Image courtesy of USA Today Photography.
IUSportCom’s John Bauernfeind chronicles Webb Simpson’s U.S Open victory, and questions golf’s apparent lack of following.
This past weekend, sports leagues from different continents combined to give the avid sports fan a dream weekend. There were major league baseball games, Euro 2012, and a Fatherâ€™s day collision between the NBA Finals and the final round of the 112th U.S. Open. Needless to say, after my eighteen holes of golf with my father earlier in the day, I proceeded to watch eighteen more.
Though there is no doubt in my mind that the third game of the NBA Finals drew a larger audience than did the final round at Olympic Golf Club, I never once changed the channel from NBCâ€™s coverage. To an outsider, the 2012 U.S. Open featured poor golf, with errant shots flying across fairways leading to an unknown player in Webb Simpson winning his first major title. But to a golf fanatic, this past U.S. Open was a major championship at its finest.
The U.S. Open is the toughest test of a golferâ€™s ability, with skinny fairways, rough that swallows errant tee shots, and greens that often brown in color by the end of the week from a lack of water that keeps them rock-hard and fast. There are no such things as so-called â€˜birdieâ€™ holes, and a bogey can sometimes feel like a par. Not only does the USGA (United States Golf Association) test a golferâ€™s ability to play the game, but it also tests their mental capacity to maintain focus. If youâ€™re not quite getting how challenging the U.S. Open is, Phil Mickelson, playing in the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, thought the rough to be absurdly long, and felt that some golfers would injure themselves or maybe even break a wrist when hitting out of the elongated grass.
So when I first tuned in and saw the fog rolling in over Olympic Club in San Francisco, creating an eerie feeling across the layout of the course, I couldnâ€™t have been more pleased, knowing that for one more day, the best golfers in the world would look like absolute hacks in front of millions of people. And as scores began dropping, slowly but surely, and the faces of players in contention looked dogged, I knew that, once again, the U.S. Open had bested the field.
Webb Simpson eventually came through, winning both the tournament and the ardor of the San Francisco fans. But Simpson did not come out unscathed, as his score of plus-one for the tournament was seventeen shots behind Rory McIlroyâ€™s final tally at the previous yearâ€™s Open, at Congressional.
Simpson finished with a final score of 281, but shot 4-under par on the weekend. Though he was four pairings ahead of the final tandem of Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell, Simpson entered the clubhouse with a one stroke lead over Furyk. What eventually panned out is now well known, as Furyk spiraled out of contention and McDowell missed what would have been the tying birdie putt by a half foot. And so, at 26 years of age and playing in only his second U.S. Open, Webb Simpson won one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year, and by doing so had managed, at the very least, serious consideration for the Ryder Cup Team. Yes, winning a major championship sure does have its benefits.
But while Simpsonâ€™s wife was asking him for permission to scream in the clubhouse, most of America was glued to the NBA Finals. Granted, the game is played at a much faster pace, and it is easier for an audience to appreciate a slam dunk more so than a smoothly hit approach shot. But I find it disturbing that more people saw Dwayne Wade routinely cry for fouls than Simpsonâ€™s up and down on eighteen, from a green-side lie that was buried in the rough.
Professional golf is still in a transition period following the fallout of one of the most recognizable athletes to ever play a sport. Golf is in the midst of a period of change, where younger players and newer faces are seemingly competing in and winning more tournaments than in years previous. What has not yielded in the face of change, however, are the major championships. The Masters, the U.S. Open, and the British Open (yes, the PGA Championship is considered the fourth major, but what really is unique or challenging about it?) have all stayed true to their individual prowess, entertaining onlookers while befuddling pros.
At Olympic Club, the course did not wilt to the precision and power of its challengers; rather it sent them packing with a swift kick. Not only did Webb Simpson win, but so did Olympic Club, the city of San Francisco, and golf fans in general. Golf is an intricate game, with rough to go along fairway, bunkers to edge greens, and mental capacity to complement talent. It does not merely gauge accuracy or distance; rather, golf, especially the U.S. Open, encompasses everything about a golferâ€™s game, from strong will to the wisdom of a caddy. At Olympic, Webb Simpsonâ€™s stars aligned, and by the end of the long week, he was a first-time champion.