When the first threesomes tee off at 7 a.m. Thursday, they and all who follow will have an imperative: Embrace the course and all its offbeat, even radical, features, or prepare to go down whining.
UNIVERSITY PLACE — A startling transition has taken place this week at Chambers Bay.
A course that golfers seemed ready, almost eager, to trash gradually has won them over. Instead of whining about what Chambers Bay isn’t — a traditional U.S. Open setup of narrow fairways, thick rough and small, firm greens — they’ve become entranced by its quirky charms.
I’ve listened to golfers extol the virtues of Chambers Bay this week in a tone that can only be described as affectionate. That differs radically from the sniping and complaints leaking out in the leadup to the tournament — often from people who hadn’t actually seen the course, or had only a brief exposure.
Turns out this is a course that grows on you, and just in the nick of time.
When the first threesomes tee off at 7 a.m. Thursday — fittingly, one will include local product Michael Putnam, who hit the first golf ball in Chambers Bay history in 2007 — they and all who follow will have an imperative:
Embrace the course and all its offbeat, even radical, features, or prepare to go down whining.
It’s a notion that Jack Nicklaus figured out half a century ago: All the complaining in the world isn’t going to change the layout of the course. In fact, when Nicklaus heard one of his competitors moaning about how bad it was, he mentally crossed him off the list of players to worry about.
“Guys would say a course doesn’t suit their game. It’s not supposed to suit your game,’’ Nicklaus recently told Golfweek. “You are supposed to suit your game to the golf course.”
And Chambers Bay has so many disparate elements to cope with, golfers would be wise to go with the flow.
A freight train that might blow its whistle as you’re about to hit? Cool.
Greens of fescue grass that are so indistinguishable from the fairways of fescue grass that the USGA will put little white paint dots to show where the greens begin? Awesome.
Nine different holes that will have multiple tees, including two (No. 1 and 18) that will play as both a par 4 and a par 5 at some point, and another (No. 9) that will either feature a 100-foot downhill tee shot or a slightly uphill tee shot, depending on the location? Bring it on!
Mike Davis, the USGA executive director, will be the most powerful man in golf this week, because he will head the team that determines the configuration each morning. As Tiger Woods said, “Basically, Mike has an opportunity to play 36 holes and 36 different options, somewhere around there.”
Davis knows that griping about the difficulty of the course is built into the fabric of the U.S. Open. The USGA wants it to be hard, a comprehensive test of shot-making, course management and endurance, with an element of adaptation and resourcefulness thrown in. Thus, if you don’t find out until Thursday morning whether the 15th hole will play at 123 or 246 yards — either is a possibility— well, make the best of it.
“There may be one or two things they encounter that they didn’t anticipate, and that is part of the test,’’ Davis said. “We want to see how they think on their feet, and how their caddie thinks on his feet.”
At some point, guaranteed, every golfer will have a moment of supreme frustration when a seemingly perfect shot finds a swale (a word you’d better learn) and bounces off kilter. But they might have the opposite: An errant shot that caroms serendipitously into optimal placement.
Ryan Moore noted that “you can’t force your will on this golf course. You kind of have to let the golf course give you what it can.”
Thus, patience will be at a premium. But not as much as an upbeat, non-defeatist attitude.
“If you’re going to talk negative about a place, you’re almost throwing yourself out to begin with, because golf is a mental game,’’ Jordan Spieth said.
The course will be lightning fast — “fiery,’’ in the words of 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. The sometimes-disastrous ramifications of that reality can psyche one out if he lets it. The golfer’s prime task: Don’t let it.
“I think the course has been a lot better than I expected,’’ McDowell said. “It’s important this week not to fall in love with any certain negativity that players, everyone associated, might sort of feel about the golf course.
“You’ve got to take it for what it is. Someone’s going to lift the U.S. Open trophy this week, and having the right attitude off the bat is, I think, the key.”
No doubt, Australian Jason Day is on the right track. Day is well aware of the dramatic shifts Chambers Bay can take, depending on the wind, depending on whether it’s morning or afternoon, depending on the whims of Davis.
But driving into the course for one of his practice rounds and witnessing the stunning panoramic view of the fescue-laden holes and the natural grandeur beyond it, Day had an epiphany.
“It caught my eye in a way that I was really going to enjoy this week, regardless of how I played, because I was going to enjoy the challenge of the course,’’ he said. “It’s just one of those courses that just got me excited.”
That’s a far cry from the snide comments that sneaked out over the past few weeks — and still might be uttered in private. But that’s no formula for victory.
“Those who adopt it and embrace it, they like it,’’ course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. said. “They’re telling me they enjoy it. Those who are uneasy with the newness of it, we’ll listen to them. But they probably won’t make the cut.”