The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Chambers Bay is the stunning scenery—the grass on the hillsides, the lonely trees, the Puget Sound in the distance, and the train that runs along the course.
In the United States Open Championship, rarely has a place seemed more American: head west, embrace its beauty and make due with whatever the land gives you.
Chambers Bay was once a quarry, which brings in another dose of Americana. One industry dies only to be reinvented as another. In name, prestige, and back story, no other major—not even the Masters, firmly rooted in a small pocket of Georgia—can match the US Open.
But the golf…if Thursday’s opening round suggested anything, it’s that the mystery of Chambers Bay remains.
Two prohibitive favorites in search of their first majors, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson, fired 65’s by taking advantage of the course’s contours and lengthy fairways. Another favorite, the eternal bridesmaid of the US Open, Phil Mickelson cued the “is this the year?” questions a few days early. All three players smiled as they left the 18th green.
On the flipside, world number one Rory McIlroy uncharacteristically missed several short putts with apprehensive strokes. That he finished at +2 showed how well he actually played.
McIlroy admitted in the post-round that he struggled to commit to his lines. Mickelson uttered a similar refrain. The greens faded into the fairways on Thursday, weathered by unseasonable heat in the Pacific Northwest.
Sergio Garcia said they were as bad as they looked—and they looked brown.
Happy with my Even par round today although it could’ve been a bit better by the way I played but this greens are as bad as the look on TV 😖
— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) June 18, 2015
Meanwhile, Bubba Watson waltzed bunker to bunker and complained loudly at all stops. “Pathetic,” he called the pace of play as he waited to hit his approach on 18. Indeed, the distances, not to mention the terrain, between greens and tee boxes made for a long, treacherous walk.
It was a mixed bag of golf that gave little clue to what will come next. Some of the challenges came naturally to the US Open.
Jason Day’s plugged 9-iron on the par-3 15th fits this category. Others, like the inconsistency of the sand (a Bubba complaint) or the haggard greens (most everybody’s complaint), are Chambers Bay intricacies at best and signs of ill-preparation at worst. Players can accept the former. The latter? Not so much.
Overall, Chambers Bay passed the initial test. Twenty-five players finished under par, a solid number for a US Open. The course will undoubtedly get more difficult as the week wears on.
However, the audition is far from over. How will the USGA tinker with the course over the weekend? How will the golfers react to the randomness of the bunkers and greens?
Those two questions, more than any others, will determine if the championship ever makes it back to Chambers Bay.
The train may have already left the station.