There might have been a feeling among fans entering this weekend’s U.S. Women’s Open that the USGA got its mistakes out of the way at the men’s event a few weeks back.
Well, at least we made it through regulation without much controversy. In the end, Brittany Lang, a journeywoman with one LPGA victory to her name, defeated Anna Nordqvist in a playoff to collect her first major championship. Lang shot one-under 71 to tie Nordqvist at 6-under, forcing an extra three holes.
The two players went back to play 16, 17, 18 for what many consider the highest honor in women’s golf. The first hole went to plan—two tee shots, four putts, two pars. On 17, however, things got screwy.
Lang’s drive landed in the right side of the fairway, while Nordqvist, a Swede, found the sand on the left of the long par-4. Nordqvist’s lie was a good one, though, and she was unlucky to knock her 5-iron over the green. On the other side, Lang faced a difficult up-and-down following a bail-out approach. Both women carded fours, pushing the competition to a crucial final hole.
And like at Oakmont, the USGA stepped in.
Replays showed Nordqvist clipping a clump of sand as she addressed her approach on 17. Perhaps she noticed the infraction, most likely she didn’t. When Fox broadcast the shot in real time, the movement of sand was invisible to the naked eye. But the governing body has access to slow-mo cameras and the powers-that-be made a correct ruling. This wasn’t a gray area like the one that cost Dustin Johnson at Oakmont. This was cut and dry. Nordqvist clipped the sand in address and thus would incur a two-stroke penalty.
— Rickard Bergquist (@sportblogg) July 11, 2016
Say what you will about the laws of the game, but at least it was judged properly. The problem, and here we return to Johnson, was how the USGA applied the penalty. The viewing audience, Fox and feasibly everyone with a Twitter account knew about the infraction before either of the two players.
Nordqvist and Lang both teed off on 18 before an official could catch up to them. Nordqvist, suddenly two back, hit her third shot prior to being informed. Think about that. She thought she could put pressure on Lang with a close approach. In reality, she needed an eagle and hope to surpass her competitor.
It was yet another terrible look for the USGA, made worse when they told both players of the ruling before Lang hit her third shot. Not only did she have a lead, she had the advantage of knowledge. Lang put away one club and selected a more conservative option. A five won her the US Open, which for all intents and purposes she deserved.
But Nordqvist deserved better. Most everybody laid up on the par-5, 18th throughout the weekend. Even Sung Hyun Park, who drew comparisons to Johnson with her absurdly long drives (and wanting short game), splashed her second shot as she tried to match Nordqvist and Lang at 6-under in regulation. Park eventually settled for a T3 finish.
“Think about that. She thought she could put pressure on Lang with a close approach. In reality, she needed an eagle and hope to surpass her competitor.”
Nordqvist didn’t have the opportunity to even consider going for it. Not that her lie would have allowed for it, but she would have had a different game plan off the tee if she knew she was two back rather than tied. She had come from six strokes down to start Sunday before firing a 5-under 67 to take the clubhouse lead. What was a tremendous effort ended in embarrassment for player and hosts.
To make matters worse, the USGA announced Brittany Lang as Bethany Lang in the trophy ceremony. Few had positive things to say about the organization before last month. Now apologies ring hollow.
USGA president Diana Murphy refers to Brittany Lang during trophy ceremony as "Bethany." Our lesson in symbolism is now done for the day.
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) July 11, 2016
That shouldn’t take away from Lang’s performance. She was the most consistent player Thursday to Sunday. At first it looked like someone, say Mirim Lee who shot 8-under in the opening round, might make the tournament a rout. Then, World No. 1 Lydia Ko made her charge. She led entering Sunday before a US Open broke out in earnest. Ko doubled the ninth to fall out of the race.
The great trait of the championship is that it always keeps the players uncomfortable. CordeValle certainly played that role well. The closing three-hole stretch proved punishing. After Nordqvist completed her round, Lang briefly took a one-shot lead with a birdie on 16. She then skirted a short par putt wide on 17 before composing herself for the next four holes.
Lang, at 30, is an aberration. In fact, there were more teenagers in the field than players 30 or older. Lang also represented the United States. She is just the third American to win the US Open since 2010. We applaud her effort and denounce the USGA’s.