It was only fitting that this year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay came down to putting.
One player two-putted 18 for a birdie. Another player three-putted 18 for a par.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
In what will be remembered as one of the oddest U.S. Open Championships in recent memory, 21-year-old Jordan Spieth continued his rapid ascent by winning the tournament after firing a 69 to finish the tournament at -5. Spieth had been hovering around the lead all day and he and playing partner Branden Grace headed to the 16th hole tied for the lead at -5. On the par-4 16th hole, Grace hooked his tee shot out of bounds and ended up double bogeying the hole to fall back to -3. Spieth took advantage of the opportunity and ran in a long birdie putt to seize momentum in what ended up being a three-shot swing. After his birdie, Spieth had a two-shot lead over his nearest competitors at -6 and the Master’s champion seemed well on his way to comfortably winning his second consecutive major title.
Then things got interesting.
Spieth sliced his tee shot on the par-3 17th hole over to the right of the green. He pitched out of the heavy grass but needed three putts to finish out, giving him a double bogey and sinking him back into a lie for the lead at -4 with the hard-charging Louis Oosthuizen who birdied 6 of his last 7 holes to become the clubhouse leader. Spieth needed a birdie or better on the par-5 18th hole to avoid a potential 18-hole playoff which would be played on Monday.
Spieth rose to the challenge. He hit a perfect drive and unleashed a beautiful 260 yard second shot with a fairway wood to within 20 feet of the cup. Spieth’s putt for eagle slid by the cup, but he tapped in for birdie giving him the clubhouse lead at -5. However, playing behind him in the last group of the day was Dustin Johnson, who ended up birdieing the 17 hole and he entered the 18th tee just one shot off the lead. Johnson, like Spieth, hit the fairway on his drive and his second shot, a five-iron from 247 yards, landed above the hole to about 12 feet. Johnson had previously been snake-bitten in previous major championships but he seemed poised to break through to win his first major with his wife Paulina and father-in-law and hockey great, Wayne Gretzky looking on from the gallery.
As Spieth sat in the clubhouse watching nervously, Johnson lined up his putt to win the U.S. Open. However, it slid by the cup leaving him with a four-foot putt that would have forced a playoff between him and Spieth on Monday. Johnson lined up the putt and hit it square on, but the putt stayed on the lower edge of the cup and slid inches by the bottom lip. The gallery groaned and Spieth was in disbelief because when all was said and done, he had won his second consecutive major championship at the ripe old age of 21.
Despite Johnson’s collapse on 18 and Spieth’s first U.S. Open crown, what this year’s open championship might be most remembered for was the condition of the Chambers Bay course. Several players expressed their disdain for the course, especially what they considered to be unworthy championship greens. Ian Poulter voiced his concern on Twitter after the 4th round by saying, “What wasn’t playable were the green surfaces. If this was a regular PGA tour event lots of players would have withdrawn and gone home on Wednesday, but players won’t do that for a major. They were simply the worst most disgraceful surface I have ever seen on any tour in all the years I have played. The US Open deserves better than that.” Billy Horschel echoed Poutler’s words when he said, “When you come to a championship tournament, obviously you are going to find out who the best player is, but when you neglect one of the skills or take away one of the skills from a player, and that be putting.” Other players including Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy also expressed concern about the playing condition of the greens throughout the week as well.
Yet, through all the criticism of what was more than likely sub-par course conditions for a major championship, somebody had to go out there and win the tournament. As golfers like Louis Oosthuizen showed on Sunday, low scores were possible. There were a total of 22 players who carded final rounds in the 60s including both Horschel and McIlroy who shot 67 and 66 respectively. Although several players were visibly frustrated with the greens, it was the same playing conditions for every single player out on the course. And through all the ups and downs of the week, only one player had the mental fortitude to overcome the frustration of it all to outlast the field and hoist the U.S. Open trophy at tournament’s end.
And that player was 21-year-old golf phenom Jordan Spieth.