U.S. Open-grade ‘carnage’? It arrived a week early this year

u.s. open carnage at memorial

On Sunday the world's best players faced a setup that felt a lot like golf's toughest test.

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This 2024 edition of the Memorial Tournament might have had players wincing, but it could have been tougher still, Jack Nicklaus will tell you.  

Yes, the Sunday scoring average was just a hair under 75, making it the second-toughest PGA Tour round this season; sure, Scottie Scheffler carded his worst final round in two years, a four-over 74 (and still won!); and, okay, yeah, so Shane Lowry — renowned for playing difficult courses well — shot a spit-take Sunday 85.

But it could have been worse, Jack would say!

In fact, he did say. Seated to next Scheffler in the champion’s press conference at Muirfield Village Sunday evening, Nicklaus — when asked to assess the difficulty of the setup — harkened back to the fourth edition of the Memorial, in 1979.

“Our greens got to 17 and a half,” Nicklaus began, referring to the Stimpmeter reading of the green speed. To put that incomprehensible number in perspective, greens on most modern-day Tour setups run around 13. “That, to me, was our fault,” Nicklaus continued before getting more specific and pointing the finger at Muirfield’s then-superintendent, Eddie Etchells.

“Ed was back laughing,” Nicklaus said. “I said, ‘Ed, hey, this is not about you. This is a golf tournament for a lot of people that I wanted them to come back and be here again, and I want ’em to enjoy it. I don’t mind it being tough, but we don’t make it ridiculous. I mean, that year 79 was a normal score in the last round. I think I shot 79 and moved up in the field. It was ridiculous.”

That checks out. Nicklaus shot a seven over on Sunday and finished 29th. Tom Watson, the winner at three under, was the only player to finish under par. The course was “impossible,” Nicklaus said.

No one used that word last week to describe the entirety of the course, at least not publicly. But there’s little question that the Memorial, which because of some schedule rejiggering this season landed in the pre-U.S. Open slot customarily held by the Canadian Open, was the meanest Open warm-up in recent memory. The final round was particularly taxing. More players (three) shot in the 80s than the 60s (two). Adam Hadwin, who’d been nipping at Scheffler’s heels all day closed with three straight bogeys to finish four back in solo third. “I had put a Band-Aid on the round for a long time before that,” he said. “And the Band-Aid came off and it was carnage.”

The greens were vicious. “We were spinning back and stopping 8-irons on Thursday after the rain,” said Collin Morikawa, whose final-round 71 left him just one shy of Scheffler’s 72-hole mark. “By today, it was impossible to even get it to stop within five, six yards.”

Ask Scheffler, who typically makes three birdies before he’s out of the shower. At menacing Muirfield on Sunday, he managed just one.
“You’re a survivor,” Nicklaus told the world’s best player after the round.

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“Yeah,” Scheffler said, “you made this place brutal today.”

Pinehurst No. 2 will, of course, be no pushover, either, this week in the Sandhills of North Carolina. Its domed greens, like Muirfield’s, will be fast and fearsome. Its runoff areas will leave daunting short-game shots. “You chip five balls, you’re probably going to chunk one of them,” U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson said Monday. And balls that trundle into the sand and native grasses off the fairways will ask all kinds of questions of the field.

But you can’t help but think Muirfield hasn’t been useful prep. Hadwin, for one, thinks it was. “It’s going to be a very similar test,” he said, still licking his 70th-, 71st- and 72nd-hole wounds at the Memorial. “You’re going to hit some good shots that don’t get rewarded and you’re going to have to scramble and stay patient and do all the things that I tried to do today.”

Morikawa also endorsed the benefits of a tough tune-up. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “I think a lot of guys don’t mind it, to be honest. It gets us into the major week. Obviously, majors are a long week, and, you know, finishing 2nd or 1st or top 5 tends to kind of drain you, but we do this week in and week out — we kind of know how to prep and what to go into for next week and I have enjoyed this a lot.”

Scheffler was still in high school the last time the U.S Open visited Pinehurst, in 2014. Martin Kaymer ran away with the title, shooting nine under over four days. But the course proved plenty tough: Kaymer was one of only three players to break par (Rickie Fowler and Eric Compton shared runner-up honors at one under). Scheffler’s Pinehurst inexperience notwithstanding, he comes into this week as the prohibitive favorite, with Tiger-like 4-1 odds, which feel like they probably should be even lower. Before leaving Muirfield Village, Scheffler reminded his peers why.

“I love difficult golf courses, I love difficult tests and this week was definitely one of those tests,” he said Sunday evening. “Execute is really all I’m focused on — especially when golf courses get this tough. You have to be so committed to what you’re doing, and I try to focus on just my execution and let the results be the results.”

And the wins be the wins.

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.

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