Schadenfreude. It crept up on me mid-day Friday during the second round.. I’ve been watching US Open golf tournaments for many years, but had never experienced such delight watching the trials and tribulations of professional golfers. I shamelessly giggled at my TV screen as putts swerved by cups, tee balls flew into hinterlands and the usually laser-like shots with short irons managed to wind up, well, anywhere but There. (Phil Mickelson had five wedges in his bag.) By late Sunday afternoon I knew I’d witnessed the most dramatic and satisfying major tournament of my life.
The scene was Merion Golf Club, one of the good ole goodies, in Ardmore, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. Built on 112 acres and measuring just 6,996 yards, Merion is short by today’s standards. The average length of PGA tournament courses today is around 7,500 yards, often built on hundreds of Better Homes and Gardens gated community acres. Many golfing aficionados were predicting low scores at Merion.
Merion had real US Open rough. If a fairway was missed or an approach shot went astray, both as common as divots, awaiting was deep, snarly, inpenetrable stuff into which pant cuffs disappeared and, if lucky, a ball could be advanced 100 yards, usually less. Trying to hit a little flop-shot onto the green could result in leaving the ball in “the shit” as they say, or sending it completely over the green into more shit.
Merion’s East Course opened in 1912 and was designed by an amateur golfer and club member. He had never designed a course for golf and never did again. Merion’s greens were not particularly fast by US Open standards, but now they were old and tricky with very subtle undulations. Often the pros couldn’t see the breaks, even when three feet from the cup.
Merion, though short, is also tight. One 3 par hole played from 90 to 115 yards and pro after pro came up short of the green, “in the shit”. I watched all four days and if I had been able to place bets against pros accurately hitting a 100 yard shot or sinking a putt of almost any length, I’d now be a rich man.
75 of the world’s best professional golfers missed the 8 over par Cut. Tiger Woods ended his quest to tie Nicklaus in major tournament winds at 13 over par, K. J. Choi the same. Adam Scott, the new wunderkind and Sergio Garcia fell on their five irons at 15 over par. It was a blood bath. Oh my.
U.S. golf tournament attendees yell,”Go in the hole” the instant a player strikes his tee ball and applaud every final putt, even those for triple bogey. The pros usually touch the bill of their caps in acknowledgement. This week, it was difficult for them to acknowledge applause or anything other than the sinking queasiness of humiliation. They sometimes looked embarrassed and they were obviously suffering. The big names feast on adulation and first class perks. They hit the ball 350 yards, no problemento, and create more spin on a ball than a dragster, but even when gearing back with 3 woods and driving irons, they couldn’t keep it on the short stuff, and they couldn’t sink a putt.
And then there were the amateurs who “went low” and got to play on the week-end. 20 year old Michael Kim was just five strokes off the lead after the third round. Yikes, that’s not good for a multimillionaire ego, particularly when it’s commiting sepuku on national television.
The winning score was 1 over par. The last guy to finish in the money was 28 over par. The over all purse was $ 8,000,000. The winner collected $ 1,440,000. An American, Kyle Stanley, finished last with a score of 308, 28 over par and earned $16,325.00.
Which brings me back to Schadenfreude.