US Open week has a familiar cadence.

We begin with initial reports from those in the know on the ground. There are murmurs of knee-high rough just steps off the fairways and greens running north of 14 on the stimpmeter. Reports in the month leading up to the tournament suggest that this one could be the most difficult set up yet.

Then, as media members and players start to familiarize themselves with practice rounds in the weeks before the tournament, we begin to see the visual evidence. This year, it’s entire cans of Arnold Palmer buried in the cabbage, waiting for even slightly wayward drives.

 


And golf balls rolling 40 yards on putting surfaces.

 

The next step of the process is a Thursday full of scores in the 80s and light on scores in the 60s, followed by grumbling tour pros insistent that the USGA has gone too far in its pursuit of the protection of par.

And that’s why it’s the best tournament year after year after year.

A few weeks ago, I played a round of golf with a buddy. While we were on the range, we overheard someone say to a playing partner, “You ready to have fun today?” My friend turned to me and said, “If you’ve come to a golf course looking for fun, you’ve come to the wrong place.”

There’s a whole lot of truth to that.

It is still fun, of course. It’s why we keep dragging ourselves out of bed at 6 a.m. to catch a cheeky morning dew patrol round. But to you, me and the vast majority of golfers on planet earth, golf is a hideously hard game. Pars are worth celebrating, bogeys are a fact of life, and those sneaky sixes and sevens are the cost of doing business. There are, of course, the pockets in each round — a shot, a hole or a stretch — where the game clicks, and you can play around or below par. But those moments are special due to their rarity. They are hard-earned rewards for the work that goes into improving your game.

PGA Tour players can be excused for forgetting just how hard golf is. Week after week, they turn in rounds that make your head spin. Winning scores for four days’ work dip into the -20s with regularity. Players take it deep into the 60s more often than not. Pars can be disappointments and missed opportunities rather than worthy of a fist pump and quiet satisfaction.

That all gets turned on its head for the US Open. 

For once, the best in the world look like us. Sure, it takes the USGA tricking out greens and growing kelp forests two steps off the fairway to get it done, but pros need to play at their very best to avoid bogeys. And that is exhilarating.

When Bryson Dechambeau hits what he feels is a good drive only to find himself in jail in knee-high cabbage, I will smirk and remember the seemingly good drive I hit yesterday that bounced into a small forest. When Adam Scott’s well-struck iron shot hits the wrong part of a ridge on the green and sucks back to 80 feet away from the pin, I will think of my flushed iron that just caught a front bunker. 

Golf is its purest, most challenging, and most relatable when marginal golf shots lead to difficult pars. For you and me, golf courses don’t need to do anything that special to accomplish that. A “B-” approach shot isn’t hit on the green, and a “C-” drive could find a hazard. For pros, it requires an inordinately difficult track to get the same results.

One time a year we get it. And, oh, how the struggle is a treat to take in. Bring me the videos of players hitting chip shots across greens. Bring me the comments of an upset tour player after a round of 78. I will drink them in with my morning coffee with a satisfied smile.

Golf for the everyman needs to be made easier. But for the pros? Stick them in the terror dome, and let’s get weird.

Ben Goren

Ben Goren is a contributing writer for Stick and Hack and has been addicted to the game of golf for the past 15 years and isn’t interested in finding a cure. He’s also offering one kidney in exchange for a Cypress Point tee time (serious inquiries only).