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Crunch time for the USGA





There is every possibility that the 2017 US Open will be sans both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, which would be the first time neither have been present at the showpiece for 24 years. The winds of change for the next generation have very much swept in, but, for the beleaguered organisation staging the championship, a mere change of momentum will do just fine.

For it has been a sorry couple of years for the USGA. The controversies began at the previously-untried Chambers Bay for the 2015 US Open. By Sunday of that week, the greens were variously described as "extremely poor", "as bad as they look", and "the worst, most disgraceful surfaces I have ever seen on any tour" by some of the leading players. The utter farce was salvaged only by a thrilling victory for the then-rampant Jordan Spieth.

A year later though, the USGA once again outdid themselves in undermining what should have been a heart-warming tale with an inexplicable own goal. On the hallowed turf of Oakmont - site of Ernie Els' triumph in 1994 - we, and Dustin Johnson himself, spent much of the final round not knowing what his score was, with the unedifying saga concluding with a contentious, but thankfully immaterial one-stroke penalty shortly before he lifted the trophy.

So low is the USGA's current standing that players are openly criticising the body, with Adam Scott in particular venting his disgust for what promises to be another especially 'attritional' week's US Open golf at the little known, but monstrous Erin Hills.

"Whether it's rules changes or any other decisions they make, I think their process is out," the Australian said. "I just don't see how they get to some of these decisions. They're hanging onto the rules of golf by a thread, really. That's why they're panicky and they're trying to see what's going on out here on Tour."

Scott's candour was in reference to a recent meeting between the USGA and PGA Tour's player advisory in a bid to smooth over fracturing relations. Indeed, their catalogue of errors was by no means confined to the gaffes of the past two US Opens.

At the 2016 Women's US Open, a three-hole playoff between Anna Nordqvist and Brittany Lang descended into the bounds of absurdity, as the former was given a two-stroke penalty for making contact with sand in a bunker on the second playoff hole.

However, because this had only been picked up well after the incident by a high definition camera, the officials came to their decision while the duo were on the final hole. Inexplicably though, they initially informed Lang but not Nordqvist of the sanction, with the latter obliviously hitting a good third shot onto the green, and then looking on in bewilderment as her fully-informed opponent played conservatively, when ostensibly needing to force the issue to win. To cap it all off, the victorious Lang was then incorrectly introduced as 'Bethany' at the presentation ceremony.

The fact that this year Women's US Open will be taking place at a golf course owned by Donald Trump will do the USGA's reputation very little good either - however just or unjust that may be.

Staging the 2017 men's event at Erin Hills, a course which is merely a decade old and comes in at more than 7,700 yards, represents another significant gamble on the part of the USGA.

In fact, it is set to become the longest course in major championship history. A challenging layout is part and parcel of what makes the US Open so unique (the stated aim is to 'thoroughly test each and every part of a player's golf game'), and there is little appetite for such a tradition to be altered. Yet the fine line between tough and unfair is one that has been crossed before Chambers Bay - Shinnecock 2004 springs to mind - and this week would be a bad time for it to happen again.

From the flyovers, Erin Hills looks a picturesque-enough course. There even looks to be a couple of holes which are somewhat innocuous - the 17th among them. The fact that rain is scheduled for Wednesday should soften things up quite nicely too. And the USGA seem to have learned their lesson from last year, bringing in a 'white hat' official during the tournament to effect decisions instantaneously under the 'expedite and decide' policy.

What could possibly go wrong, right? Viewers and players alike will merely be focusing on what should be a fascinating week's golf. But for the suits at USGA headquarters, there will no doubt be some frayed nerves, as they hope and pray that any blemishes are a result of player error, rather than organisational incompetence.


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