UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wa. – The criticism directed at most of the Chambers Bay greens the past few days reached a comical level on Sunday afternoon when a frustrated Billy Horschel mocked the way a putt he made on the ninth hole reacted.
It was sort of like a snake weaving through some tall grass.
“I hit a great shot in there, 8 feet from the hole, really not a hard putt, maybe just a couple balls outside right,” he said. “I hit a perfect putt and this ball ‘Plinko’d’, or whatever you want to call it, went this way like that, and it fishtailed.
“It was bouncing left-right, right-left. I was just frustrated because I hit a really good shot. And when you feel like you hit a good putt and the ball is not rolling the way you know it should. . .”
Afterwards, he had some harsh words for the USGA and executive director Mike Davis.
“I have lost a lot of respect for the USGA this week,” Horschel said. “I’ve known Mike for roughly ten years now since I was on the Walker Cup team. And I don’t know. I don’t know what he is.
“Obviously, he (has been) inside the ropes the last couple of days, but he’s not on the putting green, on the greens seeing the way the balls move. He’s from a little bit of a distance. And maybe, you know, when he sets the pins in the morning, if he’s out there and they roll the greens.
“Yeah, they roll great first thing in the morning. Right after they’ve been cut they’re great. But shortly after that they get bad.”
Horschel was just getting warmed up — and that was hours before Dustin Johnson three-putted the 72nd hole of the Open, allowing Jordan Spieth to emerge with a 1-shot victory.
“Mike Davis can push back as much as he wants, but when you have a majority of the players commenting publicly, and some of them aren’t, because they don’t want to get the pushback from it, then there’s an issue,” he continued.
“There’s obviously an issue with these greens, and I don’t know if he’s just trying to sugarcoat it so it doesn’t look bad. I heard someone say that the TV is making the greens look worse than they are. That’s a complete lie.”
Davis, who hand-picked the eight-year-old course as the site of the U.S. Open, was not immediately available for comment.
“I’m a really good putter, but I have not had a great week on the greens.” Horschel said, “and it’s not due to the fact that my stroke is off or my speed is off. I’ve hit a lot of really good putts that have bounced all over the world. So it’s just frustrating.
“I played awesome golf today. I played out my tail, out my ass, to shoot 3-under par. And I really felt like I should have shot 6, 7 or 8-under. But I wasn’t able to due to the fact that some of the putts I hit just hit some really bad spots on the greens and got off line and didn’t go in.”
Enter the snake routine.
Horschel’s reaction surely will become a video clip highlight from the first U.S. Open ever played in the Pacific Northwest.
One of the course’s biggest supporters just six weeks ago when he visited the facility for the first time, the controversial greens and lack of fan access basically spoiled Horschel’s week.
“I was here six weeks ago, and I think this is one of the most spectacular settings that I’ve ever seen in a golf course,” he said. “I thought Pebble Beach had unbelievable views, I thought Royal County Down had unbelievable views, they are my top two scenery golf courses to play. And this one by far beats it.”
Chambers Bay, which opened in 2007 to rave reviews, has an all-fescue surface. But they have been infiltrated with another type of grass, (Poa annua), takes over when the sun shines. Therefore, the usually-smooth fescue surface becomes bumpy because of the stronger Poa buds.
Asked if he envisioned any difficulty with the greens during his recent visit, Hershel said:
“No, I didn’t, actually. This course was really green six weeks ago. The greens rolled a lot better than they did now, they had grass on them. They weren’t very fast.
“But they weren’t bouncing like they are this week. And I think when they went ahead and cut them down, they tried to get them quicker and faster, that’s when they lost some of the fescue and that’s when all the dirt started showing up, and the only thing that survived was the poa.”
For whatever reason, these are not the same greens and the par 4, 495-yard par fourth has received more than its share of gripes.
“I heard a comment that I thought was absolutely hilarious,” Horschel said. “A caddie said to — or a TV anchor for FOX asked the caddie — wow much grass, or is there any grass on No. 4 green? He said, ‘Yeah, two blades, and they’re nowhere close to each other.'”
Judging from the comments, there are two greens worthy of hosting a U.S. Open. If all the green were like 7 and 13,” Lee Westwood said, “from the players’ standpoint I don’t think there would be any issues with any of them.”
“Both players commented on the fan-access, or lack of, issue.
“From a fan’s point of view it has been a strange atmosphere out there this year because the fans they don’t seem to get close to the action,” Westwood said. “On some holes there aren’t any. I watched Phil Mickelson tee off on the first hole (Sunday) and the fans were not going to see him again until his second shot on the second hole.”
Said Horschel: “One of the biggest issues I have is for the fans. Here we are in the Pacific Northwest, where we haven’t been since the late ’90s for the PGA Championship, and the viewing is awful.
“They tell the fans early in the week, ‘Well, just sit in the stands and hopefully — and watch golf.’ I have my family here. I’m sure there are some fans that want to watch me, just like there’s fans that want to watch all these other great players here.
“I feel like the fans got robbed this week being able to get up close to the players and see the shots we hit and see the course to the degree that we see it.
“It blows my mind even more that they would build a golf course and not think about the fans and the viewing aspect of it. Because that’s the greatest thing that we have.”