Golfers Navigate Tricky U.S. Open Course At Chambers Bay

Jun 19, 2015
Originally published on June 19, 2015 8:13 pm
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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's day two of golf's U.S. Open, or as most of the players are calling it, the British Open. I'll explain. This second major tournament of the year is being played at Chambers Bay near Tacoma, Wash., and the course there is designed like the links courses that are popular in the British Isles - close to the sea, in this case, Puget Sound. It has lots of sand and grass that could make the ball roll on forever. As NPR's Tom Goldman reports, quirky Chambers Bay is prompting cheers and a few catcalls in its debut on golf's biggest stage.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The golfer steps into the enormous, sandy bunker on the 18th hole at Chambers Bay and lines up his shot toward the green. I watched the scene during yesterday's first round with Robert Trent Jones, Jr. He designed and built the golf course, and his name is golf architecture royalty.

TRENT JONES JR: You can tell by the click. When it's hit properly like that, it sounds authoritative, and it is.

GOLDMAN: He appreciates the good shot like any spectator, but truth be told, 75-year-old Robert Trent Jones, Jr. considers himself a competitor with the 156 players in the tournament, and Chambers Bay is his prized weapon.

JONES JR: Think of me as a goal keeper standing in the net, and I'm seeing the players come at me.

GOLDMAN: His defenses in this game of designer versus player have names - the mummy mound, the ominous 12-foot deep bunker called Chambers Basement. Despite the competition, Jones wants the course to yield.

JONES JR: But only to great shot-making - thoughtful, creative shot-making, and tactical thinking and courage.

GOLDMAN: American Phil Mickelson does all that better than most. He won a British Open two years ago. On the 10th green yesterday, Mickelson actually aimed his ball about 20 feet away from the hole.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I couldn't go left 'cause it would've been way too fast. I couldn't go at it, you know, and get close. Thought I hit a pretty good shot, but I hit it in a spot that wasn't good, and that was my own fault for having not known that and not having practiced that put to that pin.

GOLDMAN: Pretournament practice was essential. That's according to Mike Davis. He's the executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, which runs the Open. He rankled some of the tour players when he said those who show up at the last minute and play a couple of practice rounds don't stand a chance. Twenty-twelve U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, who said it was hard for players to get to Chambers from Europe or the East Coast, grumbled, we'll play for second then. Those who did prepare won't be thrown off by the train that rumbles by the course regularly, shattering the notion that golf has to be played in cathedral-like silence. And there's this...

(SOUNDBITE OF WIND BLOWING)

GOLDMAN: The wind off Puget Sound can sweep over the course, especially in the afternoon. And then there's the fescue grass. It's used on British links courses. Jones says this is the first time it's made an appearance in all its golden-brown glory at a U.S. Open.

JONES JR: It grows in a kind of closely-cropped way and therefore tight. It's actually a hard walk, physically, for your feet. But at the same time, the ball bounces. It kind of ricochets.

GOLDMAN: There is no end to the fescue. At Chambers Bay, it's hard to see where the fairways end and the greens begin. And oh, those greens - splotchy-looking, bumpy and the source of some early griping. Spaniard Sergio Garcia tweeted, the greens are as bad as they look on TV. It will be a game within the game to see if the problems get-ironed out over the next several days, and an indication as to whether the great experiment at Chambers Bay is judged a success.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Tacoma. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.