And on the third day, the breakout star of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay remained Chambers Bay.
Love it or loathe it — indifference is not an option — the golf course with zero water hazards, one tree and 18 diabolical greens has a way of soliciting opinions.
Opinions generate arguments. Arguments inspire interest. Interest compels casual fans to watch on television. See where this is going?
No matter that Tiger Woods is three time zones removed from the championship, or if it seems like a month ago that Phil Mickelson held the sole lead in the first round. When it comes to creating a buzz, Woods and Mickelson are package-filler foam compared with Gary Player.
The nine-time major champion consented to a Golf Channel interview Saturday morning, except it was less an interview than a diatribe delivered with the force of a man, 79 years old, who hadn’t been allowed to speak his mind for 75 of them.
“I’m standing in the most beautiful state in the world: Washington, Seattle here,” began Player, foreshadowing the difficulty he’d have with facts during his rant of more than six minutes. Player went on to call the 115th U.S. Open “the most unpleasant tournament I’ve seen in my life. I mean, the man who designed this golf course had to have one leg shorter than the other.”
Although I’m not sure what Player meant by that, I am sure what Player meant when he said of the U.S. Open: “You don’t bring it to golf courses like this. This is devastating. To see a man miss the green by one yard and end up 50 yards down there, caddies falling and hurting their ankles and knees, players falling, this is terrible.
“Did you see how these pros were three-putting yesterday, one after the other?”
Uh, Gary? Did you see how the first round on Thursday produced a U.S. Open record of 25 scores in the 60s? Did you notice how, after two rounds, there were 43 scores in the 60s?
As Player spoke, Chambers Bay was on pace to yield 86 scores in the 60s for the championship, or three more than Olympia Fields gave up in 2003, when a record 83 scores in the 60s were posted.
(The run on red numbers was severely reduced Saturday, but that’s consistent with the USGA tradition of assuring the Open will be a test that gets tougher in daily increments.)
“It’s actually a tragedy,” Player said of Chambers Bay.
Actually, it isn’t. The massacre of innocent participants in a church service is a tragedy. Pin placement arranged to reward — or penalize — high-risk approach shots is a U.S. Open.
But the USGA need not be angry with Player. To the contrary, his venting about the course as unfit for a U.S. Open will only increase already healthy viewership numbers.
Through Friday, ratings for the Fox Sports 1 and Fox Network telecasts showed a 49 percent increase from the 2014 U.S. Open, according to a tweet by Dan Bell, the vice president of communications for Fox Sports.
Granted, some of the ratings spike can be explained by Fox’s access to a prime-time window leading up to the local TV news in the East and Midwest. Last year’s Open, held at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, had no such benefits for NBC.
But other factors are in play. Pinehurst No. 2, lovely though it may be, resembles a conventional golf course. Chambers Bay is resembling, well, nothing golf fans have ever seen.
Between the course’s links-style layout and ideal weather not associated with a links course, it’s as if the 115th U.S. Open is an amalgamation of the British Open and the Phoenix Open, but with scenery more telegenic than either.
Has a golf championship ever been played amid a setting as spectacular? There’s no way of accurately quantifying how many viewers tune into a golf telecast because of the scenery, but I suspect more of them do than you think.
As for Player’s opinion of Chambers Bay, don’t doubt the effect his scathing evaluation will have on the weekend ratings. The more a nine-time major champion hates a golf course, the more the world is inclined to wonder why.
Rant all you want, Gary. Rant till you’re hoarse.
The USGA and Fox Network can never pay you back for the free publicity.