The 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills was marred in controversy over extreme course conditions
The Controversial 2004 US Open
The tournament has always been famed for its tough conditions where par is the desired winning score, but it got out of hand in 2004 with the course drying out from heat and wind.
With six under par leading after 36 holes, you certainly wouldn’t think that the setup would be described as too difficult.
Although it went wrong on the weekend when the tournament officials attempted to toughen the course to bring the players back closer to par.
Shinnecock wasn’t watered before Saturday and was more difficult for the third round and then wasn’t watered again prior to Sunday’s play – it became brutal.
No player broke par in the final round and the average score for the day was 79, nine over par. Ernie Els, playing in the final group, shot an 80.
It got so bad that the 7th hole became essentially unplayable.
The green was double-cut and rolled on the Friday evening and was reportedly rolled the next morning. It got worse as the weekend went on.
Players struggled to keep their balls on the green with their tee shots, chips and even putts.
On Sunday morning in first two ball of the day, both David Toms and JJ Henry made triple-bogeys on the 7th.
The next two ball had a double and a triple.
Greenkeepers, astonishingly, were then out watering the green during groups on the final day.
They are infamous photographs that tell the story of the 2004 tournament.
Retief Goosen won the title at four under par with Phil Mickelson in second, two strokes back.
They were the only men under par, although there have only been four US Opens since 2004 with lower winning scores.
So was it too tough? The players seemed to think so.
Tiger Woods said, “This is our national championship and Shinnecock Hills is a great golf course, but they lost control of it.
“This is not supposed to be how golf is played.”
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Jerry Kelly was even harsher.
“Every year the USGA make a mess of this event, but they’ve topped themselves this year,” he said.
“They’ve ruined this tournament and made one of the great golf courses look bad.”
USGA Chief Executive Mike Davis called the 2004 tournament “a great learning experience” back in 2011 when the announced Shinnecock as the 2018 US Open host.
“When it comes to a US Open, you’ve got the world’s best players, and you’re trying to set it up as the hardest event of the year,” he said.
“It’s easy to go from that point to having a setup where well-executed shots are penalised. And that’s exactly what was happening on some of the holes.”
This year the course has been lengthened by around 500 yards but the fairways have been widened and the course will surely be watered far more than it was back in 2004.
The winning score has been under par in the US Open in seven of the last 13 years, with Rory McIlroy (2011) and Brooks Koepka (2017) each finishing on a score of -16.
That perhaps is a sign that the USGA has indeed learnt their lesson from 2004, but have they gone too far?
Last year’s course Erin Hills was heavily criticised for simply being a bombers paradise with wide open fairways. Despite its 7,800+ yard setup, players still took it apart.
The US Open setup is the most heavily scrutinised of the year and they will never please everybody.
Let’s hope this year’s tournament gets remembered for the golf, and not the course.