Open Championship Thoughts
The 2015 Open Championship was so wonderfully weird and awesome. We had the best young American player in decades chasing history, compelling talents trying to climb the major mountain for the first time and a legend said goodbye to the world’s most iconic venue. If that wasn’t enough, we had a weather delay that seemed incredibly avoidable and the 54-hole lead was shared by an a relatively obscure amateur attempting to become the first non-professional to win the Open sine Bobby Jones in 1930. In short, it was a lot of fun and one of the best major championships we’ve seen in a long, long time. Below are some thoughts on the events that unfolded over the past five days as we saw Zach Johnson become the 2015 Champion Golfer of the Year.
Zach Johnson wins in playoff
When it became apparent that 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson was making a run, my Twitter timeline turned from excited to an angry pitchfork mob in an awful hurry. Johnson didn’t have the appeal of any of the others at the top of the board because he doesn’t bomb the ball and from a personality perspective, he can be about as interesting as a Tiger Woods press conference, but I was shocked that people seemed to be openly rooting against a guy who by all accounts is about as genuine as they come. His game might not be exciting, but when he’s on, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anyone better with a wedge and even though he loses a lot in distance, he’s almost impossible to beat when he’s hitting them as close as he was. When he’s off, he’s got no chance to win any tournament, much less an Open, but I enjoyed watching him dissect the Old Course with crazy precision on Monday.
Jordan Spieth’s Grand Slam chase ends
Back in January last year, I wrote a piece about Spieth and how the reaction around him reminded me so much of Sergio Garcia when he first came on the scene. At that point, Spieth had played in three majors as a professional and had one tournament win on the PGA Tour, and there were people out there wondering about his ability to close out tournaments, which obviously seems crazy when you look back on it now, but it was a thing, even with Spieth being only 20 years old at the time. Fast forward sixteen months, and Spieth has seemingly taken the game over, winning the first two majors of 2015 and just missing out on the Johnson-Oosthuizen-Leishman playoff by one shot.
It’s been utterly enthralling to watch and even though it was the number one storyline heading into the Open, it still seemed like it was flying under the radar, as if someone goes for the single season grand slam on a yearly basis. Maybe it’s just the nature of the beast now with Twitter and how fast we are to analyze everything, but we were SO close to seeing Spieth win the first three majors of the year and it just seemed to me like people were treating it as if he was winning three of the wraparound season events.
When Spieth hit that putt on 16 to tie for the lead, Golf Twitter exploded and the weird thing was, no one seemed all that surprised that the ball dropped. We shouldn’t expect putts like that to go in, and yet, this is what Spieth has done to us. We expect the sublime and seem genuinely perplexed when anything less than that comes to fruition.
Don’t read or buy into any of the hot take bullshit around how he choked because that’s nowhere near what happened. He got beaten by one shot over 72 holes. As good as he is, he’s not going to win every tournament he enters, but at this point, you shouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the conversation every weekend he decides to tee it up and he’s going to win more often than most.
Dustin Johnson’s collapse
He was a perfect fit for the golf course. He was in the perfect position to win the tournament with a one-shot lead heading into the third round. He was in a perfect spot to prove that every narrative around him was simply not true. Then, Dustin Johnson pulled off the perfect Dustin Johnson.
Back to back 75’s in the final two rounds ensured that the 36-hole leader barely stayed inside the top-50. The way he played in the final two rounds, in mostly benign conditions, was a shocking display that you wouldn’t expect from a random pro that you’ve never heard of, much less one of the most talented players in the world. Sunday’s third round 75 bested one player in the field, New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, and Monday’s final round 75 only beat a few guys as well.
I don’t know how you go about fixing this because on the surface, there’s nothing to fix. There is absolutely zero reason why this keeps happening on the biggest stages from a physical perspective, and while some have pointed at his caddie, brother Austin Johnson as one potential cause, I’m not sure how anyone can definitively say that’s the reason why Dustin and majors don’t go together. He’s won nine times on the PGA Tour, so he’s been successful, but he’s built up some impressively bad major scarring that has to be penetrating his mind at this point and Whistling Straits is just going to bring those to the fore again next month.
I wasn’t as hard on Fox as some people were for their U.S. Open coverage, but ESPN showed everyone how golf should be done on television with their performance in one of the most difficult scenarios imaginable for a broadcaster. On Friday, they were on the air for over thirteen hours straight and because of the difficulties around the delays, their schedules were all over the place but they never missed any live action. Compare that with the BBC, who were routinely ripped for their coverage, and you realize how lucky we were in North America that ESPN took it as seriously as they did.
On top of that, the crew of Mike Tirico, Scott Van Pelt, Paul Azinger and the rest provided insight in a fun and informative way and the usual high production value never wavered. ESPN consistently has the best golf broadcasts of the year, and I wish that we saw them do it more often.
Sergio Garcia makes another run but comes up short
Even though many were discussing how Sergio was in the perfect chasing position for Monday’s final round, a win still seemed unlikely and it was cemented with back to back bogeys on the back nine, which eventually led to him finishing in a tie for sixth place, three shots out of the playoff. However, there was a moment on Sunday that really drove home the idea that, at least from a personality perspective, this is a different Sergio Garcia than we’ve seen in the past.
He was playing with Spieth and as the two made their way to the 18th, Sergio teed up the ball out of turn and realized it before sending it away. The reaction, from Sergio and Spieth, the crowd and the broadcasters, was priceless, as everyone thought it was the funniest thing imaginable. This came after both players had been talking all round and congratulating each other after every shot, and when Spieth was cornered by Tom Rinaldi after the round, he talked about how much fun it is to play with Sergio. Yes, we’re talking about this guy:
Sergio might never win a major, some never do despite immense talent, but there’s no doubt that he’s in a better place mentally than he’s ever been. If you had asked the players on tour ten years ago about Sergio and Phil Mickelson, the reaction would have been off the charts negative, but now, that’s done a complete 180 and both guys are looked at in a positive light as elder statesmen and guys that the other players actually want to be around. The good news for Sergio is that at 35, he’s one of the best ball strikers in the world and even with the young guys on tour, he’s still got more than enough time and game to get at least one major championship win.
Paul Dunne’s incredible run
There was no more surprising story during the week than that of Paul Dunne, the 80th ranked amateur in the world who held a share of the 54-hole lead and played with Oosthuizen in the final group after a third round 66. No one truly expected him to hang on during Monday’s final round, and the 78 that he fired was evidence of that, but it was fun to watch and further proof that at this level, the players are all so good that it allows for stories like this to be told, even at major championships.
Unfortunately, due to his amateur status, he didn’t collect a paycheque, which means that the pros in the field got his earnings along with the other amateurs, split between them, which is kinda like Adam Scott going in for a facelift.
Jason Day comes close again
Day is quickly becoming the new Sergio in the sense that he gets close, but can’t seem to take that final step in majors and there’s an argument to be made that he’s the king of the “most talented player to never win a major” crowd. I still feel like he’s going to get one simply because his game is so transferable across all venues, but man, it was tough to watch him leave that putt short to get into the playoff.
For a long time on Monday, it actually looked like Marc Leishman’s tournament to lose, which is exactly what he did by bogeying the first hole in the playoff, falling two shots back of Oosthuizen and Johnson who each made birdie. I don’t know if he’s got the game to make a consistent run at big events, but there’s no doubt that he gets real hot at points, which is quite useful if you can do it at the right time. One of the few interviews that Rinaldi did that I actually enjoyed was with Leishman when he talked about his wife and her recent illness. She’s still struggling with it, but in Leishman’s words, “she can get up in the morning and hug the kids.” I can’t even imagine what he’s gone through personally, and it would have been a great story to see him win but it’s also very clear that he has an immense amount of perspective.
Louis Oosthuizen nearly repeats at the Old Course
Pretty much every betting preview I read prior to the tournament had Oosthuizen listed as a choice and for good reason. This time, he actually avoided the Tiger curse and posted an opening round 67, and it seems possible that we could be looking at a “Steve Stricker at TPC Deere Run” feel with Oosthuizen and the Old Course. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a threat to win any tournament he enters, and this also gives me an excuse to post his swing, which I could watch on a loop forever.
Scott looked like he was making a real run at it on Monday, posting a front nine 31 before ejecting himself from the proceedings with a back nine 40. However…
The Old Course
Saturday’s delay was awful, and despite what the R&A will tell you about how bad the wind was, the real culprit was that the greens were running too fast to deal with the wind. Officials made it worse when they refused to listen to Brooks Koepka when they went out in the morning initially, and it all became a giant mess with announcements on Twitter that promised future announcements and a discussion about how maybe the Old Course was not fit to be a major venue these days. I understand the idea that the Old Course is not looking as good as it used to, but the winning score was only 15-under par, a number that has been reached twice at Augusta in the last six years, and in all honesty, this was the best tournament we’ve seen in a long time. It was fun to have a stacked leaderboard full of great players, and that should be the takeaway here.
As great as the tournament was, one thought kept creeping into my head: I’m pretty sure Rory would have shot 20-under and gave us another special moment to remember. We didn’t need it of course, but it would have been incredible to add him to the mix with everything else that was going on.
On Friday night when it was obvious that the second round wasn’t going to be completed, I couldn’t believe that they were actually going to let players decide if they wanted to continue or not. It was obvious that all they were trying to do was get Tom Watson to the 18th for his farewell at the Open and as usually happens, my mind turned cynical towards the premise, but then I saw it happen and all of that melted away. Watching Watson walk across the Swilcan Bridge, against the dark backdrop was an absolutely perfect way to say goodbye.
Best pieces from the week
- Joe Posnanski: Tiger reaches the point of no return
- Kevin Van Valkenburg: Mickelson dances golf’s invisible line
- D.J. Piehowski: The slam is over, everything else is just starting
- Kevin Van Valkenburg: Tiger Woods weakened under weight of expectations
- Trevor Reaske’s Tiger rant
- Joe Posnanski: No tears, only joy in Watson’s final Open