What the USGA got right and very wrong at the 2018 U.S. Open
Andrew Redington / Getty Images Sport / Getty

If one was to look only at the scores of the 2018 U.S. Open, it would be hard to contest that the USGA did anything wrong this week.

Brooks Koepka's winning score was 1-over par, and he shot a couple under on Sunday to move up the leaderboard and into the winner's circle – becoming the first golfer to defend a U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.

Koepka said Saturday that there was "nobody more confident" than he was, and he proved it by defending his title.

It was another year at the U.S. Open, however, where storylines of the golf course set-up and a rules snafu could have overshadowed a historically significant achievement.

But the U.S. Open did identify the golfer who played the best this week, and you didn't hear Koepka complain Saturday when most of the field had something negative to say ("When it comes down to winning a U.S. Open, you got to have some grit, some heart. I mean, I've won one, so why not win another?") and it did end up returning to one of the most iconic venues in the sport.

For all the flak the USGA took this week from fans and PGA Tour-players alike, here are the things the USGA did right (and wrong) this week.


Venue choice

Shinnecock Hills was built in the 1890's and hosted the second-ever U.S. Open. It is an iconic U.S. Open venue, and to know the championship will return in 2026 is a good thing for golf. After a few years of experimenting with "modern" venue choices like Chambers Bay in Washington (2015) and Erin Hills in Wisconsin (2017), the next few years are like a Murders' Row of some of golf's finest venues including Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, Pinehurst, and Oakmont.

A good decision by the USGA.

The other days' set-up

The golf course was tough but fair for Thursday and Friday. There was some steady rain Friday morning which slowed the golf course down just enough that the high winds that impacted the golfers' scores on Thursday were off-set by some solid scoring conditions the following day (Koepka, for example, made four birdies in nine holes and shot a 4-under-par 66).

But setting up the course to host a U.S. Open seems to be an impossibly thankless task for the USGA, since it does it only once a year as opposed to the PGA Tour.

As reported by the Golf Channel, the "vitriol" for Saturday's conditions was almost matched by the "distaste" for the USGA's reactionary decision to make Sunday 180 degrees easier.

However, there were only four rounds lower than 3-under on Sunday (including Tommy Fleetwood's outlier 7-under-par 63) so good shots were rewarded. At the end of the tournament, no one beat par (the first time since 2013), and the U.S. Open is supposed to be the sternest test in golf, and it was.

"I think they did a good job with the set-up today," Rickie Fowler said after firing a 5-under-par 65 on Sunday.

Fowler was a day removed from shooting a 14-over-par 84 on Saturday, under conditions that prompted two-time major winner Zach Johnson to proclaim: "they've lost the golf course."

Phil Mickelson rules controversy

While the golf course set-up got the brunt of the criticism this week, the controversy around Phil Mickelson's rules snafu on Saturday was still a hot topic of conversation on Sunday.

Mickelson, who hit a moving golf ball on the green of the par-4 13th, was slapped with a two-shot penalty versus being disqualified. Mickelson admitted he used the rules to his advantage (he knew he would get a two-shot penalty and assumed he would have taken more than two shots to get up-and-down from where his ball would have ended up) but the USGA decided to continue to apply its chosen penalty versus go any further.

The precedent was set by the USGA, after it gave John Daly the same two-shot penalty in 1999 when he hit a moving ball at Pinehurst (he said afterwards he did it in "protest" of the way the USGA set up the golf course). But for all the goodwill Mickelson has given the sport and its fans over 25-plus years, to disqualify him at the championship he's tried to win more than any other - and on his birthday no less - would have seemed wrong.


Saturday Set-up

While Koepka captured this year's U.S. Open in a totally opposite fashion than he did in 2017, which was an uncharacteristic birdie-fest, the USGA was called out by fans and PGA Tour-members alike for the way it handled the set-up of the golf course.

It seemed like the USGA had been promising for months that what happened in 2004 (where the grounds crew came out to water the par-3 7th in between groups because of how hard the golf course had got) wouldn't happen again. But it did, on Saturday.

Mike Davis, the CEO of the USGA, admitted to reporters after the third round that the organization believed "parts of this test of golf were simply too tough."

And when the organizing committee says as such, you know it was wrong.

"We want the U.S. Open to be tough, but we saw some examples late in the day where well-executed shots were not only not being rewarded, but in some cases penalized," he continued.

What the USGA got right and very wrong at the 2018 U.S. Open
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