All the controversy heading into Oakmont was about knee-deep rough, marble putting surfaces and a mammoth par-3, but in the end, everyone was left fuming at the USGA over a rules decision involving eventual champion Dustin Johnson. Having negotiated the final 7-holes with a possible rules infraction hanging over his head, Johnson was docked a penalty shot after the round’s completion, with his score amended to a closing 69 – thankfully still enough for a comfortable three-shot victory.
While this year’s US Open sparked plenty of controversy, that’s nothing new for the year’s second major. From mind-boggling rules decisions to landscaping disasters, the US Open has had it all.
In 1955, San Francisco’s Olympic Club first established itself as the “graveyard of champions” when little-known Jack Fleck denied Ben Hogan a fifth US Open. During the 18-hole playoff Hogan was one shot ahead on the last hole but hooked his tee shot into deep rough and took three wacks just to get it back to the fairway. He would one-putt for double bogey to hand Fleck his lone major title.
After Johnny Miller shot a final round 63 to win the 1973 US Open, the USGA responded by making sure nobody broke par in the first round of the 1974 US Open at Winged Foot. Billed “The Massacre at Winged Foot”, greens were so fast that Jack Nicklaus was seen rolling putts off the green, while advancing a ball even 100 yards out of the rough was seen as a good shot. Hale Irwin went on to win by two shots with a 7-over total – the second-highest winning score in the modern era.
The 1979 US Open at Inverness in Toledo saw the USGA do some drastic re-landscaping mid-tournament after Lon Hinkle spotted a gap from the eighth tee down the 17th fairway that considerably shortened the par-five eighth. Mid-tournament the USGA planted an anti-Hinkle tree to plug the gap and Hale Irwin went on to collect his second US Open in five years.
In 2004 it was at Shinnecock Hills where USGA officials decided to turn off the water hoses to make the course play hard and fast after 11 players stood under-par after the first two days. By Sunday, the Long Island course was so dried out the grounds crew took the unprecedented step of watering the greens in between groups. The tournament would prove to be the second highest-scoring US Open in history with players carding an average of 78.7.
So while all the controversy at the 2016 US Open ended up as a rules decision, controversy is nothing new when it comes to the USGA and almost every year it’s something different.