Great US Open finish, great winner, great story. Great golf stuff all round.
But in the bigger picture? Less of a positive than the some of the negatives from this week’s event.
There were any number of powerful images captured at Torrey Pines but the most telling came not from the lens of a professional ‘shooter’ at a tense moment in the championship but the iPhone of a caddie during a practise round.
A six second video posted to Twitter by Aaron Flener, bagman for JT Poston, achieved what all great images do: captured a moment in space and time that told a story far bigger than the elements imprinted onto the film or digital card.
The sprinklers only work in the rough at US Open’s. pic.twitter.com/KMSeVA1BWT— Aaron Flener (@AaronFlener) June 15, 2021
The clip was shot on the 18th hole Wednesday of tournament week and was accompanied by the caption: ‘The sprinklers only work in the rough at US Open’s.’
The words were a clue but, as the cliché notes, not even 1000 of them could have communicated so damningly what the six seconds of footage conveyed.
Sprinklers lining either side of the fairway at the South Course’s 18th hole were turned not towards the playing surface but instead discharged their pay load of precious water onto the rough. Non-native Kikuyu rough, at that.
It was a confronting and vivid snapshot of the insular and inward looking way golf interacts with the outside world.
The reactions to the Tweet were as telling as the image itself, most responders focussing almost exclusively on the merits or otherwise of long rough as a course set up feature.
The lone voices of dissent were Australian and came from Golf Australia magazine contributor Adrian Logue and FOX Sports Rugby League and sometimes golf commentator Warren Smith.
Both made the same observation and asked the same question that I ask today: is this really what one of the game’s two governing bodies should be publicly promoting as the pinnacle of golf?
The game at the grassroots level – despite the Covid bump it is currently enjoying – faces some major long-term questions of viability.
Both locally and globally, public golf in urban areas is under intense and increasing pressure with critics quick to point out the resources required to maintain facilities as a reason they should be closed.
"Cultivating said rough by pouring thousands of gallons of water on it – in a city and state where water stress is a constant and controversial issue – sends a middle finger to the broader community that invites blowback for which the rest of the golf world pays a price." - Rod Morri.
To give those forces ammunition to attack the game by showcasing such an irresponsible and profligate waste of a resource as precious as water is indefensible. And dumb.
And worst of all? Unnecessary.
Artificially thick rough does nothing to enhance the game nor make it more interesting to play or watch.
Cultivating said rough by pouring thousands of gallons of water on it – in a city and state where water stress is a constant and controversial issue – sends a middle finger to the broader community that invites blowback for which the rest of the golf world pays a price.
A classic ‘lose-lose’.
The golf was entertaining at Torrey Pines but not because of the rough (or any other element of the course, frankly).
The players who tee up in the US Open are the best in the world and the truth is you could play it at my old stomping ground at Mangrove Mountain and get a thrilling contest.
But golf is about much more than compelling tournaments, the game’s relationship with nature one of its great assets and appeals.
It has been only seven years since the USGA took their two biggest events to Pinehusrt Number 2, a course whose restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw included reducing water use by literally millions of litres per year.
That we are less than a decade on and Torrey Pines and long rough is what is being promoted – by an organisation whose own literature points out that no course would or should want ‘US Open rough’ – is sad at many levels.
Let’s hope the USGA now considers looking back to move forward.
About seven years would do nicely.