Bumpy reaction to Chambers Bay’s greens
By Stephanie Wei under US Open


All week there was chatter about the poor condition of the greens at Chambers Bay. The pros expected better, especially at a U.S. Open, one of the four major championships in golf.

I learned in 2010 at the first U.S. Open I covered that talking to players on Sunday after they’re finished enduring what’s deemed as the toughest test of golf  is one of the most amusing days of the year — because they tend to vent and rant. However, this time around, there was plenty of complaints about the greens throughout the week. 

Ryan Moore, who grew up near the course and winner of three USGA championships, knew well in advance that the greens could be a problem. He even called the USGA before it held the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay to voice his concerns.

Turns out he was right.

Before the tournament started, I asked Matt Every what was the key component to playing well at Chambers Bay. “I think you need to get good bounces on five-footers to do well,” he said.

He was right, too.

Though in the end, Chambers Bay produced incredible drama and a thrilling finish — one for the ages and the history books. However, let’s take a look at some of the comments from the pros about the golf course, particularly the greens.

First, Henrik Stenson had an interesting description for the putting surfaces following Friday’s second round.

“It’s pretty much like putting on broccoli,” said the Swede. “So I don’t know what to say other than that, really. Obviously the way you play is going to affect in the scoring, but I’m sure many of my colleagues would kind of fall in on a few of those remarks.”

When world no. 1 Rory McIlroy was asked about Stenson’s comparison following the third round, he disagreed and had his own witty characterization.

“I don’t think they’re as green as broccoli,” said McIlroy, who finished T9. “I think they’re more like cauliflower.

“They are what they are, everyone has to putt on them. It’s all mental. Some guys embrace it more than others, and that’s really the way it is. It is disappointing that they’re not in a bit better shape. But the newer greens like 7 and 13, they’re perfect. They’re just — one grass, fescue, and the ball rolls really well on those. But it’s just the ones where the poa has sort of crept in and the two grasses grow at different speeds and that’s what gives it the bumpiness.”

Eventual U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth wasn’t a fan of aspects of the course setup, along with the greens, but he managed to overcome whatever qualms he had, obviously.

“It’s tricky because of the gravel, poa annua, fescue, whatever it is on these greens that are drying up, they putt a little different on those shorter putts,” said Spieth on Saturday. “I didn’t have many of the downhill ones the first two days. So today I was able to see that. But it’s tough to trust hitting those any harder than I am, because if it misses and you hit it any firmer, you’re going to have one that’s firmer coming back. They’re tough.”

Ian Poulter, who was critical of the course before he even saw Chambers Bay, stayed quiet all week — that is, until he was finished. Poulter posted a diatribe on Instagram.

I look forward to congratulating the 2015 US Open Champion very soon, I simply didn’t play well enough to be remotely close. This is not sour grapes or moaning or any of that crap. It simply the truth. Mike Davis the head of the @USGA unfortunately hasn’t spoke the truth about the conditions of the greens. I feel very sorry for the hundreds of greens staff who spent countless hours leading into this week and this week doing there best to have it the best they could and I thank them for that. But look at the picture. This was the surface we had to putt on. It is disgraceful that the @USGA hasn’t apologized about the greens they simply have said. “we are thrilled the course condition this week”. It wasn’t a bad golf course, In fact it played well and was playable. What wasn’t playable were the green surfaces. If this was a regular PGA tour event lots of players would have withdrawn and gone home on Wednesday, but players won’t do that for a major. They were simply the worst most disgraceful surface I have ever seen on any tour in all the years I have played. The US Open deserves better than that. And the extra money that they have earn’t this year from @FoxSports, they could easily have relayed the greens so we could have had perfect surfaces. Simply not good enough and deeply disappointing for a tournament of this magnitude. I don’t like it when people lie on camera to try and save face. And to all you fans that paid good money to try and watch us play golf but couldn’t see anything on most holes because it wasn’t possible to stand on huge slopes or see around stands, I apologize and I’m sorry you wasted your money traveling to be disappointed. I hope we all learn something moving forward to not have these problems in the future. Happy Fathers Day.

A photo posted by Ian Poulter (@ianjamespoulter) on

Reigning FedExCup champion Billy Horschel couldn’t wait to be finished, so he could go on a rant about the USGA and the golf course.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment all week,” said Horschel enthusiastically. “So I can be up here for an hour and I’ll keep going.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Horschel perhaps had the harshest words for the championship and the greens. He posted a three-under 67 in the final round to finish T25, but he felt like it could have been better had it not been for the shoddy putting surfaces.

“Obviously you’re going to find out who the best player is, but when you neglect one of the skills or take away one of the skills from a player, and that be putting, and if you’re a really good putter, a great putter, you know, and they take that away from you, you know, that’s what skill that you have above everybody else,” said Horschel.

“I understand Jordan is up by the leaderboard and he’s making plenty of putts. But I’m a really good putter as well, and I have not had a great week on the greens. And it’s not due to the fact that my stroke is off or my speed is off, I’ve hit a lot of really good putts that have bounced all over the world. So it’s just frustrating. I played awesome golf today. I played out my tail, out my ass, to shoot 3-under par. And I really felt like I should have shot 6, 7 or 8-under, but I wasn’t able to due to the fact that some of the putts I hit just hit some really bad spots on the greens and got off line and didn’t go in.”

Horschel was also very critical of the USGA, which puts on the U.S. Open.

“I think a lot of players, and I’m one of them, have lost some respect for the USGA and this championship this year for the greens,” he said. “And not only the greens, and one of the biggest issues I have is for the fans. Here we are in the Pacific Northwest, where we haven’t been since the late ’90s for the PGA Championship, and the viewing is awful.

“They tell the fans early in the week, Well, just sit in the stands and hopefully — and watch golf. I have my family here. I’m sure there are some fans that want to watch me, just like there’s fans that want to watch all these other great players here. And when you’re not able to get up close and watch championship caliber players play a golf course, it’s disappointing.

“I feel like the fans got robbed this week being able to get up close to the players and see the shots we hit and see the course to the degree that we see it. It’s frustrating that the USGA would — I don’t want to say come here, because I want to come here to the Pacific Northwest, but come to this golf course. And for them to say that this — for the architect, obviously I know who it was, (Robert) Trent Jones (Jr.), to say that they built this golf course for the U.S. Open is awful. I heard today that Mike Davis had input in this golf course, which makes it even — blows my mind even more that they would build a golf course and not think about the fans and the viewing aspect of it. Because that’s the greatest thing that we have.”

Two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els didn’t necessarily love the course, but he was more diplomatic.

“It’s different, we’ve all noted that,” said Els, smiling. “You know, I don’t think always a really good shot is rewarded. Bad shots can get a really good break. Of all the U.S Opens, you hit a bad shot and you get killed. You get into very deep rough and so on.  You can get lucky, get a  slope to play with. Those things happen and that’s the way the golf course was designed. So you got to go away with that. “I’m not going to criticize the design because I was talking about wine with the guys last night and some guys like certain types of wine and some people don’t, and it’s the same with golf course design — you like some and some people don’t like some.

“It’s the same for everyone, yes. But for a U.S. Open venue, you know, this is different. Very different what we’re used to paying, you know old traditional type courses where shotmaking is premium, accuracy is a premium, course strategy, all that is a premium.”

Added Els: “The greens basically aren’t living anymore. They’re gone.”

Jim Furyk also held back from voicing his true feelings. He said he was asked to go into the Fox Sports broadcasting booth, but he declined because “I don’t want to say anything bad and I don’t have anything nice to say right now.”

Zach Johnson declined an interview, saying, “Sorry, nothing positive would come out of my mouth right now.”

Morgan Hoffmann wasn’t complaining, rather stating facts, when he was asked about the greens.

“It’s unfortunate how the greens were this week,” said Hoffmann, who made it to the quarterfinals when the U.S. Amateur was held at Chambers in 2010. “I was talking to Mike Davis and he said the poa annua just creeped in a couple of weeks previous to us getting here. And it’s unfortunate because they didn’t roll very well, especially for a U.S. Open. But there were a few greens where it was just all fescue, like 10 and 7, I believe, which were great. And they rolled true. It’s just unfortunate that that had to happen. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault, but it was tough to putt on, for sure.”

Hoffmann said some greens were simply “dead,” like on the 4th and 8th holes, but the 12th was by far the “worst.” He also described the ninth green as having “crazy broccoli action.”

Chris Kirk, who posted a 10 on the opening hole on Sunday, was among the players who were critical. He posted the following tweets to express his frustration. 

Meanwhile, there were players who were on the other side of the argument. Geoff Ogilvy, a golf architecture guru, was the most eloquent.

“The course is definitely a tough enough test,” said Ogilvy. “Logistically, it seems to have its issues. But I didn’t have to follow me, you know what I mean? Which apparently is quite difficult. But we don’t play — well, apart from Pebble and Torrey, it’s an equal setting, it’s pretty stunning. I didn’t expect it to be this beautiful here, I guess. Maybe I was expecting it to rain and be cold like everyone says Seattle rains all the time. I had a good time.

“As I said, logistically it seems to have its problems, but as far as the holes and the golf it asks you to play, I think I told someone earlier in the week, whoever wins is going to be a quality player. You have to move the ball both ways, you have to use your brain which is a rare thing in modern golf and something we’re not very good at, I don’t think. It’s going to be a class act of a player who wins, and really that’s all you want. Sometimes in U.S. Opens it feels like that might not be the case, and this one I think the guy who plays the best is going to win, I think.

“There’s a lot of talk about the greens and stuff like that, but forever great putters have putted well on bad greens, forever. So I think great putters don’t like putting on greens that are bumpy, but they usually putt quite well. I think people who are struggling with their putting really have trouble on the bad greens and good putters just get on with it. I think there’s a lot about it that makes it a really good venue.”

Well said. Complaints and exasperated players are nothing new to a U.S. Open. Like I said, I remember covering my first one — the 2010 edition at Pebble Beach — and I was startled by the amount of ranting from players on Sunday after they walked off the golf course and signed their scorecards. It was quite amusing, to be honest.

“Look, it’s frustrating to play a U.S. Open,” said Ogilvy. “It’s very difficult when you get someone five minutes off, they walk up here, to not be frustrated. Because it’s frustrating, anyway. And if you have a couple of bad putts on the last few holes, guys are going to be a bit annoyed about it. That’s probably fair enough. As I said, we’re so spoiled, we get such perfect surfaces and such perfect conditions everywhere we play. We’re just not used to seeing it.

“The average guy probably plays on surfaces like this all the time. They’re probably like, these guys, what are they talking about? I’m sure the USGA would have preferred them to be better, but they did the best that they could with whatever happened. And someone is going to be holding the trophy at the end of the day, and there won’t be a mention of the greens. In a week’s time no one will even think about it.”

Ogilvy also is a fan of the direction that USGA Executive Director Mike Davis is taking with the national championship.

“I like the golf that it got us to play,” said Ogilvy of Chambers Bay. “We play so much restrictive, narrow, soft golf that the last two years the setups have been — setting a responsible example for how golf is supposed to be played. It’s not supposed to be over watered, it’s supposed to turn brown, the ball is supposed to roll when it lands. This has been a pretty extreme example, obviously, but the USGA — it feels like through their setup at the last U.S. Opens, Mike and the USGA are trying to set an example of let’s stop putting so much water on golf courses and let’s let the ball roll. Showing there’s more ways to make a golf course difficult, than just making it narrow and soft and small targets.

“This is the widest U.S. Open I’ve ever seen. The last two years have been the widest two U.S. Opens ever, and they’ve both been really, really difficult. Not my favorite course, but I like what they’re doing. I like the idea behind it.”

Brandt Snedeker, who quietly finished eighth, defended the course, as well.

“I had a blast,” said Snedeker, who is considered one of the best putters in the game. “I understand guys were complaining about the greens, whatever it might be. But I played on quite a few greens that were just as bad, if not worse, than this on the PGA Tour. I think we get kind of in the moment of the tournament and get wrapped up in everything, and everything at majors seems to be turned on overdose. Every little thing sets you off. I thought the ball rolled fine, and if you hit good putts they’ll go in.

“You can’t beat the venue. The vistas out there were gorgeous. I thought the golf course played great. And you’re going to have a great champion. The guys on the top of the leaderboard are all quality players and are going to be great champions. I think it’s a great venue.”

Now that the pros have spoken their peace, what are your thoughts?