Friday, June 10, 2005

Meeks shall inherit the wrath: USGA official despised by golfers for Open setups

Back from Pine Valley (which I'll write about in some detail in coming days). This is yesterday's golf column ripping Tom Meeks. Enjoy.

National Post
Byline: Robert Thompson
On Golf
Tom Meeks shouldn't have been given another chance.
Most golf fans won't immediately know who Meeks is, but they'll surely have seen the results of his actions.
Meeks is the man in charge of setting up golf courses for the United States Golf Association, the organization that runs, among other events, the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. The spotlight is always on him during U.S. Open week, just as it will be at Pinehurst No.2 during next week's U.S. Open.
He's also responsible for selecting the disastrous pin positions at the Olympic Club in 1998 which cost Payne Stewart the U.S. Open that year. Oh, and Meeks set up Pinehurst No. 2 a year later with flag locations so difficult that John Daly ended up taking a swing at a ball that was rolling back off a green in the final round and announced the USGA was out to embarrass the players. Then in 2002, at Bethpage Black in New York, Meeks set up several holes so that players couldn't even reach the fairway.
To top it all off, Meeks misjudged the green speed on the par three seventh hole at Shinnecock Hills so badly during the final round of last year's U.S. Open that maintenance staff had to hose the green down between groups just to keep it barely playable.
Of course, Meeks had excuses for every one of the foulups.
Olympic? Well, the grass was supposed to grow faster on the 18th hole, Meeks said. Bethpage? It was a slight miscalculation of wind direction, he opined. Shinnecock? Well, that one got away from them. No one could have predicted the greens would dry out that fast, Meeks noted.
The USGA won't openly admit it, but Meeks, a longtime employee of the organization, has been a disaster in the role of setting up its competitions. The U.S. Open has always been regarded as the toughest test in professional golf. But in the last 10 years, it has gone from being viewed as an honest assessment of the best players in golf to a crapshoot where ridiculous course conditions can derail even the best games in golf.
At some point, the USGA and Meeks went from trying to protect par to overreacting to modern technology and started tricking up their courses.
But there is protecting par and then there's going too far.
In the final round at Shinneock Hills, site of last year's U.S. Open, the final round scoring average was 78.72. Even Meeks had to admit that was a little higher than anticipated.
To many, we should not have heard from Meeks again following his verbal sparring with Ernie Els after the close of the Shinnecock event. That's when Meeks told the media that several golfers "lost their patience and gave up early in the round."
"I really think Ernie Els gave up after the first hole," he added.
Is this the same Ernie Els who has already won two U.S. Opens and a British Open in some of the toughest conditions imaginable?
It isn't clear how Pinehurst No. 2 will be set up for next week's U.S. Open. Reports have said the rough has not grown well, leaving the possibility the USGA will feel forced to use extreme pin positions to protect the course. If that's the case, watch for a potential repeat of the disaster that occurred seven years ago at Olympic.
Thankfully, there is hope yet that the USGA will finally get away from the silly setups. That's because Meeks is finally retiring after the U.S. Open, leaving the job in the hands of someone else.
It is long overdue.


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