Martin Dempster: For once, USGA gets US Open set-up spot on at Pebble Beach

The short and stunning seventh at Pebble Beach comes before a testing stretch of holes on the California coast. Picture: AP.
The short and stunning seventh at Pebble Beach comes before a testing stretch of holes on the California coast. Picture: AP.
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How refreshing! For once, a US Open in recent years came to a conclusion without feeling the need to stick the boot into the United States Golf Association. Credit where credit is due, in fact, because what a splendid event it was at Pebble Beach, even though that eight-hour time difference in the UK is an absolute killer.

In total contrast to last month’s US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, the 119th US Open was one of those tournaments that was enjoyable from start to finish, helped, of course, by the fact it was being staged at a venue that is second to none in terms of a visual impact on television.

Pebble Beach is a stunning golf course and hats off to the USGA for allowing it to be played in a proper way rather than being turned into a torturous test that, quite frankly, does the game no good whatsoever, as some of the controversies surrounding this event in recent years testify.

By all accounts, there didn’t seem to be a single moan or groan about the set-up on this particular occasion and you could see for yourself just how much the players enjoyed the test on the California coast in what, of course, is now the season’s third major.

The great thing about this US Open was that it made players plot their way around the course, as opposed to Bethpage Black, for example, being one of those layouts where length is the main requirement to really have a chance of being in the mix.

Yes, Brooks Koepka, the winner on that occasion, was right up there again on the closing day at Pebble Beach, but that was because he was able to demonstrate that he is not a one-trick pony. And what a brilliant effort from the American as he came up just short in his bid to become only the second player after Scot Willie Anderson to win three US Opens in a row.

Gary Woodland, the man who denied Koepka on Sunday, is another of the biggest hitters in the game. Yet, he landed his breakthrough in the majors on a course where it was more about mind than muscle, the way he played the par-5 sixth in the final round being a perfect example of that.

Woodland left himself well back after taking an iron off the tee and, therefore, couldn’t get up in two, depriving himself of an eagle chance that even some of the shorter hitters were setting up. But that’s the way he saw that particular hole being played and, in fairness, he was three under there over the four rounds – his most profitable hole on the course.

Too many championship courses these days are all about length and little else, but not Pebble Beach. Six of the par 4s, including three of the opening four holes, are played at 404 yards or less, the challenge coming from the fact they have been cleverly designed and some having small greens. Apparently, all six of those holes were over par during the week, which says it all, really.

There was something about this particular event that really did make it a gripping spectacle. Perhaps it was the opening few holes providing the chance for someone to make a fast start, as Koepka did in the final round. Perhaps it was that tough stretch around the turn invariably taking its toll. Perhaps it was the prospect of the 17th and 18th throwing up some late drama.

In the end, Woodland proved a worthy winner due to the fact he handled the pressure of being out in front from the halfway stage admirably, especially given that it was Koepka in particular who was breathing down his neck in that final round.

Having now finished 1-2-1-2 in 
the last four majors, Koepka will definitely be the man to beat when the spotlight falls next on Royal Portrush for the 148th Open Championship because, make no mistake, he is now heading into these events in the same sort of mindset as both Woods and Jack Nicklaus at the height of their careers.

Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy both left California licking their wounds after disappointing final rounds but, along with Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott, they will still have been heartened for the first Claret Jug joust on the Antrim coast since 1951.

Roll on that final men’s major of the year but, before doing so, let us do something we’re not used to by applauding the USGA.

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