Are USGA officials control freaks?


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ARDMORE, Pa. -- Word of advice to Zach Johnson or any other professional athlete who wants to slam the place where they compete or the organization that facilitates their rich-and-famous lifestyle:

Do it after you have succeeded, not failed.

Do it after you've made the cut, or, better yet, are on the leader board.

Don't do it after you shoot 11-over 151 for two days and miss the cut in an U.S. Open for the fifth time in 10 starts.

But that's what Johnson, a nine-time PGA Tour winner and former Masters champion, did after shooting 77 in the second round at Merion Golf Club. He assailed the United States Golf Association for their course setup and made known his distaste for playing in their championships.

"I would describe the whole golf course as manipulated," Johnson said. "It just enhances my disdain for the USGA and how it manipulates golf courses."

Johnson was not alone with his observations. After the second round, everyone from Tiger Woods to the placid Luke Donald talked about the difficult pin positions. Woods, the world's No. 1 player, said the USGA did that because, with the soft conditions at Merion, it wanted to protect par.

But Johnson went a bit further with his criticism.

"I think Merion is a great golf course, if you let Merion be," he said. "But that is not the agenda,"

To be sure, while what Johnson said carries a certain amount of truth, his timing makes his complaints sound like sour grapes. Worse, it makes him look like a whiner, which he is not.

In some circles, Johnson was viewed as a pre-Open favorite, a short hitter who controls his ball, hits lots of fairways and has a wedge game that is good enough to win a green jacket. That type of player is not only a good fit for Merion, it is a good fit for most U.S. Open venues.

But Johnson has never done well in the U.S. Open, and his frustration got the best of him on his way out of town. He accused the USGA of "manipulating" the course to produce the score it would like see win the championship.

Can the USGA manipulate a golf course?

Absolutely.

A perfect example is what happened when the U.S. Women's Open was staged at Oakmont Country Club in 2010, three years after the men's national championship.

In 2007, Angel Cabrera won the U.S. Open with a score of 285, 5-over par. But, three years later, the USGA set up the same course in such a manner that Paula Creamer's winning score was 3-under 281.

Granted, the holes were shortened and the greens slowed a foot or two on the Stimpmeter. But the deep bunkers with the steep lips were still the same. The tight fairways were still the same width. And it wasn't like they were giving free lifts from the grass ditches that run through 12 of the 18 holes.

But Creamer finished under par because the USGA set up the course with favorable pin locations -- locations even the members weren't accustomed to seeing. With shorter holes and easier flags, the best female players in the world made Oakmont look like something it's not -- easy.

On the final day, eight players had rounds in the 60s, including Na Yeon Choi, who shot 66. In 2007, there were eight rounds in the 60s all week.

Saturday, on the same course that frustrated Johnson, six players shot under par in the third round. Jason Day, who shot 68, made five birdies. So did Henrik Stenson, including three in a row. Amateur Michael Kim, who shot 71, had a stretch of four birdies in six holes.

Does that make the USGA wrong? Absolutely not.

Mike Davis, executive director and the man responsible for course setup, has been the best thing to happen to the U.S. Open. He has not only been progressive and innovative in setting up Open venues, he has been more than fair in doing so.

He took over that job after the USGA lost control of the course at Shinnecock in 2004, and there has not been a repeat of that fiasco since.

In the future, if someone wants to rip the USGA about course setup, do so from somewhere near the top of the leader board. Not as you're driving out the gate.

mobilehome - golf

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com or Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published June 16, 2013 4:00 AM


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