If you allow yourself, you can share the excitement of having one of the world’s major sporting events held in your backyard.
You consider televised golf to be a nap aid. You think the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay golf course in University Place will be about as important to you as a lunar eclipse on Jupiter.
But if you allow yourself, you can share the excitement of having one of the world’s major sporting events held in your backyard. It’s like when Mount St. Helens erupted. If you were around in 1980, you probably felt like an insider when East Coast friends called to ask about it.
The U.S. Open is truly a global event. The NCAA Final Four in the Kingdome and the two Major League Baseball All-Star Games were nice, but they were national events. (OK, parts of Canada might have cared about the baseball games.) And they were a long time ago, anyway.
A lot of curious Western Washington residents who don’t usually watch golf on television are likely to tune in to watch the U.S. Open because it is at Chambers Bay.
Golf announcers will use some terms unfamiliar to nongolfers. Here are some:
Birdie: One under par on a hole. “He birdied the third hole.”
Bunker: Preferred term for sand trap.
Bladed shot: Often called a “skulled” shot. It occurs when top half of the ball is struck with leading edge of an iron rather than with the entire clubface. Result is a low shot with little spin. It’s a mistake and rarely happens at this level of play.
Bogey: One over par on a hole.
Bump and run: Low-trajectory shot that gets the ball rolling along the fairway toward the green. Links courses such as Chambers Bay encourage the use of bump-and-run shots.
Chip: Usually a short shot played from just off the green that is intended to fly a short distance then roll toward the hole. Most chip shot spends more time and covers more ground rolling than airborne.
Double bogey: Two over par on a hole.
Draw: For a right-hander, a shot that moves slightly from right to left, usually on purpose.
Duck hook: A severe, low hook going right to left for a right-handed golfer. A big mistake.
Eagle: Two under par on a hole. Example: A 3 on a par-5 hole.
Fade: For a right-hander, a shot that flies slightly from left to right, usually on purpose.
Fat shot: A shot in which the club makes contact with the turf long before striking the ball. A big mistake.
Flier: Situation in which grass comes between the ball and the clubface at impact. This often happens in the rough (the taller grass adjoining the fairway). The grass blades prevent the grooves in the club from getting on the ball, and there is little, if any, spin on the shot. As a result, the shot goes farther than usual and with less control. You might hear commentators talk about a “flier lie,” which means the ball is sitting in a position where a “flier” shot is likely to occur.
Green in regulation: To get on a green in the number of strokes required for a two-putt par. For a par-4 hole, this means getting on the green in two strokes.
Grounding a club: In bunkers and other hazards, the golfer isn’t allowed to have his club touch the ground until the actual swing.
Hook: For the right-handed golfer, a shot that veers significantly right to left. Often a mistake unless planned.
Lag putt: A long-distance putt. The realistic goal is to get the ball close enough that the follow-up putt can be sunk easily.
Links course: A seaside course built on sand with few, if any, trees and firm and fast fairways. Chambers Bay is a links course.
Loose impediments: These include small rocks, twigs, leaves, worms and insects. A golfer may remove them from near his ball unless the ball is in a hazard. The golfer must be careful not to move his ball when removing loose impediments, or it is a one-stroke penalty.
Moving day: Saturday of a four-day event because if a golfer wants to have a chance to win, he has to “move” into contention.
Par: The number of strokes a golfer is expected to need to finish a hole or round of golf. Par always assumes that the golfer will need two putts on each green. “He shot 2-over par 72 in his second round.”
Pitch shot: A short, high shot attempted from roughly 80 yards or less from the green. The shot is designed not to move far on the green after landing. Pros routinely have backspin on their pitch shots. Sometimes, golfers must choose between chipping the ball to the green or hitting a pitch shot.
Sand save: Parring a hole after being in a bunker.
Short game: Putting, chipping, pitching and greenside bunker shots.
Slice: For a right-handed golfer, a shot that veers significantly left to right. A mistake unless planned.
Stimpmeter: A simple device used to measure the speed of putting greens. A ball is rolled from the Stimpmeter, and how far it goes is measured. Example: “The greens are ‘stimping’ at 12 feet.”
Up and down: To get into the hole from two strokes from off the green. Example: Second shot on par 4 misses green. Golfer chips onto green and one-putts for par. He has gotten “up and down.”
Waste area: Area that has a dirt or sandy surface area. There might be vegetation growing within a waste area. Players are allowed to ground their clubs in a waste area.
Craig Smith, special to The Seattle Times
Four annual tournaments in the golf world carry the status of “majors,” and the U.S. Open is one of the three most prestigious, along with the Masters and British Open. (The PGA Championship is a notch below.) As sports writer John Feinstein has noted, “Although winning a major championship does not guarantee greatness, not winning one guarantees that you will never be considered great.”
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The words “2015 U.S. Open champion” will become the first part of the winner’s name. If he doesn’t win another major, it also will be the headline over his obituary when he dies.
On the big stage
Sports writers and broadcasters from every continent except Antarctica are expected to descend upon Chambers Bay. On television around the planet, that will be your Puget Sound and your Olympic Mountains. Take a bow.
You, the anti-golf person that you are, might even get caught up in the competition, which promises to be exhilarating. A new twist at Chambers Bay is that the world’s best golfers will be playing a layout making its debut on the world stage. This is a course with a lot of idiosyncrasies, where aiming directly at the flagstick can be a mistake. In other words, to get from Point A to Point B the best route might be to aim for Point C and watch the ball roll to Point B. The golfers who unlock the secrets of Chambers Bay will be the ones in contention.
There also will be an element of fitness, because Chambers Bay is not an easy course to walk four days in a row because of hills. No one pretends that this is an Olympic steeplechase, but it’s not a stroll in the park, either.
Because this is a major, the pressure matches the prize. Handling the pressure — part of which is the knowledge that any mistake that costs you a major will haunt you to the grave — is what makes this true reality TV.
Although professional golf gets criticized as a sport inhabited by country-club clones, there are real personalities. Tiger Woods needs no introduction, whether he is swinging a golf club or breaking up with a famous skier. No one since Arnold Palmer in the 1960s has done more to popularize golf than Woods. But he hasn’t won a major since 2008, is 39 years old and knows the clock is ticking if he wants to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles. Woods has 14.
Phil Mickelson has finished second or tied for second in six U.S. Opens. The U.S. Open title is all he needs to join Woods and four others and become the sixth man to win the modern grand slam of the four majors. Mickelson is a risk-taker on the course and a family man off it. His caddie carried a beeper at the 1999 U.S. Open, and Mickelson swore he was going to leave if it had gone off, signaling that his wife had gone into labor. He finished the championship and — you guessed it — finished second.
Masters champion Jordan Spieth is only 21, but the big attraction for a lot of Northwest fans will be his caddie, Michael Greller. The 37-year-old Greller used to teach sixth-grade math and science a few miles from Chambers Bay. He caddied part-time at Chambers Bay and knows the course as well as anyone. Spieth and Greller make an interesting team.
Fittingly for the United States’ national championship, this event represents democracy. Anyone with a handicap index of 1.4 or lower (basically a consistently par-shooting golfer) is eligible to enter one of more than 100 “local” 18-hole qualifying events throughout the nation to try to advance to a “sectional,” where the field is bolstered by tour pros who were exempt from “locals.” This year, nearly 10,000 golfers applied to play in the championship. About half the berths in the 156-man U.S. Open field is reserved for sectional survivors, and most are tour pros.
However, there always are a couple wonderful stories of total unknowns who wind up in the Open.There is the chance that an unknown might even win. Orville Moody did in 1969.
Adding to the democratic vibe is Chambers Bay’s status as a public course. It is the third course of this type to hold the Open this century. The USGA, which runs the championship, is trying to take some of the private-club starch out of the game. And you don’t even have to be a golfer to enjoy Chambers Bay. Available to everyone is a free 3-mile walking trail winding through the site, and much of the route goes through the course. (Understandably, the trail is closed for the time being.)
You, anti-golf person, might even come to admire some of the distinguishing qualities of golf as you watch. Golfers are expected to call penalties on themselves. Getting away with something is regarded as clever in many sports, including baseball, but in golf it is grounds for ostracism. Golf ranks high in father-son and other family bonding. And it’s hard to dislike a sport where an outing with friends usually ends over beer with smiles, conversation and the settling of minor but satisfying bets.
American presidents play golf because setting up for a shot and swinging is totally absorbing. It can take your mind off any world crisis. Golf also involves fresh air and exercise (even if you ride in a cart) and can be satisfying and frustrating. One of the charms of golf is that you, the anti-golf person, just might sink a 20-foot putt and a pro couldn’t do it any better. You probably wouldn’t stand the same chance at returning Roger Federer’s tennis serve or getting a hit off Felix Hernandez.
Golf gets knocked for not being athletic, but the golf swing itself is every bit as athletic as the baseball swing. The difference is that you’re not hitting a moving ball. But as golfers are quick to point out, “In golf, you have to play your foul balls.”
For people of the “Show me the money” ilk, the event’s benefits are expected to be significant. The Chambers Bay course was a $24 million gamble built with the hope of attracting the Open. The gamble paid off, and the economic impact this year from thousands of free-spending visitors is estimated at $140 million — and that is just the beginning. Deep-pocketed golfers from throughout the world will put Chambers Bay — site of a U.S. Open! — on their bucket list, and fresh numbers of them will be showing up for decades.
The TV exposure our region receives on the Fox networks should draw other tourists, even if in the minds of some they are embarking to “South Alaska.”
Finally, you the anti-golf person, will have the best seat for watching the action, and it won’t cost you a dime. Just turn on your TV.