Correction/clarification: A previous version of this column mischaracterized the availability of the USGA’s U.S. Open app. The app was available on Apple TV, and the USGA reports it had few complaints in reviews in the Apple TV store.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Besides Gary Woodland, the 2019 U.S. Open Champion and runaway biggest winner of the week, it was a busy week at Pebble Beach.
USGA Course Setup
With their organization’s reputation on the line, they preached a gradual green speed roll out, incorporation of wetting agents and a more careful approach. The team of John Bodenhamer, Jeff Hall, Darin Bevard, Jason Gore and Nick Price made clear they listened and made Pebble Beach and the players the story.
The best U.S. Open venue, period. Even with gloomy weather during tournament days, the beauty never ceases to amaze. The week was a reminder that there is no better place to contest the national championship.
Played as the toughest hole in 2010 when the green could not be held. Since restored with over 1,000 square feet of space returned, the 17th averaged 3.257 to rank 4th. The restoration of Chandler Egan’s outlandish hourglass-shaped design created the opportunity for Gary Woodland to get up-and-down. His 90-foot wedge shot join the pantheon of unforgettable Pebble Beach U.S. Open moments.
The much-maligned weed that is the putting surface on most courses in cool climates was not the story after improved practices by the USGA and Pebble Beach superintendent Chris Dahlhamer. Those wetting agent studies paid off, as did a more sane approach to speed heading into the U.S. Open.
Wins the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach and sticks around as an amateur in order to return in the U.S. Open and to break Jack Nicklaus’s amateur scoring record.
Fox’s live drone
Some of the most stunning visuals ever seen in sports coverage came via the drone roaming Stillwater Cove. Huge plaudits to producer Mark Loomis and director Steve Biem for occasionally sticking with the live shot as a player was hitting their shot, adding to the grandeur of the sea gull’s view.
Fox has taken a while to grasp how to break away from golf for local sights and sounds. But outstanding looks at the Tap Room and the young woman removing golf balls in Stillwater Cove were accented by fun historical pieces on Eddie Lowery and Samuel Morse to give the broadcast the kind of golfing soul sometimes missed in the early years of coverage.
Rules of Golf
After so much early season bickering, the rules rarely came up all week. Thankfully for Fox’s in-booth rules expert David Fay, he is not paid by the word.
The agency reportedly lost Patrick Cantlay as a client before the week started but had clients Gary Woodland and Justin Rose in the final pairing, with Woodland joining the major club and all that goes with winning.
Almost old guys
The top 11 (Tie 9th and ties) sport an average age of 33.27, headlined by winner Gary Woodland (35).
The Par 5’s. Pebble Beach’s normally stout three-shotters took a beating, giving up 28 of the 33 eagles for the week and playing as three of the five easiest holes. The sixth played at 4.585 while the 18th was 4.887, the first time in six U.S. Opens the home hole averaged under par. There were many irons hit into the finisher and six eagles for the week, double the total of the previous five U.S. Opens here.
Fans on site
Most elements of the fan infrastructure and experience were impressive and noticeably better than previous U.S. Opens here. But monster shuttle bus lines suggested the USGA and Pebble Beach Company sold too many tickets on a course with so many one-sided viewing holes. Also pointed out by irritated fans: empty VIP ticket areas behind many greens as nearby grandstands featured wedge-shot long lines.
USGA chief commercial officer Navin Singh and new partner Cisco promised a “first-of-its-kind course wide Wi-Fi network that gives us speed and confidence to dynamically deliver content and new personalized digital experiences to our fans.” For this writer, the network was impossible to get on at times.
Streaming and apps
Fans reported issues with the streaming apps in reviews found in the Apple app store. From crashing to constant freezing issues with Featured Group coverage, the experience was aggravating for some. Scoring pages not loading proved aggravating. The Masters app, it was not.
Fox did not provide nearly enough of Ken Brown’s always insightful looks into the venue.
Persistent fog cut down on the amount of sunscreen needed all week. That’s about the only thing not moving in the merchandise tent where vendor reported brisk sale.
Despite rounds of 69-69-68-68, lost the chance to win three U.S. Open’s in a row, which what might have been his greatest feat yet in his historic run. Please Brooks, don’t get mad you made the losers list. But if you do, cite golfweek.com.