Our Open best for fans, competitors, patriots
Posted June 12, 2014
Pinehurst, N.C. — Of all the tests that are played with guys chasing a dimpled ball around the countryside, the U.S. Open, for my money, is the best tournament around.
“It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard ... is what makes it great.”
Tom Hanks might have been talking about baseball with that quote in a "League of Their Own," but the best golfers in the world who can tear up any course on any given day with birdies and eagles come into this weekend knowing they can’t do it on Pinehurst No. 2.
The U.S. Open Championship is not played in conditions where scores are manipulated by course designers believing the public wants to see everyone shoot 15-under. You have to love par at the U.S. Open and the ability to do whatever it takes to stay out of trouble, not wait for the birdie holes to come around and save your card. It is what will make this weekend in Pinehurst special.
Why is that good for the game? Par is what every weekend hacker would love to shoot, and for four days in June, the USGA reminds us that even for the best golfers on planet Earth, par is a wonderful score.
It also makes the phenomenal performances that much better. That is why Tiger Woods crushing the field at Pebble Beach in 2000 or Rory McIlroy at Congressional 2011 are talked about with such reverence by those in the golf community. They are the exceptions, not the rule, and more than likely a score of one under will win at Pinehurst No. 2 this weekend.
I’ll take Retief Goosen tipping his cap on the 72nd hole at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 after carding a four-under and the only player to finish under par on championship Sunday.
The U.S. Open humbles the best in the world. While I’m not a masochist, watching the elite golfers on the planet scramble to save par is just as exciting as watching a guy bomb away, hit a wedge and tap in a putt for birdie at Augusta.
This weekend, an up-and-down from a tough lie to prevent a bogey is far more entertaining and relatable to the average golfer than playing from a perfect spot on a course none of us will ever be able to play at.
It’s our championship.
I know it’s not too politically correct to be nationalistic, but I am. The highest sports honors for me have always been representing the United States in competition. I thank my pop Marty for instilling that value in me. Winning for the red, white and blue is for everyone – north and south, east and west – not just a city, region or fan base.
To win the title that says you are the champion in the toughest test our country has to offer holds more meaning to me than winning any of the other majors.
The final round is usually played on Father’s Day.
Try telling any son who has a bond with his dad that doing something great on that day isn’t special.
From Justin Rose having an emotional win, to Rory McIlroy hugging his father and all the other champions wjp have broken down thinking of dad or being able to share it with him, it will never fail to give that lump in the throat moment that makes us love sport.
This next thought might keep me from covering a Masters at Augusta, but I can live with that.
The Masters might carry the prestige of being the best of the best. However, it is a title is not open to all challengers. The Masters always reminds me of Judge Elihu Smails from Caddyshack: It’s their private club, and they only want certain people to be here and most of America, well just doesn’t belong there.
I’ve always identified more with Al Czervik.
The British Open goes back to the origins of the game, but they don’t have as many slots open to the public as our U.S. Open Championship does. While links golf might be the ‘true’ way to play, I didn’t grow up putting a ball 50 yards to set up a birdie putt. I love the tradition of the British, but, let my nationalism get in the way again, it isn’t our championship.
The PGA Championship comes with a huge trophy and big paycheck for the tour players. I have always looked at the PGA like the Australian Open in tennis. It is great to win, but nobody really remembers you won it unless you bagged one of the other majors along the way.
”I hit it again because that shot was a defining moment, and when a defining moment comes along, you define the moment ... or the moment defines you.”
-Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy
The stories that are written by the winners at the U.S Open will be told for decades. Being in Pinehurst, you can’t go 20 feet and not be reminded of how Payne Stewart won here in 1999. Winning in dramatic fashion here lives longer than most, because it is our championship.
While winning can elevate a player’s status in golf lore, losing can make a player far more endearing.
Six-time runner-up Phil Mickelson is known as much for his near victories and blow ups at U.S. Opens as he is for the five majors (three of those green jackets) that he won. Then there is Rocco Mediate, who lost to Tiger Woods in a 2008 playoff at Torrey Pines. That loss endeared Mediate to fans of the game who had either written him off or never heard of him. Mediate became the everyman who lived the dream for five great days.
The pride the people who live and work in this area telling you how this golf tournament is theirs, at least for a year, has been special to hear.
ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi brought up what might be my favorite point about the U.S. Open Championship. It is ‘open’ to everyone. Rinaldi pointed out that there are only a select few special talents who will ever play for a Super Bowl or World Series title, but at this tournament all are welcome. The stories that come just from the everyday person qualifying are more thrilling to learn about than the tour pro winning a normal tournament will ever be.
I know I will never be good enough to qualify for this title, but a guy like Mark Thomas, my co-host and good friend, can. (Mark is really good at golf, but don’t tell him I said that). The fact that your neighbor can play for this title and the right to be our champion sets this apart.
The U.S. Open Championship might not be the oldest or most prestigious, but it is ours, and the fact that all of us are invited to be here makes it one shot better than the rest.