Tuesday, June 14, 2011

U.S. Open Golf Championship - scoring

As anyone who follows golf knows, it's U.S. Open week, with the tournament being played at Congressional this year.  I watch all the major tournaments and will no doubt tune in this week, but the U.S. Open has struck me as misguided for a very long time, confusing 'finding the best golfer' with protecting par.

In the last decade the median winning score in the U.S. Open was -2 compared to the median for the British Open -8.5 and The Masters -10.5.  Does the U.S Open do a better job of determining the best golfer than the other majors?  I rather doubt it, and I think anyone who watches the tournament or listens to the commentary will doubt it as well.  It isn't so much the relatively high winning score (par is rather arbitrary) as that the USGA philosophy is so committed to bringing out the inner accountant in the players.  Hit the fairway, hit the green, two putts for par and go to the next hole, whatever you do don't become impatient and actually attempt a risky shot in the attempt to make a birdie or better.  Is that really what you want from your national champion?

Now, first I think having a philosophy, any philosophy, and imposing it on the tournament year after year is a mistake.  The U.S Open moves around, being played on the best courses in what is a very big country.  Why not have the courses dictate the tournament rather than having tournament officials come in and try to make disparate sites as near to each other as possible. 

And second, if the U.S Open is known for defending par it is also known for having courses get away from it.  By trying to make the course difficult the USGA has too often not lessened the role of luck in determining a winner but increased it. 

Perhaps the player who best epitomizes what I have in mind passed away last month.  Seve Ballesteros was undeniably one of the best golfers of his era and Seve had no chance to win a U.S Open.  That he contended (at Oakmont I believe) at all is far more surprising than that he never won it.  Seve played with flair, he was an artist with clubs not an accountant.  He won and regularly contended at The Masters and The British Open but not in the U.S Open.  That's what's wrong with the U.S. Open.

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