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Great Venues Bring Joy to U.S. Open

US Open Venues

The late Seve Ballesteros, wild hitter that he was, didn’t much care for America’s national championship.

[quote style=”1″]The U.S. Open has never been exciting to watch,” the swashbuckling Spaniard once said. “It has always been a sad tournament. There is no excitement, no enjoyment.[/quote]

Sorry, Seve, but you were wrong.

Those of us outside the ropes have a blast watching the Open precisely because it’s pure drudgery for golf’s greatest players.

Call it Schadenfreude if you like, but no other tournament offers the perverse, welcome-to-my-world thrill of seeing pros hack the ball back and forth across the green, just like we do.

Truth be told, though, the Open’s exquisite torture isn’t my favorite part of this annual spectacle. Here are four of the many, many things I love about the year’s second major:

The venues

By changing sites every year, the USGA treats us to a smorgasbord of America’s most amazing tracks from coast to coast.

Olympic Club, this year’s venue, offers glorious San Fran scenery and history galore. It’s a different test than your typical Open course, with several reverse-camber doglegs – where the slope falls in the opposite direction of the bend – rewarding artfully shaped tee shots over needle-straight vectors.

The regular Open rotation includes such national treasures as Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, Bethpage Black and Pinehurst No. 2 — each offering a master class in course design in its own unique, storied and beautiful way.

Dan Jenkins’ insistence on crediting Ben Hogan with five wins

Revered golf writer Dan Jenkins, still going strong at age 82, is covering his 58th U.S. Open this week. True story: He filed his first article on a tablet – the kind made of stone.

Anyway, Jenkins idolized Ben Hogan and insists that Bantam Ben’s 1942 victory in the Hale America National Open should be considered an official U.S. Open win, which would give him five titles in all – more than any other golfer.

Officially, there was no Open that year (nor from 1943-45) due to World War II. But, Jenkins argues, the Hale America featured a raft of top pros and was conducted just like an Open, so it should count toward Hogan’s total.

History disagrees, but Jenkins – bless him – stands by his man.

Mike Davis’ course setups

Depending on your perspective, the 1974 Open, aka “the Massacre at Winged Foot,” was either the high or low point of the USGA’s brutally punishing setup regime.

For decades, Open courses featured jungle-like rough ringing microscopic fairways and diamond-hard greens, leaving players to slash and pray any time they veered off the beaten path. These were the demoralizing days of which Seve spoke. (If God is truly graceful, Ballesteros is now reveling in a rough-free afterlife.)

Things have changed now, and for the better if you ask me. A brilliant fellow named Mike Davis took over setup duties a while back and instituted a number of subtle yet crucial changes.

The rough is usually graduated now, getting longer the farther you stray from the fairway. Miss a green and instead of knee-deep hay, golfers may find a tightly-cropped chipping area — where skill and imagination actually matter.

Forget last year, when Rory McIlroy destroyed defenseless, rain-battered Congressional to the tune of 16-under. Davis’ setups are plenty tough – and lot more interesting than the Open tracks of infamy.

The future

The next seven Opens present a delightful mix of old standbys and newcomers. Next year, it’s back to Merion, home of the wicker-basket flagsticks, for the first time since 1981.

In 2014 we get Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, whose recent restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw may be the greatest makeover since Jennifer Aniston requested a little more off the sides.

Remarkable Chambers Bay – built all the way back in 2007 — hosts the Pacific Northwest’s first Open in 2015, and figures to play more like a British Open site.

In 2016 it’s off to Oakmont, followed by another newcomer, Wisconsin’s Erin Hills. Shinnecock Hills and Pebble Beach round out the decade in epic seaside style.

If only Seve were still alive to play in today’s U.S. Open. I think he might actually enjoy himself.

Daniel MitchellDaniel Mitchell is a golf writer and contributor who lives in Jupiter, Fla., a few miles from Tiger Woods as the crow flies but worlds away in every other respect. An avid golfer since age 12, Mitchell carries a (shaky) single-digit handicap, investing far more time in his dogs than his swing.

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