Golf

No shortage of smiles on final day of Amateur

As Peter Uihlein was closing in on a U.S. Amateur championship notable for its absence of stress Sunday, television viewers got a glimpse of Uihlein’s 21st-birthday, on-top-of-the-world smile.

While it’s not uncommon for elite golfers to abandon their game face here and there – as in five seconds here, three seconds there – the relaxed demeanor of both Uihlein and opponent David Chung was so rare for the finale of a prestigious tournament that commentator Gary Koch twice mentioned it during NBC’s two-hour broadcast from Chambers Bay.

“They’re having fun with each other and with the course,” said Koch. “And that’s helping them hit some really good shots.”

Over the next few months, Chambers Bay’s worthiness as a championship-caliber venue will be assessed after its seven days in the spotlight of the U.S. Amateur. I suspect most of the reviews will rate a thumbs-up for the sheer novelty of the links-style course – and I guarantee some others won’t be as generous – but no review figures to be more eloquent than the refreshingly animated expressions the collegiate finalists showed Sunday on TV.

Chambers Bay didn’t eat them up and spit them out. Instead of mocking their youthful disinclination toward exercising caution at all times, it rewarded their ingenuity. On the biggest day of their burgeoning golf careers, during what had been anticipated to be a “grueling” conclusion – 36 potential holes of match play – Uihlein and Chung had a blast.

That two of the most accomplished golfers in the 312-man field not only advanced to the finals but comported themselves with good cheer during their Sunday showdown bodes well for Chambers Bay’s status with the USGA, which already has identified University Place as home for the 2015 U.S. Open. But the opinions of the participants is only one component in assuring Chambers Bay’s regular place in the U.S. Open cycle.

There are other issues to consider, such as: How did Chambers Bay appear on television?

Despite the drab, overcast sky – shame on you, El Sol, for disappearing for the entirety of NBC’s live telecast on Sunday, depriving viewers of a look at either Mount Rainier or the Olympic Range – the course’s uniqueness was on display. Golf events are televised virtually every weekend throughout the year, but how many of them portray links-style golf in America?

Before NBC took over U.S. Amateur coverage from the Golf Channel on Saturday, Chambers Bay processed a significant bump in tee-time requests.

“We’ve gotten calls from people as far away as Texas,” course pro Brent Zepp said Saturday. “A lot of them knew about Chambers Bay from golf publications, but after they saw the course on TV, they’re really anxious to play it. Golfers also are getting online – 20 foursomes booked future tee times today.”

Even the unseasonable gusts that wreaked havoc Thursday appealed to golfers savoring a challenge.

“It’s never that windy this time of year,” Zepp said. “I mean, 25 mph gusts? I thought it was great.”

Although the weather for the tournament was generally pleasant and often spectacular, the notion of a steady drizzle – an obvious possibility during the last week in June, when the U.S. Open is held – presents spectator-control problems. More than a few fans in the crowds estimated at 5,000 lost their balance groping for a dunes-level vantage point at Chambers Bay, and that was during dry conditions.

When I try to imagine the typical single-day attendance swelled by another 60,000 at the U.S. Open, I envision something like the golf equivalent of the Woodstock Festival.

Then again, the primary motivation of scheduling the U.S. Amateur five years before the U.S. Open was to give Chambers Bay plenty of time to tweak the course and improve on its capability of assimilating huge crowds.

While minds far brighter than mine must figure out where grandstands will be installed on the uneven terrain – perhaps the better question is, how grandstands will be installed – it’s helpful to realize the USGA makes no decisions without blueprints in place.

Because the USGA determined Chambers Bay was a potential Open destination before Chambers Bay opened, I trust the conundrum on where to put grandstands, and the safe flow of fans who aren’t seated, will be recalled as a minor detail in the overall scheme of things.

“We anticipated, literally two or three years ago, that we would have to make a few adjustments here and there to get people around,” Mike Davis, the USGA’s director of rules and competition, said Sunday. “I think what you’re going to see is Chambers Bay is going to have some wonderful opportunities for grandstands where, unlike past U.S. Opens – when you watch maybe one hole or even half a hole – you’ll be able to watch more holes here. Which is great.

“It’s probably going to be a little like a British Open at St. Andrews,” Davis continued, “where it’s going to be a little bit more of a strategy event where you’ve got these wonderful opportunities to watch from. To follow a group 1 through 18, I’m not sure we’d work through it yet, but it’s going to be difficult. We all know there are pinch points out there. But I think, in many ways, it will be a great Open from a spectator standpoint.”

As for the U.S. Amateur, Chambers Bay achieved every expectation except the scene of shimmering water and mountain views on a clear-day finale.

Still, we had Peter Uihlein and David Chung, foes incapable of forgetting they are friends, playing golf on a course that brought out their best as amateur sportsmen.

In lieu of the sun, their smiles worked just fine.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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