One of the USGA honchos after the U.S. Amateur Championship on Sunday cited the Chambers Bay layout for demanding that players not only make shots, but also making them “think their way around the course.”
Actually, it wasn’t so much about thinking as it was “imagining.” Because some of these shots were virtually unthinkable.
To win most golf tournaments, players don’t have to rely on three-cushion bank shots, back-to-the-hole putts, using wedges while on the green, or blasting shots 50 feet past the hole so they can trickle back toward the cup at a more reasonable pace.
Most thought the mental challenge was one of the reasons that two of the most proven amateurs in the field made it to the finals. They not only had the most shots in their bag, but they also had the most creativity in their minds.
Peter Uihlein, the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur, defeated David Chung, 4 and 2, to claim the title on his 21st birthday. All Chung did to get to the finals was to score come-from-behind wins over the defending champion and the current NCAA champion.
Both Uihlein and Chung came up with shots on Sunday that appeared almost absurd … but worked exceptionally well.
On the first 18 of the day, Uihlein faced a putt on No. 7 that was steeply downhill from almost 80 feet.
He putted it over a buried elephant, and watched it weave, break after break, as if on a slalom run, to about 5 feet past.
On 12 in the morning, he faced a 60-foot downhill putt, knowing that he could not slow it near the cup without a parachute.
So, instead, he ran it past the cup 20 feet up a hill on the other side of the flag so it would drift back down from the other side.
At times, it looked like they were trying to make putts inside one of those concrete skateboard parks.
“You can’t really get close to the flags by hitting them at the flag,” Uihlein said. “You’ve got to use the slopes and be creative. You’ve got to hit every shot with a certain spin and height; you’ve really got to control your ball. Yes, the golf course is fabulous … and it’s difficult.”
And it exposed the weaknesses of lesser players.
Or those trying to apply conventional shot-making techniques to an unconventional course.
“Imagination is paramount,” said Chung, who, on No. 12 in the morning, drove past the green by a good 30 yards to have the ball leak back down the “fall line” and miss a hole-in-one on the par 4 by only a few inches.
“It’s a trait you have to have to play this course. It’s something that Peter is really good at, and I think I’m pretty good at it too, seeing the different ways to approach a shot and then figuring out which you’re most comfortable with. That’s the fun playing this course … you have to be creative and imaginative.”
Allan Bratton, Uihlein’s caddie and his assistant coach at Oklahoma State, said it made for a rare experience for players unaccustomed to the dry and contoured links layout of Chambers Bay.
“The architect (Robert Trent Jones Jr.) put that all in there, and the set-up calls for that by being so firm,” Bratton said. “It’s such a unique experience for anyone from the U.S. to play something like this because you just don’t get to do that very often.”
Hey, this course demands imagination even from the gallery.
It felt crowded at various pinch points, and dangerous to have fans hiking around the hog-back mounds all day. Rather than trying to hoof it down some of the hills, some fans thought it was safer to sit down and butt-ski to the bottom.
How this layout will accommodate crowds of perhaps 10 times the size of the estimated 5,000 there on Sunday will be something they’ll have to figure out before the U.S. Open arrives in 2015.
What they won’t have to worry about, though, is whether Chambers will be difficult enough for the regular PGA Tour pros.
They will have to bring more than just their best game. They’ll need their imagination, too.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440