The essential ingredient that’s been missing from this 121st U.S. Open

louis oosthuizen

The U.S. Open could use some good, old-fashioned carnage.

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There’s been something missing at this 121st U.S. Open.

No, we’re not talking about Tiger, although we certainly miss him. Nor do we speak of packed, sweaty grandstands, which we’re, of course, missing, too. Joe Buck and the Fox Sports robo-cams? Nope, not them, either. They’re all but vanquished from our memory banks, having covered their last Open way back in 2019 — keep up, people!  

Absent from this U.S. Open along the cliffs of Southern California has been any real sense of tangible, in-your-face anguish. The championship synonymous with blood, sweat and kvetching players has exhibited disappointingly little of those hallmarks over the last three days.

Many observers have remarked that this U.S. Open has looked and felt more like a Farmers Insurance Open, the annual Tour stop at Torrey Pines. That sounds like a lazy cheap shot, but if you look at the numbers, the analogy is warranted. At the 2021 Farmers, the field scoring average on the South Course over four days was 73.341. The scoring average at this U.S. Open through 54 holes: 73.502. A mere .161 differential. Peanuts!

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The field this week has made just 158 double bogeys and 15 “others” (triples or worse). Compare that to last year’s Open, at Winged Foot, where the field rung up 253 doubles and 27 others. Or venture back to Shinnecock Hills in 2018 — if you dare! — where the boys cumulatively signed for 338 doubles and 59 others.

Come on, you’re saying, apples to oranges — Torrey isn’t Winged Foot or Shinny. Then allow us to direct your attention to the 2008 U.S. Open — yes, at Torrey Pines. In the week when Tiger and Rocco put on a show for the ages, the field scoring average was a beefy 74.711. Total doubles: 298. Others: 50! Unless the blue blazers grew the rough another 3 inches Saturday night and took a flamethrower to the greens, the 2021 Open seems destined to be a teddy bear next to the ’08 iteration.   

The setup on Saturday, when the scoring average dipped to 72.408, was particularly benevolent. “I thought the golf course played short today,” Rory McIlroy said after a five-birdie 67. “They played the up tee on 3 with a short pin, they played the up tee on 9, up tee on 13, up tee on 17, so the golf course played short. It means that all the par-5s are reachable for the guys, and I think that was part of the reason why you’re seeing some better scores.”

“I thought the golf course played short today,” Rory McIlroy said after a Saturday 67.

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Added the Scottish southpaw, Robert MacIntyre, after his one-over 72, “The score is there for the taking. I just didn’t take my chances.” Martin Kaymer (69) called Torrey “gettable.” Of the notably lush greens, 54-hole co-leader Louis Oosthuizen said, “It’s not that quick, but that’s poa in the afternoons.”

Not that quick? Open greens should be running like an Indy track. Less green, more brown!

Paul Casey shot a front-nine 31 on Saturday on his way to a 67. “Any time you can have seven birdies in a round of golf at a U.S. Open,” he said, “it’s a good day.” 

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Well, for the players, yeah. But what of the fans, most of whom relish in seeing the Open punch their golfing heroes squarely in the teeth. Where was the pain?! The carnage?! The carping?!

Indeed, to a man at Torrey, the field has had nothing but good things to say about the South Course setup. Birdies have a way of breeding compliments.

Even Ian Poulter was gushing about the job the USGA has done.

Ian Poulter!

You remember Poults, right? He’s the guy who has spent his career excoriating U.S. Open setups. “I came into my first U.S. Open, and I wanted to enjoy it, and I hated it,” he said at the 2018 Shinnecock Open (that was the same week when he was so triggered he turned a Shinnecock locker into a stack of firewood). “I hated a lot of U.S. Opens through the years, to be honest.” Among them: the 2008 edition at Torrey. “Hated it,” Poulter recalled on Saturday.  

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But this week at Torrey, where Poulter has gone 74-71-68? “Credit to those guys,” he said of the USGA’s setup team. “I like what they’re doing. I like the trend they’re on, and hopefully we can make it a little more enjoyable at times.”

It’s a familiar refrain, even from the USGA’s most reliable critics. “I just thought that they’ve done such a great job with the setup,” said Phil Mickelson, three years removed from a petulant course-setup protest that has gone down in Open lore.

That’s the other thing that has been missing this week: a five-alarm, viral-ready meltdown. Maybe it’s the laid-back San Diego vibe, but where is the six-putt-followed-by-a-WD (like we saw at Winged Foot)? Where is the club-snapping (like we saw at Pebble)? Where is Spencer Levine at Oakmont?

There’s still time, USGA! Make Sunday hurt.

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.