1979: Inverness

The new tree after the first round: This one is hard to fathom. It was 1979, not 1879, but sure enough after Lon Hinkle went through a gap in the trees playing from the 17th fairway into the eighth green on his way to birdie during the first round (with other players using the same strategy), that was no longer an option for rounds 2,3 and 4. How's that, you ask? With the blessing of the USGA, a 15-foot tree was planted there before the second round. It would become known as the Hinkle Tree.

Like Dustin Johnson, Payne Stewart would finish as the runner-up in 1998, only to win the following year (at Pinehurst). His second-place performance would be trying, to say the least. For one, he was put on the clock by the USGA after apparently taking too long during the final round trying to figure out how to play his second shot on the 12th hole out of a sand-filled divot. But probably even bigger was the pin position on the 18th hole on Friday that had many players more than scratching their heads. Stewart had an eight-footer for birdie that wound up running down the hill some 25 feet and resulted in bogey. He was far from the only player who couldn't putt that green. In one of the most obvious demonstrations of protest and disgust, Kirk Triplett, who had already missed the cut, laid his putter below the hole to prevent it from rolling off the green and incurred a 2-stroke penalty.

How about this travesty? The green speeds, set at 11 feet on the Stimpmeter, were too fast for the slopes on the ninth and 18th greens. In other words, any balls landing on the front half of those greens rolled off the green, so the maintenance staff actually had to cut those greens higher (make them slower) in attempt to keep good shots on the putting surface. The inconsistency between those two greens and the other 16 on the course didn't sit well with the players, of course. In the end, all the contenders three-putted the final green, including the eventual winner, Retief Goosen.

It shouldn't be any surprise that Tiger Woods won in 2002 at Bethpage Black. Not only was he the best player in the field, but he was one of the longest, which you needed to be to carry the 260-plus yards to find the fairway on the 492-yard par-4 10th. Now 260 yards doesn't seem that daunting for a tour pro, but consider that the hole played into the wind for much of the weekend, plus there was rain, and you can see why a good portion of the field couldn't make the fairway.

The year they stopped watering just because: Well, it was actually because the early scores were getting a little low, but the USGA might have taken this one a little too far. Officials decided to make Shinnecock Hills play as difficult as possible by not watering the course, and it got baked out in a hurry. It got so bad during the final round (when the average final-round score was 78.7 and not a single golfer finished their round under par) that the maintenance crew had to water greens in between groups because holes were becoming unplayable, particularly the par-3 7th hole. Only two players finished under par that year -- Phil Mickelson (-2) and winner Retief Goosen (-4).

The greens weren't green, not even close: It's a good thing for Dustin Johnson that he got that monkey off his back and didn't let the USGA gaffe rob him of his first major title in 2016. It makes it that much easier to forget his infamous three-putt on the final green at Chambers Bay that cost him at least a playoff spot if not an outright win over champion Jordan Spieth. Perhaps, Johnson just hit a pair of bad putts, but he was hardly the only one to complain about the greens conditions at Chambers Bay. Ian Poulter, who said he liked the golf course, went on a rant about the greens afterwards: "They (the greens) were simply the worst and most disgraceful surface I have ever seen on any tour in all the years I have played." Henrick Stenson said it was like putting on broccoli.

And for Gary Player during a tirade on live TV , it wasn't just the greens, it was the whole golf course as he referred to Chambers Bay as a "tragedy.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
0 Comments
Default User Image
Related Links
As U.S. Open week at Chambers Bay got underway, the USGA held an Architect's Forum with Executive Director Mike Davis and course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. Here are some highlights from the discussion.
In this excerpt from Tom Doak's upcoming book, The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses: The Americas (Summer Destinations), the architect shares what makes Oakmont stand the test of time.
There was a time when practically every U.S. Open venue was an exclusive, private club. These days, "America's Open" has never been more open. Here are the six host courses open to the public, with tips on the best ways to secure a tee time.
Here is a refresher on what you need to know about Oakmont Country Club's most storied U.S. Open finishes.
Now Reading
Broccoli and big bogeys: Top 10 USGA controversies at the U.S. Open
New Cookie Policy
WE AND OUR PARTNERS USE COOKIES ON THIS SITE TO IMPROVE OUR SERVICE, PERFORM ANALYTICS, PERSONALIZE ADVERTISING, MEASURE ADVERTISING PERFORMANCE, AND REMEMBER WEBSITE PREFERENCES. BY USING THE SITE, YOU CONSENT TO THESE COOKIES. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON COOKIES INCLUDING HOW TO MANAGE YOUR CONSENT VISIT OUR COOKIE POLICY.
CONTINUE