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US Open: Up and Down Drill

Last week’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay will go down in history as one of the game’s most unusual championship venues. Although likely the last time the Open will find its way to the much maligned layout, the theater gave golfers plenty to discuss over four entertaining days. Here’s my take on whose stock is rising and falling after a wild week in the Pacific Northwest.

UP: JASON DAY

One of the most nervous moments in U.S. Open history occurred when Jason Day collapsed on the ninth hole on Friday. Among the leaders, Day courageously re-grouped to finish. Luckily it was his last hole, because he struggled every step of the way to stay upright. Suffering from vertigo, he fought through the weekend and was in contention most of the way. Competing at such a high-level, while so physically compromised, deservedly earned Day a new legion of fans and supporters.

DOWN: BILLY HORSCHEL AND MOST OF THE FIELD

Although conditions at Chamber Bay were not common for a U.S. Open, the number of complaints from players such as Horschel were overwhelming. Tour players have become so accustomed to pristine layouts anything which strays from the Taj Mahal experience is deemed unfit for play. The game has changed a lot over the years. Not too long ago variable putting surfaces and goofy bounces were an accepted part of golf. The biggest disappointment is the lack of mental discipline shown by top players. Well trained athletes know the correlation between thinking and success. It’s surprising that many players so easily succumbed to the “victim’s mentality.”

DOWN: DUSTIN JOHNSON

For the third time Dustin Johnson couldn’t close out to win a major. Although still a young player, the weight of coming close numerous times has to be difficult. His talent is undeniable. Consider the fact he hit 5-iron from 247 yards out onto the green at 18. His Achilles heel, however, has been his putting. He missed from close range numerous times during the event. In looking at his 12-foot putt for eagle to win, I was almost sure he would make it. As the ball slid 4 feet past, I felt equally sure he would miss on the return.

I spoke with an LPGA Tour winner who said how hard it is mentally to be in that situation. “One minute you’re putting to win and the next you’ve got a longer putt than you’d like to tie.” Based on his body language it seemed Johnson too wished he didn’t have to deal with that last putt.
This isn’t the last we’ll see of Johnson in the majors. However, right now he’s gotta be on the list of the game’s biggest underachievers.

UP: JORDAN SPIETH

Earlier in the week, Jordan Spieth hacked his way to a double bogey on the 18th, with a group of shots reminiscent of the common weekend warrior. Along the way he was caught on camera in full meltdown proclaiming the 18th was the “dumbest hole” he’s every played.

As Spieth finished the same hole much better on Sunday, I couldn’t help but imagine the next day’s headlines: “Spieth birdies dumbest hole he’s ever played to claim U.S. Open title!”
U.S. Open golf is meant to be tough. It’s a mental grind testing the player’s patience, will and discipline under what are notoriously the game’s most grueling conditions. With the playing surfaces at Chambers Bay being less than optimal, the grind got even tougher. Following his emotional blow up, Spieth exhibited the ability to re-group and finish like the champion he is.