Frantz: Oakmont tough for spectators, too

Did you enjoy this U.S. Open? Order of finish notwithstanding, did you take any pleasure at all in four days of headlines detailing how the impossible course humbled most of the best players in the world?

I didn’t.

It’s true that many of us weekend hackers take a certain degree of satisfaction in watching golf’s greatest talents stumble around a difficult course from time to time, if only because we can vicariously identify with their pain. It’s cathartic to know we’re not the only ones who feel like snapping our short irons over our knees when we can’t find our way out of greenside rough, or when the putt we thought we read so perfectly suddenly makes a right turn three inches in front of the hole, turning a shoulda-been-par into an I-hate-this-game three-jack.

But even the most schadenfreude-ian sadists among us couldn’t have relished the carnage we witnessed this weekend.

The Oakmont Country Club, with its fluffed-up rough leaving even slightly errant tee shots buried deep beneath the blades, and its glassy greens looking as if they’d been smoothed by Zambonis, took a deep and talented field of challengers and brought them to their knees. Phil Mickelson — gone after 36 holes. Retief Goosen, gone. Davis Love III, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Colin Montgomerie — all done before the weekend began. The world’s five top-ranked players played the first 36 holes in a collective 49 strokes over par.

In a field of 154 of the world’s greatest, only two red numbers were posted in the entire first round, and two more in the second. Saturday was no better for the survivors left standing, with Oakmont surrendering just two more scores below par. Some players complained loudly, while others managed to hold their tongues in check despite their visible frustration. Mickelson was one of the former.

“It’s dangerous. It really is,” Lefty moaned after his second round 77 left him short of the cut by a stroke. “The rough was twice as long … it’s disappointing to spend all this time getting ready and then have the course setup injure you.”

Much of the griping by the frustrated field will be dismissed, attributed to wimpy golfers who are afraid to be challenged by a course that may expose the holes in their games. That argument is certainly a valid one. But from a fan’s perspective, there’s nothing particularly entertaining about watching four days of birdie-positioning approach shots wasted because of shuffleboard-smooth greens, especially in our national championship event.

To put it another way: Would you enjoy watching the Super Bowl played on a field that had been intentionally watered-down and chewed up to create a mud pit for a month before the game, just to increase the degree of difficulty for the competitors? Sure, the final score may be only 6-3, but at least we’d know which championship contender could handle the adverse playing conditions, right?

Bovine excrement.

We want touchdown passes and acrobatic catches. We want talent and athleticism displayed in all its glory. That’s what the game’s about, and how its championship should be decided.

Why should we expect anything less from our U.S. Open championship? We want big drives and bulls-eyes. We want long putts for birdies and the occasional low-flying eagle. We want low numbers on the cards, and we want to pump our fists and cheer.

Make the Open challenging? Absolutely. But don’t take the fun out of it for us, OK?

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@examiner.com.

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