Woodland wins, Rory fades on a gentle U.S. Open setup

While Phil Mickelson called the U.S. Open course setup “perfect,” European Matt Fitzpatrick was among those who wished the U.S. Open was more penal. “I’m just one of those psychos, I wish it’d been set up a little harder,” he said. Who had it right?

Zak: Phil did. I know senior writer Alan Shipnuck was sad that the course didn’t possess the “fire” it could have, but the margins of player pleasure and supreme difficult just don’t overlap easily for the USGA. Had the conditions been drier or windier, the scores would have been closer to even par and it would have been applauded by everyone. So, in sum, the course was set up as it should have been.

Ritter: Fitz was right! This Open was a tad too soft for my liking. Sunday was enjoyable, but there were no big moves up or down the top of the leaderboard, and I think that’s as much a product of the course as the quality of play. Next year I hope the USGA makes players squirm a little more.

Marksbury: I like to judge the Opens by the quality of the leaderboards, and truly, there has been nothing to complain about for quite a while, inclusive of this year.

Sens: Sure, it could have been tougher. Things can always be tougher. But then imagine all the complaining we would have heard. This year’s setup seemed about as close to right as you could get. If you played well, you shot a few under. If you missed a shot, there was a good chance you’d make bogey. Anyone griping too much about this year’s setup is looking hard for a reason to complain.

Shipnuck: The unusually warm weather Monday through Wednesday spooked the USGA and they put too much water on the golf course. That’s understandable, given the drumbeat of criticism from players in the months before. They had to err on the side of caution. Course setups don’t happen in a vacuum  — they’re done by humans, who have emotions and agendas. Bottom line: the players’ p.r. campaign succeeded and they got a course they all thought was “fair” … which is code word for too easy.

Bamberger: The equipment has made the old classic courses obsolete — if you still are devoted to 280. I think the USGA clearly took a page from the R&A, set up a fair course and let the fellas play and it worked. Get used to it, unless the Tour ever comes up with a Tour ball, and that shows no signs of ever happening.

The USGA and its past slip-ups were a major focal point heading into the U.S. Open, but the governing body remained out of the spotlight at Pebble. What letter grade would you hand the USGA for its efforts this week?

Zak: A-. We all know the organization was wary to step on any toes, and the weather didn’t exactly allow them to flex the course’s muscles, so it was a solid job all around. I cannot complain.

Ritter: I’ll give them a B. They managed to avoid major crack-ups, but they could’ve pushed the course a little more on the weekend when it was clear the weather wasn’t going to change. I mean, Woodland just beat Tiger’s 2000 Pebble scoring record by one. One of my friends asked a great question in an email: Why did everyone seem to hate the Erin Hills U.S. Open but love this one? I’m not sure what the answer is, but it makes me wonder if saltwater and sea lions have somewhat skewed our view of major championships.

Marksbury: It’s an A from me. I was thoroughly entertained and the course looked great. Had the wind blown a bit, it could have been a very different story, score-wise. Unfortunately, weather is the one thing we can’t control.

Sens: No rules controversies. No serious grousing from the field. Sure, they could have firmed it up and baked it out a little more, but as others have pointed out, they had to play that cautiously. A-

Shipnuck: B+

Bamberger: A. You don’t want or need to manipulate Pebble Beach. The USGA did so at Merion in 2013 and it was almost beyond recognition. But in terms of regulating equipment changes, they earn an F.

Phil Mickelson, who turned 49 on Sunday, finished four over and tied for 52nd at Pebble, where he had won earlier this year and at a course many expected him to thrive on. The Open heads to Winged Foot next year, where Mickelson infamously lost the 2006 Open. How much cold water does this week throw on his hopes of attaining the elusive career grand slam?

Zak: For Mickelson to win a U.S. Open at this stage in his career, it will be a fluke. That sounds mean, but it’s true. The man would have to play his best golf since Muirfield in ‘13, all the way through the bag, to beat a field of 156 younger, hungry studs. Oh, and while you guys fantasize about a Phil Grand Slam, I’m going to go re-listen to these two sweet podcast episodes from A Pod Unlike Any Other.

Ritter: Phil has had a fantastic career, and he’ll continue to be one of the most popular players on Tour for as long as he’s out there. His burgeoning social-media presence is a blast. I can see him potentially winning a Masters and maybe even another British. I enjoy watching him. But he’s not winning a U.S. Open at 49, or 50-anything. It pains me to say it, but his chase for a career slam is over. The ship has sailed.

Marksbury: You can never say never, right? But my oh my, Winged Foot seems like a much more formidable ask than Pebble this week. I hate to be the naysayer, but in this case … it’s over.

Shipnuck: I think we can all agree Phil will never win a U.S. Open. But, given his ability to summon the unlikely, that means he’s going to win at Winged Foot, right?

Sens: Never say never. But at this point, it seems like his best chance at the career grand slam would be to pull a Monty and start counting senior major titles as majors. The 2021 U.S. Senior Open is in Omaha. Phil will be eligible.

Bamberger: Forty-nine gallons. It now becomes almost impossible to see. But the key word is almost. That’s why they play.

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