As I write this, the opening groups at the US Open have begun their rounds. The year’s second Major has always been a favourite of mine. The courses used in the US Open don’t have the beauty of Augusta, and there’s a lot more history in the Open but regardless of this, there’s something special about the US Open. To see golfers tested on an exceedingly difficult course, and to see them fail like us mere mortals is oddly satisfying, in a slightly sadistic way.
Perhaps because of this, the US Open has the feel of a people’s Major. The pomposity of the Masters is not present, nor the formality of the Open, and in a way this is most evident at this year’s venue, Bethpage Black. Seven years ago the 2002 US Open at the same venue was one of the first major international events to be help in New York State since 9/11. Tiger won, naturally, and he’ll be the favourite to do so again this weekend in a tournament that will be held in the background of a massive global recession.
Again this can be tied into Bethpage. It is a course that was built as a public project during the Great Depression of the 1930s and it’s also one of the most accessible Major venues. Over 30,000 rounds are played on the Black course annually and weekday green fees are a modest $50 for the local residents who’ll be out in force this weekend, over 250,000 of them.
Last year’s US Open was a memorable affair. A virtually one-legged Tiger won in the Monday playoff, beating off the genial Rocco Mediate while Lee Westwood was a nearly man who had a putt on the 72nd green to join the Americans on the Monday. Only in the aftermath of the tournament did we learn how hurt Woods actually was (he wouldn’t play again for over eight months due to the extent of the ligament damage to his left knee) and he himself has called it his favourite ever Major win. Along with the 1997 Masters, it was certainly his most impressive.
Phil Mickelson will be the darling of the crowds. His wife Amy is continuing her battle with breast cancer so while it would be unreasonable to expect too much from Lefty, it would be lovely to see him do well. Padraig Harrington may have won two Majors in the last twelve months but his recent slump in form shows no sign of abating – it would be rough weekend for Paddy. Rory McIlroy is being touted as the best Irish hope but in only his third Major it’s probably too soon. If there is to be a European winner, Paul Casey is probably most likely but anyone will do well to beat Tiger. No matter though, we’ll enjoy the next few days. After all, it is our Major.