The US Open is no stranger to drama and ahead of its return to Pebble Beach this week, we take a look at some of the biggest controversies.
1974 – Winged Foot
Any tournament that earns its own nickname is certain to be etched in golfing infamy, and while 1974’s ‘Massacre at Winged Foot’ could not be coined as such today, it arguably summed up how the players felt on Sunday evening 45 years ago.
The USGA were accused of an overreaction to Johnny Miller’s record-breaking final round at Oakmont the previous year, when his sensational 63 swept him to his first major title and left the likes of defending champion Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino trailing in his wake.
But 12 months later, birdies were a scarce commodity and not a single player managed to break par in the opening round, with Player’s 70 earning him the outright lead. Hale Irwin would go on to claim a two-stroke victory on seven over par, and a final score of 20 over par was good enough to finish tied for 26th.
Renowned US sportswriter Dick Schaap coined the “massacre” moniker when describing the tournament, but USGA chief Sandy Tatum was unrepentant, saying: “We’re not trying to humiliate the best players in the world, we’re simply trying to identify them.”
2004 – Shinnecock Hills
The final round of the 2004 US Open produced some of the most farcical scenes ever witnessed in a major championship, and there was no doubt that the USGA lost control of the greens and forced them to take drastic action.
With no fewer than 11 players having the audacity to be under par at the halfway stage, led by Phil Mickelson and Shigeki Maruyama on six under, tournament officials decided to bite back and stopped watering the iconic course which, inevitably, led to scores soaring on day three.
Retief Goosen’s 69 was one of only three sub-70 scores in the third round and earned him the 54-hole lead, two clear of Mickelson and two-time champion Ernie Els, but what transpired on the final day would ultimately be described as “a great deal embarrassing” by USGA executive director Frank Hannigan.
It became abundantly obvious early on that some of the greens were borderline unplayable, particularly on the seventh when three-foot putts were rolling off the green, and officials were left with no choice but to have the greens watered in between groups.
Goosen enjoyed the putting performance of his life, one-putting a remarkable 11 times as he claimed a two-shot win over Mickelson, but most of the images on back pages around the world the following day featured course staff with large hoses.
2015 – Chambers Bay
The warning signs were there before the tournament even started, with Ryan Palmer deriding it as “not a championship course” before a ball had been hit.
While Jordan Spieth claimed his second major of the year – his 5-under-par good enough to finish one clear of Dustin Johnson – it was the condition of the putting surfaces that was the biggest talking point across the four days.
After completing a final round of 77, Ian Poulter posted a photo of a green on Instagram and said the USGA should apologise for the conditions.
“It wasn’t a bad golf course, in fact it played well and was playable. 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, 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.”
Only eight players finished under par for the week, but even the winner wasn’t happy.
The initial plan was to play the 18th as a par five on the Thursday and Saturday and as a par four on the Friday and Sunday, but after Spieth called the par four version “the dumbest hole I’ve ever played”, the USGA changed it to a par five on the final day.
In the end, it felt like a competition between the players as to who could express their dissatisfaction in the most entertaining way.
Henrik Stenson said it was like “putting on broccoli”, Gary Player suggested “the man who designed the golf course must have had one leg shorter than the other”, while Justin Rose called it “outdoor bingo”.
2016 – Oakmont
After the Chambers Bay problems of the year before, the USGA would have been hoping for a quieter time of it at Oakmont.
But while there was unrest about the knee-deep rough and lightning-fast greens, it was the one-shot penalty given to eventual winner Dustin Johnson that left many fuming.
After two practice swings on the fifth green on the final day, Johnson moved to stand over his ball when it moved slightly.
Johnson stepped away, claiming he had not addressed the ball before pausing to confirm he had interpreted the ruling correctly. His playing partner Lee Westwood said he had done nothing wrong and play continued.
But over an hour later, with Johnson on the 12th tee, the USGA told him the incident would be reviewed and ruled upon at the end of his round and that he could face a one-shot penalty.
Westwood said of the incident: “I thought, you make a ruling, it’s done. Then to make him play from the 12th tee in not knowing what his score was and everybody else not knowing what his score was, I felt it was a bit strange and, possibly, not fair to him.”
Speaking later in the month, Jordan Spieth said he would not have continued.
“I promise you, I would have thrown a fit,” he said. “I wouldn’t have hit another shot. I would have sat there like, ‘This is not the way this goes. Let’s figure this out right now.'”
In the end, Johnson was given a one shot penalty, but his final-round 69 was enough to render it moot as he sealed a three-shot win.
But it left a bad aftertaste, as Curtis Strange said: “This is our national championship. And it was hijacked by the governors of the game.”
2018 – Shinnecock Hills
Tournament organisers were determined that the 2018 event would not be a repeat of the last time it had been held at Shinnecock Hills in 2004.
But they were disappointed. By Saturday, Zach Johnson said the USGA had “lost the state of the greens” and that the tournament had come down to luck as well-struck approach shots were landing close to the pin and then rolling off the green.
Some of the pin positions – notably those at the 13th and 15th – were also heavily criticised.
General dissatisfaction turned to outright frustration on the third day as Phil Mickelson, facing an 18-foot bogey putt down the fast slope at the 13th, watched his ball sail by the hole and down another slope.
But instead of waiting for his ball to come to rest, the American ran after it and hit it again while it was still in motion.
Mickelson walked off the green with a 10 and a smile to the crowd, but drew plenty of criticism from across the world of golf.
He avoided disqualification on a technicality and was handed a two-shot penalty, but he remained unrepentant.