This upcoming weekend promises to be one of the most jam-packed all-you-can-eat sports buffets of the entire year.
With the NBA playoffs, the Pacquaio-Mayweather “Fight of the Century” and the NFL Draft, there’s almost too much going on in the span of three days to digest everything fully.
So, naturally, let’s talk about golf.
The U.S. Open, the second major of the year, will not kick off until June, but there’s already plenty of buzz surrounding the tournament and its venue after Monday’s USGA media day.
For the first time in its 115-year history, the U.S. Open will head to the Pacific Northwest and test the world’s best at Chambers Bay, a public course along Puget Sound that might have more than a few tricks up its sleeve.
First, there’s the layout. With a complete lack of trees (except for one that’s not even in play) and thick fescue growing in every conceivable nook and cranny, Chambers Bay is about as far removed from your traditional, American-style golf course as you can get. If anything, it invokes comparisons to the famous links courses across the pond. This isn’t Oakmont or Pinehurst, so who knows what to expect when it’s finally time to tee off.
As if the change-of-pace in venue weren’t enough, the USGA is looking to throw in a few extra curveballs that guarantee to set this tournament apart from any other. At media day, USGA Executive Director Mike Davis ignited a flurry of strong reactions by suggesting that this year’s tournament might feature tee boxes on uneven lies. In addition, there’s been talk of holes one and 18 changing pars in the middle of the tournament. Imagine if Fenway Park moved the Green Monster back 100 feet after the seventh inning. That’s the kind of situation we’re dealing with.
I, for one, love it. Many people over the years have voiced their opinions on whether the USGA should chill out and back down from the “toughest test in golf” moniker. Although I personally love watching the most talented golfers in the world squirm around and look like me on the driving range, that’s not exclusively why I’m supportive of the 2015 championship at Chambers Bay. Beyond just the pure schadenfreude, the unique location and the myriad junctures requiring critical decision making should make for one competitive tournament and inject some more excitement into the sport.
While the PGA Tour enjoyed unprecedented success in the ratings during the heyday of Tiger Woods, it has struggled in its quest to replicate that kind of success by finding the “next Tiger.” Whether that’s been players like Rory McIlory or Jordan Speith or more short-lived sensations like Anthony Kim (remember him?), the strategy of anointing the new “Chosen One” hasn’t been very fruitful.
In fact, this narrow view has, in many respects, left us ignorant of the amount of sheer talent across the entire field at any given tournament. Every player has the ability to make some noise, and we should take more time to appreciate the uncertainty going into almost any given Sunday. Consider the possibility of a wide-open field of seven or eight top-flight players battling down the back nine at the U.S. Open while facing uneven lines and whatever other land mines the USGA plans to throw in. That’s prime entertainment, and golf needs that drama and intrigue at this critical juncture where gaining new fans is paramount.
While appreciating the full capacity of the field should be a priority at this year’s U.S. Open, that doesn’t mean we still can’t pull for a fan-favorite. While it’s still very, very early, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Phil Mickelson flirting with the top of the leaderboard and getting perhaps one last chance to get that massive U.S. Open monkey off his back. After his 2013 British Open win at Muirfield, Mickelson now needs a U.S. Open trophy to complete the career grand slam, adding extra motivation to the tournament he admittedly already covets above all others. If Mickelson is in contention, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop myself from rooting for him, especially because I think this is his time to finally summit the mountain.
It’s a new year and a U.S. Open unlike any other. Why not expect the unexpected?
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.