US Open soil.
It was controversial all week. Why did the USGA choose a course for a major that was carved out of a gravel pit? Why did they pick a course that uses fescue instead of native Northwest grass? Why did they pick a course so sloped and slippery that it was difficult for spectators to view?
So many questions about these grounds. But these grounds are hallowed to me. Homegrown on this soil, I knew this gravel pit before it even became a golf course. As a kid from the town of Steilacoom on the back border of Chambers Bay Golf Course, I climbed surrounding hills on my ten speed bike, rolled logs into the actual Chambers Bay and walked tightrope along the tracks where this week cargo trains rolled past US Open volunteer marshals raising their arms for “quiet” and Amtrak passengers pressed their faces up against the windows to capture shots of Tiger and Rory on the waterfront holes with their iPhones.
Steilacoom is not the Hamptons or Carmel where Open tourists normally flock.
The Steilacoom Pub and Deli stands on the corner, offering BBQ and beer. Trademark flower baskets hang above the tiny town center along with banners for the Steilacoom Salmon Bake, traditionally the biggest event of the year.
This is the Northwest. This is a come as you are, enjoy it, take it or leave it kind of place. Rain or shine. And that’s exactly what Chambers Bay had to offer.
Who would have expected weeks of sunshine to bake the greens and dry out the grass. The average June temperature is 69 degrees and 1.73″ of rain. Summer doesn’t start here until mid July. The weeklong controversy about fescue grass filled the dry and dusty air that kicked up at spectators’ feet.
Overwhelmed with dirt and throngs of people I staked out a place to park it instead of fighting lines into the grandstands, the most ever built at a USGA event. I found it. My own Amen Corner. Tucked at the neck of the par-3 17th hole along the water was a grassy knoll perfect for watching players land shots over or in the bunker then make or miss their putts on the undulating green. This was the prime spot to watch the US Open unfold, a spot much like Sunnyside Beach down the road, where a slight breeze, sunscreen and a cold drink is all you need to view the waters of Puget Sound.
It was there I witnessed Jordan Spieth make a birdie put to go -6 on the second day. It was there I marked him as the one to watch.
As he approached the green on 9, his final hole on Friday, he suddenly turned before he marked his putt for birdie. His playing partner, Jason Day, had collapsed on the slope. Photographers cut in on the moment, but Spieth temporarily forgot about his crucial putt, raising his hands to protect his friend on the ground, urging the cameras to “Please, stop. Please.”
That’s the kind of guy to follow, and we did the first two days. Spieth and Day happened to be playing in front of Tiger Woods and Ricky Fowler. My husband, Brian Mogg, a Golf Magazine Top 100 Instructor who hosts a golf academy at Chambers Bay, over heard Fowler say on the range he thought the course was “cool”. Evidently Fowler cooled his ideas about Chambers after his first disastrous round. Fowler and Woods followed Spieth and Day the way Eeyore follows Tigger: head down, shoulders slumped. However we did catch a smile from Woods on the 10th green when his shot hit the lip out of the greenside bunker, landing one close to the pin with a grin and a bow. At that moment, he seemed like the old Tiger.
Eons ago golf to me meant carrying the bag for my husband on the PGA Tour with golfers now announcing this event, Brad Faxon and Jay Delsing.
This kind of golf– the US Open on our turf and our territory beat down and war zoned by press and players, was a different story. We own this. We take pride in this. We passed old neighbors and friends from Steilacoom on the grounds. A Senior USGA official that set up this test, John Bodenhamer, was in our wedding. This is our soil. This is our town.
So to hand over this week, this championship, to a young man like Jordan Spieth, who could not help but be proud that the boy that won the Masters would be the one to win here. He is the kid next door, who plays hard, loves his family and says “I’m Steven Spieth’s brother.” He is the kid who with a 3 shot lead on the 17th hole crumbled in the grass and lost two shots. Dustin Johnson chased behind with a birdie, yet Spieth on 18, the hole he grumbled about two days earlier, found the grit to regroup and land a perfect fade on his second shot, yelling “land soft, land soft” to set him up for his two putt birdie. He is the kid who waited in the wings with his caddie, another local Michael Grellar, to watch Johnson putt for eagle on the final hole. But as the sun faded over the Olympic Mountains, Jordan Spieth was the one to hoist up the US Open trophy after attacking Chambers Bay with the take it or leave it Northwest attitude, as well as acknowledging the 12th man behind the ropes. This is the kind of guy you want to give your heart and soil to.
My backyard was the US Open last week. And like the kid that invites the neighbors over the fence to hang out and spend a day or two or four, when friends go on home as dusk and dirt settle, you hope they come back again to play.
Photo Credits: USGA/Daniel Mogg