Players rain criticism on USGA, 7th hole

Lack of watering of greens among many complaints

June 21, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - Tiger Woods took 290 shots to get around Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in the 104th U.S. Open. He took one last swing shortly after finishing yesterday's closing round with a 6-over-par 76, aiming directly at those in the U.S. Golf Association who set up what he and many others thought was an unfair test.

"I think they lost control of the golf course; that's obvious," said Woods, whose 10-over score left him tied for 17th and whose streak of winless majors stretched to eight. "It's terrible. Our national championship, and they lost control of the golf course."

It was a tough week for the USGA, which had nasty pin placements on many holes, accidentally rolled the seventh green on Saturday - making it even more firm - and had to water the same baked-out green periodically yesterday.

The issue of the watering procedure drew the ire of many players.

"I thought it was ridiculous," said Jeff Maggert, who finished third with a 1-over-par 281 after shooting a 2-over 72 yesterday. "I was waiting for the water."

Maggert went as far as to ask some USGA officials if the green was going to be watered.

"They said, `We water it when we feel like it,' " Maggert said later.

Walter Driver, chairman of the championship committee, tried to deflect the criticism.

"It's interesting. I was here yesterday and there was nothing but compliments about the golf course and the setup and the conditioning other than the seventh hole," he said.

"The golf course was very hard, but let's keep this in perspective. This is the third modern Open at Shinnecock. In 1986, 1-under won the tournament. In 1995, even par won the tournament. So this is a very difficult golf course."

It was perhaps the most criticism the USGA had endured during the Open since 1998 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Where most of the comments six years ago were directed toward the setup of the 18th hole, a majority here centered on the par-3 seventh hole.

The criticism wasn't only from the players. Yesterday, when a tee shot by Charles Howell III hit 20 feet right of the cup and rolled past the flag and wound up in a green-side bunker, the fans booed the hole.

After the first two groups of the day played the seventh hole 10-over-par - three triple bogeys and a bogey by Billy Mayfair, who had putted off the green into a bunker - the USGA decided it needed to water the hole every two or three groups.

"Being the first group off, we were kind of like the guinea pigs out there," said J.J. Henry, who made one of the triples. "From what I understand, they've been syringing a lot of the greens. Unfortunately not for us. We putt out on the 18th hole and they're syringing the green as we leave."

Said Mayfair, who shot an 89 yesterday: "I better not say anything."

The average score in the final round was 78.7, prompting former PGA and Masters champion Vijay Singh to give this answer when Jerry Kelly asked him what he shot. "Par," said Singh, who shot 78.

Said Kelly, who shot an 81 in the final round: "They've done it again. I think they've topped themselves this year. It was a little comical."

Asked about the stroke average, Driver said, "I don't know that the USGA has a position on what the stroke average should be. I personally would rather not be here discussing it right now, so for that reason I'd rather have a lower stroke average, but we couldn't control it."

Kelly had a word of advice for the USGA going into next year's Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina: "Get off your high horse and be good to the game. ... Let's see some fair, good golf. Who cares how the course holds up?"

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