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Davis & O'Toole Hold First-Round Post-Mortem
USGA executive director Mike Davis and the association's championship chairman Tom O'Toole met with reporters after the first round of the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club to discuss Thursday's proceedings.
Davis, who handles the course set-ups for U.S. Opens, has been lauded for his fair-mindedness and consistency in presenting an ultimate challenge for the game's elite players, while providing opportunities for birdies and occasional fireworks - good and bad - in America's national golf championship.
Though only six players broke par in the first round, with leader Michael Thompson's 4-under 66 three strokes lower than the five sharing second, the field generally thought Olympic's Lake Course was equitable for the initial 18 holes of the 112th U.S. Open.
Besides explaining how the course played, the two USGA leaders faced questions related to the elimination of the 10-shot rule in making the cut this year. Starting in San Francisco, only the players among the top 60 (and ties) qualify for the weekend. Some players professed they weren't aware of the change.
An information sheet in the locker room didn't mention the 10-shot rule, but Davis said the players were notified well beforehand. "It was certainly something that was in the application for entry," he said. "And I think I know it was in the player memo."
Phil Mickelson, who opened with a 76 - 10 strokes behind Thompson - was among those in the dark, though not because the information wasn't made available. "Honestly, I haven't looked," the four-time major champion said. "If there might be a note or something, I don't know. I haven't really looked at it."
Here's what else Davis and O'Toole addressed following the first round, including the expectation of more firm-and-fast course conditions over the next 54 holes.
MIKE DAVIS: Let me start out, first of all, good afternoon. Joe thought it would be appropriate that maybe once a day Tom O'Toole, our chairman of the championship committee to my right and I came in and just really answered any questions that anybody had about just the competition part of it. I don't think either one of us are necessarily prepared to talk about how parking and traffic went today or how many shirts we sold in the merchandise tent.
I'll start out by saying I think today was a very, very good day. It played really the way we want a championship course to play. It certainly was a good test of golf. It tested virtually every part of their game. And I think the key was we got the course a little bit more firm to where it had been, candidly, a little bit softer in practice rounds than we would have wanted because it was fairly firm the weekend before and the grounds staff and our greens section felt that we really needed to hydrate the course thoroughly to really get through the next four days.
So what I would tell you is that plans for tomorrow, and we deliver this message during our 2:30 meeting with the superintendent and his key assistants, along with our greens section is we want to really mimic the conditions we had today tomorrow. So same green speeds, same firmness, which means that all the greens will get watered. The fairways will get watered. The closely mown areas will get watered. I don't think we're going to water the roughs unless we have some hot spots in them. And how much we water you know, we're blessed, as I said yesterday during our press conference, that when you're lucky enough to be in an area that doesn't rain we get to actually take measurements. I say we, it's really the grounds staff that's doing it. They take moisture readings, anywhere between 9 and 12 places in the greens. And they really try to get that percentage of moisture consistent from green to green.
So that's why this morning we actually watered several greens and others weren't watered at all, to get the moisture readings and the firmness readings the same. I think it played the way we wanted it today. Tom, I don't know whether you've got anything you want to add.
TOM O'TOOLE: No, Mike, well said. I think indicative of his comments were some of those comments consistent with that by the players. I heard Mr. Mickelson and Mr. Woods both comment, making reference if you could control your golf ball today this golf course was difficult but fair and related to the firm setup that Mike and us sought. So I think at least objective achieved for day 1. We're not going to get complacent. We're going to continue to keep our eye on the balls, but I think so far so good.
Q. Going back to the 10-shot rule we talked about the other day. There's a number of players that didn't know about it, I'm curious from a timeline when you decided on it, was it ever announced? How did you get this across to the players?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, Doug, good question. As I recall, and I may have to rely a little bit on some of our competition staff for the exact answer. But it was decided upon by our championship committee going back I'd say the better part of a year, something like that. And it was certainly something that was in the application for entry. And I think - I know it was in the player memo when they - we give them a player memo here, which is usually a two to three page document that talks a little bit about course setup and so on. Anyway, so it was - they were given advance notice when they signed up for the championship, if you will. And I know how many guys actually read the whole entry thing. But that's how it was done.
Just for everybody's background, we had been discussing this for many years. There are pros and cons to the 10-shot rule, but I think ultimately we did it because we felt that all things being equal, that the process out weighed the cons because we just felt like we could get ourselves in a bind at some point with a very large cut, which would mean the final two rounds, Saturday and Sunday, we'd have to go in groups of three or we'd have to go 1 and 10 tees, and we just didn't want to do that for the U.S. Open.
I think I'm correct in saying this, we haven't had somebody win this U.S. Open who has been a part of the 10-shot rule. And in addition, the one thing that is kind of interesting, the reason that for years we kind of held off, to be quite candid, it goes back to Ernie Els, and Ernie in 1993 at Baltusrol, he was a part of the ten shot rule, would not have made the cut without the ten shot rule. And then he had a wonderful round three and round four and actually finished high enough that he was exempt enough for the next year. Then he wins the next year at Oakmont. You can argue if we had not had the ten shot rule Ernie Els may not have been in the field and won the U.S. Open in 1994.
But we've had other ones. 1996 I think we had 108 players make the cut. And I think we started at, I don't know, 6:30, 6:20 in the morning. If you're some places, depending on our TV times we would have had to go 1 and 10 tees. We didn't want to do that or didn't want to go groups. On balance, that's why we made the decision we made?
Q. You didn't have the 10-shot rule in '93, and Ernie wasn't at Oakmont, do you think Monty would have won a major?
MIKE DAVIS: Next question.
TOM O'TOOLE: It is late in the day. Just to add to that, Doug, I think my memory serves me, it was about a year ago in the championship committee voted that in. And shortly thereafter you communicated that to the commissioner. The Tour was aware of it. I don't know where it went from there. We did immediately notify Commissioner Finchem.
MIKE DAVIS: As well as George O'Grady with the European Tour.
Q. We were told by the players after the round they were being told about it in the scoring tent. Is that because not enough people knew?
MIKE DAVIS: I wasn't aware of that, but oftentimes we remind them thinking a player may not have read his entry, his memo, a player may not have read his PGA Tour newsletter. I think this was just a way to probably make sure they did, in fact know.
Q. Regarding your golf course, since you've been involved, both of you, you've been trying to get it more consistent from Monday to Sunday. Tiger talked about how it felt like you kind of flipped a switch, a SubAir switch and it really was dramatically different from today. Do you hope today is where you have it the rest of the tournament?
MIKE DAVIS: The question is, I guess Tiger made a comment that from yesterday's practice round to today that it was a firmer golf course, and he's absolutely right. A couple of comments on that, we do try to get, if we can, the golf course as close as we can practice days to championship days.I will also say that when you get in very dry climates like this one of the things we've learned is it's awful hard to maintain a real firm golf course for seven, eight days. So what we really have decided to do when we get in these kind of climates like here or Pebble Beach or someplace like that is to maybe not shoot for Monday, but start to firm it up Tuesday, if we're lucky enough. And by Wednesday it's there.
What we had was the grounds staff really feeling we needed to hydrate things heavily on Tuesday. And we did. So Monday night and Tuesday morning it got a big shot, because they felt they needed it to get through the week. And then we had that heavy kind of fog and mist and it just didn't dry out yesterday and Tuesday night. So I think we would have preferred - I know we would have preferred for a firmer Wednesday, but just one of those things where we didn't get it. But the rest of the way, last part of your question, we don't want to see this course get much firmer. It's always going to get firmer in the afternoons. The players in the morning are going to play a softer golf course when you're in this type of climate. That's just the way it is.
Q. I think earlier in the week you said and some players maybe expected with the new bentgrass greens, there might be more putts hold. But we're saying three putts, Padraig Harrington had two four putts today. Are you surprised they're struggling on these greens?
MIKE DAVIS: Actually, I was unaware of those facts. At least some of the golf I've been watching, I've been seeing a lot of putts made. Whereas you used to watch putts made here, and there weren't a lot made. But maybe the days, the statistics will bare that out. I haven't seen what you're alluding to.
TOM O'TOOLE: One of those four putts was on No.7 where he played a great shot from the teeing ground, but put himself in the upper tier. And we happened to be watching in the office at the time together and I said there's no way he can hold this wall on the grade. That resulted in one of his four putts. He played it down the player's left of the hole but the right side of the putting green as he was in the back of the green putting down. And that slope is much more severe on the player's left going from the upper tier to the bottom tier, and it catapulted the ball down pass the front of the green.
Q. You guys have been working probably less visibly together for a number of years. When you two get into disagreement over course setup, is there one particular area that's predictable that you will disagree? And then given the sort of lengthy relationship, would each of you describe the strength that the other brings to this combination?
MIKE DAVIS: This ought to be good.
TOM O'TOOLE: Frankly there aren't - there's a lot of discussion. I can't tell you, into my third year as the chair of the championship committee, that I don't recall or recollect any distinct disputes or disagreements we had, but just discussion and back and forth. We have a lot of other disagreements that are just about general things in life. And probably go toe to toe on some other political or other issues more than we would on what's going on out here. We've collaborated well together and have a good exchange.
And Mike's strength is obvious. He's got a great talent and vision to be able to set a golf course up that can test the greatest players in the world with some intrigue and creative. I heard Tiger say earlier in the week, yeah, I came here and played in '98 and I played here a lot as a college at player at Stanford, and high rough and you missed the green, you pulled your lob wedge out and swung hard.
There's certainly a lot more thought going into shots played from around these greens out here today and all week than before. So I think that's what Mike's greatest strength is. He's brought some real intrigue and creativity, as I said. And it really requires a player to use their mental capabilities along with their physical capabilities to get their way around the setup.
MIKE DAVIS: Just to add to that, it's an interesting question. Tom, I think this is his 23rd U.S. Open. Tom before that had caddied in a U.S. Open, caddied in the Masters. He's been around the game a long time. When you do golf course set up you quickly realize it is so subjective and we make a lot of mistakes. You just hope to minimize those. I always go away from a championship, and particularly if I think I'm going to come back to that course or just for somebody that might come back in the future, where I will make pages of notes of things I would have done differently. You try to anticipate what's going to happen, but you just - you miss things. You absolutely miss things.
They may not be major things, but you say if we had done something a little bit different it would have been better. And sometimes you make decisions two or three years in advance that you have to live with. And that's just the way set up is. You may - whatever. There may be a fairway contour or something the club wants to do that we say okay to, and then you look back and say that probably would have been better if we didn't do that. It's not a perfect thing. And then it's guesswork with Mother Nature, too, it really is. I look back - well, take Pebble Beach in 2010. There's one final day that it got too firm for us. And that's the same thing that can happen here. When you get in this climate you love it because you get to dictate, but at the same time it's easy to go over.
And the nice thing is with Tom, Tom's a very good player. And when I want to bounce something off with him he's been around enough to say, I'm not sure that will work, or let's go look at it. Two sets of eyes are better than one. We rely heavily on the greens section and heavily on the golf superintendent. So it truly is a collaborative effort. We get in the 2:30 meeting with the superintendent and our greens section, and we all talk about what we see and what we think needs to happen. We are not expert agronomists.
We talk about where we want to get, but don't know how to get there. We talk about the green speed, but we're not talking about three cuts or two rolls or whether the flex mother is set at .096 inches. That's not our forte. We just say here's what we want. And often times you find in this there are multiple ways to get to a certain end in things.
MIKE DAVIS: Well, not substantially, one of the things that I think is interesting is that in some ways the rough is just kind of stopped here. So we're not planning - we're mowing right around the greens to give that step cut, which that seems to be growing, just I guess because the water and the fertility. But we're not going to mow the rough at least another day just because we're watching shots and we think it's a penalty to get in the rough but it's not too much so. I'm not sure - our message was to the grounds staff, mimic the firmness of the course like you had today, which means you've got to water tonight. But not overly water.
Q. Can I ask you a question about the desirability of a golf course being this difficult for players of this caliber, when you have, I don't know, the world's top three ranked players going around in something like 15 over combined. You see others, as well, struggling. You've got about five or six players in red figures. The lead score looks like a freak outcome at 4 under. You know, it might be technically an interesting spectacle. But is it something that people want to watch? They want to see goals going in, don't they?
TOM O'TOOLE: I think the concept of trying to test the greatest players in the world might not be particularly spectator oriented to some people. But I'll go back to, again, Mickelson's and Woods' remarks about your ability to control your golf ball. And this has long been a brand of the USGA to be golf's toughest test and require the players to use both mental and physical capabilities.
Some players out there are achieving that objective today, others are not. And Mickelson said in his post round press conference that I didn't control my ball today. I hit errant shots. And those are not rewarded and they're particularly penalized when you have this type of a set up. This is a difficult process to undertake as a player because they don't play this course every year or annually or come here for a Major repeatedly. So they have to come and put their mental and physical capabilities together and assess how they play the golf course and that's a difficult thing to do. But that's what makes the U.S. Open so unique. That's what the USGA has built our brand on and we would continue to have that difficult examination. So some are traversing that and others are not.
MIKE DAVIS: I think the only thing I would add is this is really what we are trying to do. And I think that if fans had to see this 52 weeks of the year it probably wouldn't be good. But to see it once a year, at least the feedback we've gotten for decades and decades is that it's something that fans want to see a tough test, one week of the year. And I think that, you know, the times when it hasn't been as tough we tend to get more player complaints than when it is really tough. Because I think there's almost this expectation if they come to the U.S. Open and it's not tough, what happened?
So the trick is we want to make it hard, but there needs to be to be an exciting part of it, too, that really is the trick. I think it is possible to do both. And that's what we really do strive to do is make it a difficult test but make it interesting. So when we set up holes like 17th week, that was to try to spread it out to make it exciting. So we see a 2 there today and somebody made an 8, it was something more than a double bogey. And you don't see that - you're not going to see that every hole. But that really is - this is what we're trying to do. I would say that we're not there's no part of this that is embarrassed about, that's what we tried to do. We made it very clear. Some don't like it, I guess they can tune out by this week or not file an entry if you're a player.
Q. Given that it's going to get harder and faster than today (inaudible.)
MIKE DAVIS: There were some. When we saw the wind that was forecasted for up to 20 miles an hour. I don't think it ever got to 2. But out of the southwest there were certain holes - for instance, 13, which has been very talked about, that was a hole that would have been straight right to left with a green that can't right to left with the closely mown. So that's one we made sure let's make sure we get enough water on the green to be able to hold a shot. I think 17 we were trying to keep that ever so slightly softer, because we want a shot that's well hit to hold that green. Because it's not holding the green they're not going to go for it, which defeats the whole reason we're doing this.
Three is always a green you have to watch out, you don't see it, but the back two thirds of that green actually falls away from you. You're so high up on the tee when you hit it if we don't keep that a hair softer, you watch the balls bounce off the back. But we were trying to get the greens consistently firm, so when a player hit to them we knew what to expect: Thanks, everybody. Hopefully this was helpful. Appreciate the time. Thanks.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.