(Reuters) – John Bodenhamer will be under almost as much pressure as the players to get things right at this week’s U.S. Open on his debut as the man responsible for setting up the Pebble Beach course.
Following a series of self-inflicted wounds that have left some of the game’s biggest names, including Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, in an almost mutinous-sounding mood, Bodenhamer is not shirking his responsibility.
He says he will err on the side of caution by keeping the Pebble Beach greens a little slower than normal and that his staff will be ready to apply water mid-round if necessary to keep them from wilting and becoming unplayable.
“The buck stops with me. I’ve had as many condolences as congratulations about that,” the United States Golf Association (USGA) senior managing director of championships told Reuters.
“This year we’ll be more proactive. If the weather dictates, we’ll be ready to put that water on the greens.”
Bodenhamer says he will consult not only with his USGA staff, but also on-site rules officials from the PGA Tour and European Tour as to where to place the holes each day.
He has also enlisted the advice of a 37-year veteran Pebble Beach caddie in another effort to ensure a good course set-up.
The person responsible for the course has to straddle a fine line between making it an exacting examination that tests every facet of a player’s game without making it unfair.
It is certainly a balancing act as was evident in the third round at Shinnecock Hills last year when Mickelson deliberately hit a moving ball on the 13th green to protest what he deemed an unfair hole location.
It had become almost impossible to stop downhill putts near the cup in a strong afternoon breeze and low humidity that day, while several players putted all the way off the green at the 15th hole.
Pebble Beach, adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, could be an even bigger challenge. Officials were caught off guard there in the final round of the 1992 Open when 20 players shot in the 80s in diabolically difficult conditions.
Bodenhamer cited that 1992 Open as a “perfect example” of a situation he is determined to avoid.
“That changed overnight,” he said at the recent U.S. Women’s Open. “That wind had to be 30-plus (miles-per-hour). It was very dry. It got really, really severe, almost couldn’t play.
“We’ve also looked at what happened at Shinnecock (last year and) we’ve learned from that.
“This year we’re going to make sure we’ve got a protocol in place. If it gets blustery and windy and warm at Pebble that wilt (on the greens) can creep in quite quickly.
“(If that happens) we’ll probably throw some water on the greens between the morning and afternoon wave.”
Bodenhamer said the plan was to keep the greens at a slower putting speed than is typical for a U.S. Open, which should help prevent a situation such as Mickelson’s last year and allow for a wider variety of hole locations than on super-fast greens.
As for where those hole locations will be, that will be revised almost up to the last minute before play each day.
“It’s all dictated by weather,” Bodenhamer added.
“We will set them the week before and we’ll refine them, and then we’ll look at the forecast the night before and then we’ll massage them the next morning depending on the weather.”
Six-times U.S. Open runner-up Mickelson recently said that in all his appearances the USGA has “100 percent of the time messed it up if it doesn’t rain,” adding that the organization “don’t know how to control themselves.”
McIlroy, meanwhile, said the USGA had acknowledged some mistakes and deserved a chance to redeem themselves.
“If they can’t redeem themselves at Pebble Beach, then there could be a problem,” he said, without elaborating on exactly what that problem would be.
Bodenhamer has communicated with McIlroy, but knows he cannot please every player, and nor should he.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t try and can’t listen to all those voices,” he said.
“We believe that to identify the best players it needs to be a tough, thorough examination — tough but true — because when they get to the end and have climbed that mountain, they’ve achieved something special.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina