DUBLIN, Ohio – Adam Scott, at age 36, is one of the most polite, soft-spoken and respected veteran players on the PGA Tour. Much like E.F. Hutton, when he speaks up, people tend to listen.
His message to the U.S. Golf Association in the days leading up to the 117th U.S. Open? Let’s get this one right, folks.
Scott subscribes to the premise that the USGA pushes too hard to get courses right to the edge with a target winning score of even par, and believes it behooves the organization to take a bigger view of its role in trying to govern and even grow the game.
“Maybe it’s time to do away with the even-par target, just thinking about the bigger picture of the game of golf,” Scott said after finishing up at Memorial on Sunday, where he shot 74 to finish at 1-under 287.
“If their major pinnacle event for them requires courses to be the way they are, it doesn’t set a good example for every other bit of golf that they try to promote. Maybe we should get the numbers out of our heads and try a new strategy.”
For clarity, the USGA for years has said it has no target winning score at its premier championship. But remove the 2011 U.S. Open, where Rory McIroy shot 16-under 268 at a rain-soaked Congressional, and in the last 10 other Opens, the average winning score is minus-1.
On the heels of controversial greens conditions at Chambers Bay, a first-time venue, in 2015, and a rules controversy hovering over its eventual winner (Dustin Johnson) for six holes at Oakmont last June (he was penalized after play for his ball moving on the fifth green), the USGA realizes its reputation and mission has been questioned. In heading to another first-time venue at Erin Hills, there is an inherent pressure that the championship not be overshadowed by the golf course or by the rules.
Does Scott believe the USGA is feeling some heat?
“Absolutely,” he said. “They’ve taken criticism for the last two years, I’m sure they’re not liking it. They’re going to have to try to run a really good event. The ball is in their court; they control it all. Hopefully they get it right this time, just from a playability standpoint. Let’s just have something that’s a challenge and interesting, not just playing brutal (golf).”
Scott was headed directly from Ohio to Wisconsin for two days of practice at Erin Hills, and then will fly to Memphis for the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He will be competing in his 16th U.S. Open, and has registered top-10 finishes in two of the last three years. His best finish (T-4) came at Chambers Bay two years ago.
Phil Mickelson was asked at The Players if the USGA is under extra scrutiny to stage a controversy-free U.S. Open. His answer? It doesn’t matter. It’s the U.S. Open, and people are going to play it regardless (though Mickelson will likely miss this one to attend his daughter Amanda’s high school commencement).
Asked if criticism pointed at the USGA has been fair, Scott said he thought it was.
“I think they’ve really dropped the ball with where the game is at, over the last 20 years especially,” Scott said. “I know their intent is not to do that. I don’t question their intent at all. … I guess their primary role of administering and looking after the game, they’ve kind of dropped the ball in that sense and gotten worried about other things.”
Scott reiterated that he believed the USGA’s overall intentions are fine, but the execution doesn’t always follow. The USGA has shown a willingness to try to improve relations, even sending CEO/executive director Mike Davis to sit down with the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council at Colonial. But the USGA’s actions must catch up with the words.
“Whether it’s rules changes or any other decisions they make, I think their process is out,” Scott said. “I just don’t see how they get to some of these decisions. . . . They’re hanging onto the Rules of Golf by a thread, really. That’s why they’re panicky and they’re trying to see what’s going on out here on Tour.”