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Guest commentary: Congressional’s Open – fluke or faux pas?

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 06/24/2011 12:28:55 PM MDT


A record-setting U.S. Open is in the books. I wonder how happy the USGA is about that. I imagine their Executive Director and exalted course set-up guru, Mike Davis wishes it hadn’t happened on his watch.

The hype entering the tournament preparations was for controlled conditions beyond that ever seen at a U.S. Open – or any other tournament for that matter. After the fact, I found myself asking “what had happened?”


The USGA’s agronomic arm – the Green Section – has been touting their new Trufirm technology for measuring playing surface firmness and the extreme care and expense that went into rebuilding Congressional’s greens two years ago.


Sure the elements were against them, but with manufactured sand that was “better” than natural sand and a “water evacuation” system in each green, I was led to believe they thought they could control these issues. Even more puzzling was the lack of investigation by NBC. Johnny Miller and crew were too busy “pumping the tires” of this and that young pro’s perfect golf swings.


Granted, there were some very talented players, but for me, the U.S. Open is all about the course. It’s the only tournament in America that really tests all of a player’s skills by presenting firm and fast conditions and exacting shot making. If you look at the scores over the last 40 years, the average score to par is minus 5.8 (rounded to tenths) with the median number being minus 3. Discounting Rory McIlroy’s outlier of minus 16, you might say the

field still reflected that degree of difficulty – as the nearest competitor to the youngster was only minus 8. If you are thinking that, I’d have to disagree with you as the telling figure is the number of pros that completed the tournament under par – and that was 20. Never before have so many shot such low scores.

I certainly don’t think McIlroy’s win was a fluke. He’s been showing steady progress since he came on tour. At Augusta, the last major, he folded his tent in the final round. His effort at Congressional presented a similar situation – an extended lead before the final round – but this time he closed like the pro he is. For me, this progression reveals a true champion. McIlroy isn’t done. He’ll keep improving, but the hype about him beating Woods and Nicklaus major wins is ridiculous and insulting to all three.


Perhaps the “blame” for the scoring fiasco lies with Davis. Largely as a result of his skills and consequentially his reputation for U.S. Open course set-up, he became Executive Director of the USGA this spring. It really seems like a case where Davis did great work under supervision, but when let loose he went too far.


Is the Peter Principle at work here? Has Davis risen to his level of incompetence? It may be another year or so before we know that. Next year the Open will be played at Olympic Club in San Francisco. In the most recent four Opens held there, the winning scores were Even, minus 3, minus 2, and seven over par. If the winning score is lower than minus 5, Davis clearly didn’t learn anything from this year’s fiasco. If Davis was a political strategist he would appoint his protégé to do the Open course set up, otherwise he may lose the big burger – his Executive Director’s position. When a proud but arcane organization’s records are shattered, the Board isn’t pleased. The reputation of the U.S. Open and the USGA is at stake, so Davis had better get a clue. Fluke, Faux Pas or flat-out failure, the USGA lucked out and got a deserving champion in young McIlroy. Let’s hope Mike Davis learned as much in his first major as Executive Director as McIlroy learned at the Master’s.




If you missed the first installment of what promises to be a very entertaining series on the Golf Channel, I suggest you look for its inevitable re-run there. David Feherty’s interview with Lee Trevino was everything I thought it might be – fun, raucous, and yet poignant and moving. Trevino’s unprovoked admission to wishing “he was more like Jack Nicklaus as a father,” was as emotional as you probably have ever seen Lee.


The hour long show was filled with fun stories and even featured a clip of David doing “stand-up.” His gig featured his story as an elderly starter at the Royal Durbin Golf Club in Johannesburg South Africa. Unlike the British Open Starter Ivor Robson, this old coot was a bit long winded. When his run-on introductions at the first tee met headlong with quick playing South African Harold Henning….well, as you can imagine the result was hilarious. My advice – tee up Feherty! On the DVR every week.


A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:






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