Wow, what a week! The U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club looked like it might turn into a farce at the start of the week, with the record-high rainfall and potential wash-out on Thursday, but in the end, everything worked out and the USGA and course walked away as the biggest winners. In fact, I might go as far to say that it was the best one I’ve seen in the past five years — four of which I covered and one that I spectated.
Justin Rose deserves all the credit in the world. When the going got tough on Sunday, he buckled down, minimized his mistakes and won his first major for his father, who passed away more than a decade ago.
Even the 1950 U.S. Open champ Ben Hogan would have been proud of that 4-iron Rose hit into the famed 18th hole. Rose, known for his ballstriking, would have given Hogan a run for his money. Well played, Rosey.
Here now — as you know, I’ve been experimenting with various formats — are the top 10 moments/things I’ll remember from the final round at the 113th U.S. Open (in no particular order).
*Justin Rose does it for Dad and Ben Hogan: After Rose putted out, he looked to the sky and pointed upward in honor of his father, who lost his battle to leukemia 12 years ago.
Following his first major victory, Rose said, who shot one-over for the week: “The look up to the heavens was absolutely for my dad. Father’s Day was not lost on me today. You don’t have opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love. And today was about him and being Father’s Day. I got a beautiful text that said go out and be the man your dad taught you to be and be the man that your kids can be proud and look up to. That’s how I tried to carry myself out there. My dad was the inspiration the whole day.
“I was trying to keep it together, obviously, because I didn’t want to be premature. Phil had two holes to play. But that was my time, the clouds had parted, it was kind of iconic. It was just a beautiful evening. And the way it worked out, I felt like I needed to do that.”
Rose, who is one of the best ballstrikers in the game, has had a steep learning curve after breaking out at the British Open in 1998 with a fourth-place finish at the young of 17. Turns out he might not have been ready for the bigs and he went on to miss 21 straight cuts at one point. He struggled to close out tournaments when he first came out on the PGA Tour and finally got that first win at the 2010 Memorial Tournament and then quickly clinched his second at the 2010 AT&T National at Aronimink, just a few miles from Merion.
I wondered how he’d hold up coming down the stretch under the gun at a major and he answered by bombing his drive on the long par-4 18th. Then, as he walked up the 18th fairway and saw the plaque honoring Ben Hogan’s 1-iron that got him in a playoff he ultimately won in the 1950 U.S. Open, he knew it was his turn.
“It’s hard not to play Merion and envision yourself hitting the shot that Hogan did,” said Rose, who is the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open in over 40 years. “Even in the moment today, that was not lost on me.
“When I walked over the hill and saw my drive sitting perfectly in the middle of the fairway, with the sun coming out, it was kind of almost fitting. And I just felt like at that point it was a good iron shot on to the green, two putts, like Hogan did, and possibly win this championship. So I felt like I did myself justice and probably put enough of a good swing where Ben Hogan might have thought it was a decent shot too.”
Well played. Sometimes nice guys do finish first!
*Jason Day’s gutsy performance: Day is turning into the new Angel Cabrera! — he just shows up at majors. No, just kidding, but it’s truly impressive. He now has four top-five finishes at major championships and two this year. Day gave Rose a run at the trophy, but he made a few too many mistakes to pull it off. He sure showed balls and heart, winning over many, many fans.
Now, the shot of the day — at least that I saw in person — was most definitely the chip-in for bogey on no. 11. Day hit his drive in the right rough, and even though he was inside 100 yards, he had a tough shot and caught it a little heavy, which ended up in Cobbs Creek. After he dropped, his second pitch also almost got wet, but stay up about a foot. He knew he had to make the chip to keep the momentum going, which wasn’t easy, and indeed he did. I had legit goosebumps for about three holes.
“Up to that moment I was actually moving in the right direction,” said Day, who shot a final-round 71. “Then I kind of stumbled a little bit. But if I didn’t get that up and down, I may have had a triple. I think it was a momentum save for myself. If there was ever a good bogey in a U.S. Open that was a good bogey, to chip that in and keep myself in the game was a very positive thing.”
*Phil Mickelson’s sixth heartbreak: The Philly fans were rooting for Phil to finally win that elusive U.S. Open, but instead, he came up short again and had to settle with his sixth runner-up finish (he already held the record at five). While he hadn’t made a double-bogey at Merion heading into the final round, he posted two on Sunday, including the 266-yard par-3 3rd hole. As he was walking up to the green, he turned to a USGA official and snipped, “274 yards? You can’t get there with a driver!” He has a point. It’s a tad extreme.
Of all his close calls, Phil said losing this one stings the most.
“Very possibly, yeah,” said Phil when asked if his second-place finish felt the hardest to stomach. “I would say it very well could be. I think this was my best chance. I think that the way that I was playing heading in, the position I was in and the way I love the golf course. It gave me chances to make birdies. I didn’t really make any, but there were opportunity after opportunity, after you get by the 6th hole. And even the 6th hole, I had a great look at it.
“But this one’s probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record. Except I just keep feeling heartbreak.”
Okay, that really makes me feel for Phil. Hopefully he’ll get another shot and finally win this darn thing!
Perhaps he lost it before the tournament even started — a combination of flying across the country on his jet for his daughter’s eighth grade graduation and trying to be the smartest guy in the field when he took driver out of his bag and threw in an extra wedge.
*Luke Donald shaken by freak accident: Donald had some bad luck and smacked a girl with his drive on the par-3 third hole, which threw him off the rest of the day.
“She was in some pain and felt a little bit faint, and I felt a little bit faint, too, watching it,” said Donald, who went on to make three consecutive bogeys, then a double-bogey. “Unfortunately you never like that to happen, and it was a very tough break for her.”
Tough break for Luke, too. To be fair, he wasn’t used to hitting driver on a par-3.
*Steve Stricker’s shanky start: Pretty sure no one would have minded if Stricker was hoisting the trophy on the 18th green at Merion, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. He might finish his career as the best player without a major, but he’s also the best guy out here — and at the end of the day, he has his priorities straight. The 46-year-old Stricker cut back on his playing schedule at the start of the year to spend more time with his family, so he’ll sleep just fine tonight.
“I’m way easier on myself,” said Stricker when asked if his attitude toward majors had changed in recent years. “I’m not over this yet, but it won’t take me long to get over this. Golf is not the thing in my life as it once was. That was the reason why I scaled back. So I’m excited to go home. I’m excited to do some different things at home and get some time away again and get ready and come back in three weeks.
“So it’s kind of taken a back seat. I’m fine with that. I’m good with that. Sure, I’m disappointed I didn’t play better today and have a chance to win, but, like I say, it’s secondary in my life now, or even further back. We’ve got kids and wives and other things like that that’s more important. So I can get over this rather quickly, I think.”
*Hunter Mahan’s major day will come: Mahan’s game is very similar to Rose — great ballstriker who’s weakness usually comes around the greens — and they even share a swing coach, Sean Foley. No doubt he’ll find his stride and close out that major in the foreseeable future.
“You know, I feel happy for Foley because some doubt his teaching and stuff, so I feel good for him,” said Mahan who finished T4, his best at a major. “We had two guys up there trying to win a major. Not a lot of teachers can say that. Justin is a really good guy. He’s got loads of talent, a great game, a great work ethic. He’s just one of those guys that had to keep plugging along, and keep trusting himself, more than anything else, just trust his abilities, because his abilities are really second to none.”
If anything, watching Rose win only gives him more confidence.
“I stepped on the tee today knowing I was going to win, and left the 18th green knowing I could win,” he said. “It’s all good.”
And he also has karma on his side. Some of you may have seen my tweet, but during Mahan’s mini-presser, I kept trying to get in my question, but I kept being overpowered by guys with deeper, louder voices. When the USGA guy said that the interview was over, Mahan, who had noticed my frustration and efforts, said, “Go ahead, Wei.”
Players don’t usually do that. Ever. That made Hunter no. 1 in my book. I’ll be forever grateful. Thanks, H! Oh, and bonus points for even pronounced it right — “Way” — but I guess he should since I’ve been out here covering these guys for a couple of years now.
*Padraig Harrington loves U.S. Opens (yes, he’s crazy): Harrington, who finished T21, is probably the only guy who enjoys the strenuous test of a U.S. Open. When he met with us after his round, the first words out of his mouth: “I left shots out there. I wish every week was a U.S. Open.”
When I told him he was the only guy who had said that, he looked surprised and said, “Really?” Yep. “I wish I played the U.S. Open every week.”
The lifespan for a Tour player would decrease exponentially, but Paddy is one of a kind. Great guy.
*Rory McIlroy breaks his wedge out of frustration: Bend it like, Rory? After the 2011 U.S. Open champ dumped two in Cobbs Creek on no. 11, he stopped in the fairway and stepped on his wedge to break it. He didn’t snap it, but it certainly bent to the point that he couldn’t use it for the remainder of the day (c’mon, at least snap it so you can throw it in the water, too!). I’m sure he survived and got some satisfaction.
“I just hit a bad tee shot into the creek there, and what you don’t want to do as a golfer is follow one mistake with another, and that’s what I did,” said Rory, who shot a final-round 76. “And obviously I got a bit frustrated there. Yeah, it’s a hole that you want to try to take advantage of. It’s a hole that you want to at least give yourself a birdie chance. And you walk off with a quad and it’s not very good.”
So, you were frustrated?
“Yeah, exactly,” he said. “I think that’s what this tournament does to you. At one point or another it’s got the better of you, and it definitely did this weekend.”
*Sergio Garcia has an especially tough day from the Philly fans: Okay, Sergio has already been tortured enough. I really do feel bad for him now. He’s apologized and apologized and the fans at Merion took on his challenge — after Saturday’s round he said the fans needs to be more creative. And they sure were. The reporters following him said they had at least three pages of comments they heard from hecklers. Lots of renditions of “chicken,” apparently.
He was clearly vexed following his round. I’ll just copy the dialogue he had with us.
Q. Do you think some of the fans were a little unfair to you?
SERGIO GARCIA: I don’t know. You ask them that.
Q. Coming to 18, you went over to the gallery and it looked like you gave away your golf ball or what did you give away and why did you give it away?
SERGIO GARCIA: Well, somebody shouted did you make another 8? And I just went over there and gave her my signed glove.
Q. Was this a tough week for you with all the controversy surrounding you with regard?
SERGIO GARCIA: What do you think? What do you think?
Q. The Tiger controversy?
SERGIO GARCIA: What do you think?
Q. I think it was very tough.
SERGIO GARCIA: Okay.
Well, at least he’s learned to keep his mouth shut?
*Tiger Woods still major-less in five years: It’s all starting to become a bit troubling. First, there was The Memorial, and now, he stunk on the weekend, kind of like he did last year after playing beautifully the first two rounds at Olympic. I think the pressure is getting to him, which is causing him to press when things aren’t going his way. His scrambling was awful, and his putter has saved him for most of the year, but he’s put too much pressure on the flat stick, so when that turns cold, he shoots high scores.
Tiger finished a mediocre 32nd place. Now, he could have been DFL and it wouldn’t have mattered because if he doesn’t secure the W, he might as well be DFL.
“There’s always a lesson to be learned in every tournament whether you win or lose,” said Woods. “I’ll look back at the things I did right and the things I did wrong.”
Well, what did you do right and what did you do wrong?
“I did a lot of things right,” said the ever-transparent Woods. “Unfortunately I did a few things wrong, as well.”
*Jason Dufner’s scorecard: As you may recall, Dufner threw his club in the hazard in the third round and then picked it up and tossed it again by the green. That’s what the U.S. Open does to you. S**t happens and it drives you absolutely bonkers. (Kevin Chappell broke his putter behind the scoring trailer and talked about throwing it in the crapper. He didn’t end up doing it and instead took it with him for something I’m sure he had planned.) Well, Dufner had the round of Sunday, along with Hideki Matsuyama, and for a moment, it looked like he may have one of those backdoor wins, where the field would come all the way back to him, but then he triple-bogeyed no. 15 and settled with T4.
Alright, it’s late, so that’s all for now. Hope you all enjoyed watching this thrilling U.S. Open at Merion.