U.S. Open Tennis: A Premature Passing of the Torch

To be clear, the 2014 men’s final of the U.S. Open did not represent an end of an era. Before Marin Cilic of Croatia dismissed Kei Nishikori of Japan in straight sets there were no funeral pyres lit, no songs of remembrance sung. The sadness that swirled through Ashe Stadium like the gulf stream had little to do with the quality of play or the crowning of an unfit champion as the 6’6” Cilic, with his rangy athleticism and powerful service game, gave the crowd plenty to cheer about.

No the real reason for remorse, the factor that few fans and ticket agencies anticipated, was that for the first time since the 2005 Australian Open a major men’s singles final took place without at least one member of the Big Four. But just because there was no Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray does not mean that tennis is on the verge of a cosmic power shift. Over time, Monday night will prove to be more of an anomaly than a trend as the demise of men’s tennis current standard bearers is being grossly overstated.

The cause for concern comes from the fact that for nearly a decade the Big Four has brought both consistency and comfort to tennis fans. We could all count on tuning into a Grand Slam final and watching at least one of the sports all time greats compete. That familiarity is important to the brand of tennis and it’s not going away, at least not any time soon. Djokovic and Murray are still very much in the prime of their careers and even at the ripe old age of 33 Federer still covers the court with the grace of a man half his age. Nadal has battled back from injuries before and we can all but pencil him in for the finals at Roland Garros next June.

But when the torch is finally past to the next generation of men’s tennis stars fans must take comfort in the reality that new names and rivalries will rise and take shape just as they did before the Big Four when when it was McEnroe and Connors to Becker and Edberg to Sampras and Agassi and so on and so forth. Cilic and Nishikori might not be household quantities yet, at least not in this country, but eventually their names might be capable of lighting up the marquee as tennis’ next big stars.

Just not yet…

The U.S. Open: Tennis Made In New York City

Tennis in New York City. A combination of glitz, glamour and grit. Where greatness does not shy away from the bright lights of the big city. From baseline to baseline, with flashbulbs flickering, the stars come out to watch the best compete in the final slam of the season, the year’s last chance to claim one of tennis’s most prestigious prizes.

In the City That Never Sleeps, players cannot afford to tire. This moment in the spotlight will not allow for old wounds to heal or fresh scars to mend. The U.S. Open is about persevering past the obstacles that accumulate over an exhausting season. Survival here requires not just skill but internal strength and fortitude in the face of a different kind of hardship, one unique to this proud city and its people.

This is a place where titles are overrated, and work is valued. If you’re willing to sweat. Willing to bleed willing to grind then this city will welcome you. It will adopt you as one of its own. Because if there’s one thing New York respects it’s the ability to overcome adversity. The desire to stand up and stare down a challenge. Admiration doesn’t come easy but it is a currency greater than any other commodity. It cannot be bought or sold. It must be earned.

Heads up. Feet forward fast. This city does not stop. It will not slow down. Not for past champions. Not for the future’s brightest stars. Not for the game’s all time greats. There is a pace to this place so rare to the rest of the world that it cannot be matched by Melbourne, Paris or London. One slip. One stumble. A single moment of self doubt and the city will pass you by.

Here it’s better to be brash and bold than timid and temperamental. Petulance is panned regardless of pedigree. This city cares not about what you’ve done in the past only what you’re willing to do in the present. There are no laurels to rest, no record books to regard. Win today, hero tomorrow. Until it’s time to go to work again.

Look around and you’re surrounded by history. By icons past and present. This is the city where stars are made, where fame is created. Where talent transcends. Be careful not to stare for too long because objects are closer than they appear. Success is poised for the taking for those capable of withstanding.

So embrace the moment. Soak in the scrutiny. Accept the adoration. But do not rest. Time to turn on the lights. For this is New York. The City That Never Sleeps.

A Viewer’s Guide to the 2014 U.S. Open

The USGA has made it clear that there will be zero controversy at Pinehurst No.2 this week regarding the difference between native waste areas and bunkers. For those scoring at home, players are allowed to ground their club and remove loose impediments in waste areas ONLY. Doing so in a bunker costs strokes, just ask Dustin Johnson.

In an effort to make the differentiation simpler, each group at the U.S. Open will be assigned a walking rules official. And if that’s not enough, all bunkers will come equipped with rakes, waste areas will not. So, in other words, it’s anyone best guess and there will certainly be a few minor discrepancies over the next few days.

For all you armchair rules officials watching the U.S. Open from your basement coach, attached is a primer to help you recognize the difference between a waste area and a bunker. Put the USGA on speed dial because you never know when a little extra assistance is required.

Pinehurst Hazards

 

The 2014 U.S. Open: A Final Round Oral History

Retrospectives are all the rage right now, in fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an event from the past that has yet to be given the oral treatment. And while it is important to know that Speed just turned 20, (“I’m a cop. L.A.P.D. There’s a bomb on your bus! There is a bomb on your bus!“) we as a society need to start turning our attention forward. Take the upcoming U.S. Open golf championship for example. Through the miracles of space, time and hallucinogenic drugs, we’ve been able to transport ourselves into the future to see what transpired during Sunday’s final round at Pinehurst No.2.

Heading into Sunday’s final round of the 114 U.S. Open, American hero, and suspected insider trader, Phil Mickelson was tied for the lead with the quiet loner (code for rude) Frenchman Victor Dubuisson. One shot back were a group of golfers that included Matt Kuchar and Luke Donald. Before action on Sunday got under way, all people could talk about were the conditions at Pinehurst No. 2.

Ben Crenshaw : When my partner Bill Coore and I took on the challenge of restoring Pinehurst we tried to recapture as much of the charm and intrigue of the original Donald Ross design. An unintended consequence of our loyalty was that it became impossible to distinguish between bunkers and waste areas. Unfortunately this confusion led to a few regrettable situations.

Dustin Johnson: I was disqualified after the 3rd round for the repeated and excessive grounding of my club in a hazard. You would have thought that I learned my lesson after Whistling Straights in 2010 but it’s a testament to the genius of the USGA that even though there was a walking official following each group it took the expertise of some Canadian dude watching at home from his sofa to phone in half my violations.

Wayne Gretzky: As a former world class athlete myself I call it as I see it and if you expect to marry my daughter then you need to be able to hold yourself to the highest ethical and professional standards.

Crenshaw: We are sorry for what Dustin went through and shocked as we thought that each bunker was going to be lined with a rake. In any event, the course played just like we wanted it to: firm, fast an unique. Kind of like some of the links courses you see at the British Open.

Bubba Watson was unavailable for this article but did speak to a waitress at a Waffle House in Pinehurst, NC shortly after missing the cut Friday.

Bubba Watson: I play Bubba Golf that’s all I can do and I wasn’t about to stop bombing my driver off the tee. That’s why fans love me so much. So what if every single one of my tee shots ran off the hard, dry fairways and into the waste areas. Normally I’m a much more inventive player. But that’s not why I lost. I lost because I wasn’t supposed to win. Just wasn’t in the good Lord’s plans.

God: I actually missed Bubba’s first two rounds as I was down in the southern hemisphere tending to several soccer players in Brazil who were seeking guidance during the group stage of the World Cup. What happened anyway? He went with the driver didn’t he? I knew he couldn’t resist temptation. We’ll have to talk about that before the Travelers next week.

Watson: Seriously, why couldn’t they throw a little hydration on those fairways? It’s not like the planet is running out of fresh water or anything.

Crenshaw: Our planet is running out of water which was one of the many reason’s why when we redesigned Pinehurst No. 2 we did so with the environment in mind. We ripped a crap ton of sprinklers out of the ground, cutting our annual water usage down from 55 million gallons a year to slightly under 15. Viewers at home may think that we did a poor job caring for the course on account of all the brown, burnt out grass but what we’ve really did was help save the environment. Go ahead, ask the players. They’ll tell you the course was difficult, fair and environmentally friendly.

Ian Poulter: Pinehurst was fair and difficult but I’ve got a garage in Orlando full of luxury, gas guzzling automobiles so clearly climate change is not tops on my list of priorities.

Sunday’s final pairing of Mickelson, and Dubuisson didn’t tee off until 3:00. By then, a few players, including Rory McIlroy had already made an early afternoon run launching themselves onto the first page of the leader board.

Rory McIlroy: Having played relatively poorly over the first few rounds of the tournament I knew I need to post a low score Sunday which I did. I checked my phone after I finished my final round and was really overjoyed by the amount of positive messages. I even had time to check twitter and Instagram to see what else Caroline and Serena were up to in Miami beach. Hopefully she’s moved on.

Caroline Wozniacki: I’ve moved on.

Dubuisson and Mickelson both played the front 9 2 over par but settled into a nice groove after the turn.

Phil Mickelson:  Ever since I lost to Payne Stewart back in ’99 I’ve always felt like I’ve had a bit of unfinished business at Pinehurst and was therefore happy to be in contention on Sunday.

Victor Dubuisson was unavailable for this article but did give an interview to Le Monde. That interview has been translated into English by a high school sophomore French student from Muskegon Michigan.

Dubuisson: I don’t often play in states but when I do I like to do my best and I believe I did my best but always feel like I’m position to succeed.

As the final group of Mickelson and Dubuisson stepped to 18 tee they remained tied for the lead, one stroked ahead of McIlroy and Matt Kuchar.

Matt Kuchar: Golly what a golf tournament.

Mickelson: When I stepped up to 18 tee and saw the name “Ogilvie” on the leaderboard my mind instantly raced back to Winged Foot. How was I supposed to know it was Joe Ogilvie not Geoff?

Jim “Bones” Mackay: I insisted that Geoff spells his name with a “y” instead of an “ie” but Phil would have none of it.

Mickelson: Even though the Ogilvie thing rattled me a bit I figured that since I was hitting fairways all day I could be a little aggressive off the tee on 18.

Bones: As we approached the tee I thought about hiding Phil’s driver behind the water cooler but decided there was no need because we had strategized how he was going to lay back a bit and avoid trouble on his second shot.

Mickelson went with the driver and ended up running his ball through the fairway and into a waste area. Dubuisson piped a 3-wood that rolled safely along the fairway.

Dubuisson: I play the ball very well all day for a sportsman and on 18 hole I was in imperfect position to win me first majors.

After Dubuisson played his second shot to the front right portion of the green Mickelson prepared to hit his approach from the waste area.

Mickelson: Right before I hit my second shot on 18 I felt a presence looming over me that brought me great calm and joy.

The Spirit of Payne Stewart: I wasn’t there yet as I was putting the finishing touches on that day’s wardrobe. Honestly, it’s a shame that there isn’t a current golfer sponsored by the NFL.

Mickelson hit a miraculous shot from the sand leaving himself less than 15 feet for  birdie and perhaps his first U.S. Open.

McIlroy: After Phil played it in nice and tight to the pin on 18 I figured since I was already one stroke and he was unlikely to three putt from that position that there was no need to keep hanging around the clubhouse. I checked Instagram one more time to make sure Caroline is doing ok and got in my courtesy car and drove away.

Caroline Wozniacki: I’m doing o.k.

Kuchar: Golly what a golf tournament!

As Mickelson and Dubuisson strode confidently to the green the crowd rose in appreciation.

Dubuisson: All day people be nice and polite and even though I France playing in United State Open I made feel happy.

Mickelson: The 18 green at Pinehurst still brings back such vivid memories of ’99 and I knew Payne was there with me on that day too.

The Spirit of Payne Stewart: From my vantage point it looked like Phil was in total control of his game and that there was little extra comfort that I could provide.

Mickelson: Payne really wasn’t much of a help so as I lined up my putt I had Bones text Billy to see if Carl had any tips.

Bones: I never texted Billy Walters. My phone is under FBI surveillance same as Phil’s and it wouldn’t be prudent to draw any extra attention from the Feds especially with a putt to win the U.S. Open. Plus I knew we’d get a good read from Victor.

Dubuisson: All day I play pretty good golf and had a putt to bird 18 but ball through the break and I tap in for level.

Mickelson: When Victor’s birdie putt blew by the hole I felt like I had the speed guaged perfectly. I looked at Bones one final time and asked him if Billy texted me back to which he replied, “Billy says trust your gut like you did when you picked the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl in ’01”.

Bones: I lied. Like I said, I never texted Billy Walters. But I wasn’t about to tell my guy that.

Mickelson: So thanks to some sound advice I trusted my line and rolled the putt perfectly towards the hole.

Dubuisson: I knew it be good as soon as off face of putter.

Bones: Straight in the cup.

Kuchar: Golly what a golf tournament!

Mickelson: Winning my first U.S. Open was a dream come true. And to complete the career grand slam at Pinehurst of all places is incredibly special. I can now consider myself one of the greatest golfers of all time. And Tiger not being here does not take away from this accomplishment.

Tiger Woods was unavailable for this article but was overheard muttering to himself while playing miniature golf with his two kids in Jupiter.

Tiger: Great for Phil but this Hollywood ending bullshit would have never happened if my back were healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Merion Advantage

Merion US Open RainThis week Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa hosts the 113 U.S. Open. With the deepest field in professional golf history set to tee it up starting Thursday morning, predicting a winner can be downright difficult and destructive. Here is a sampling of scenarios should things play out for a few specific golfers.

Rory McIlroy wins if Nike returns his old clubs allowing him to regain the form that had him lapping the field two years ago at Congressional when he won his first major. It’s probably too early to tell for sure but it’s starting to seem as if Rory lacks Tiger’s maniacal drive to succeed at all costs. Using NBA parlance, he’s like Shaq to Tiger’s Kobe, a once in a generation talent capable of dominating his opponents yet also quite content with other off the course interests.

Webb Simpson wins if the golf gods believe in repeat champions, which the way the 2012 U.S. Open champ is currently playing seems highly unlikely.

Jim Furyk wins if there is a home field advantage. The Pennsylvania native may very well  be a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan but would surely switch allegiance across the state to the Philadelphia Eagles if that’s what it took to deliver another major.

Sergio Garcia wins if everyone remains quiet during his backswing.

Ian Poulter wins if this were the Ryder Cup.

Keegan Bradley wins if there is such a thing as NHL karma. The lifelong Boston Bruins fan must be enjoying his favorite hockey team’s pursuit of Lord Stanley. Same can be said for Chicago transplant Luke Donald and the Blackhawks.

Steve Stricker wins if he stops giving putting tips to other golfers.

Adam Scott wins if this were a handsomest man on the PGA Tour competition.

Bubba Watson wins if Merion were about 1000 yards longer but since it’s the shortest course of the four majors this year bombers like Bubba and his playing partners Dustin Johnson and Nicolas Colsaerts could have a tough time navigating the tighter landing spaces.

Zach Johnson wins if he’s learned how to walk on water, a useful skills given that holes 11 and 12 may very well be under water thanks to a 3 day deluge that inundated the northeast over the weekend.

Steve Jones, the 1996 U.S. Open champ, wins if like the cicadas he returns after gestating underground for 17 years.

And finally Tiger Woods wins if the oddsmakers are right, which they usually are. Merion is a mystery to most of these players having not hosted a major championship since 1981. We know that Tiger tends to perform exceptionally well at tracks he plays frequently (see: Doral) so it’ll be interesting to watch how he handles such unfamiliar terrain.

view from Merion courtesy of @GeoffShac