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LORAN SMITH COLUMN: Olympic Club was the real winner of the U.S. Open

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

SAN FRANCISCO — More often than not, par is the winner at the U.S. Open, and that was never more clearly defined than at the Olympic Club on Sunday, when Webb Simpson took first prize with a one-over-par total for the championship.

First of all, the USGA doesn’t like a lot of red numbers to be reflected during the week of the national championship, and the Olympic Club probably could have been set up so tough that double bogey would be a common score.

Although the organization wouldn’t go that far, it does prefer to play the event on courses where making par consistently will put you in position to win the tournament.

It was a final round to be expected.

The leaders would have an opportunity to grab the tournament by the throat but see the course jerk opportunity away, as in the case of Jim Furyk, former Open champion, whose steady style of play kept his name atop the leader board most of the afternoon. It was not to be, however, as he crept beyond par late for a final round 74 to lose by two shots.

Except for Pebble Beach, there might not be a more exciting setting for a championship than the Olympic Club, where water and menacing tree lines intimidate every swing, every hole.

The final round on Sunday included, in addition to heartbreak, fog and cool temperatures.

Players in long sleeves and sweaters evoked a British Open atmosphere — a good day for a wind cheater. There was a damp, heavy feel in the air and the reminder that, when it comes to driving in this U.S. Open, a long ball is not a good ball unless it finds the fairway.

The rough at Olympic was as unyielding as any in recent Open memory, and those tall cedars and pines seem to reflect a “double dog dare you” challenge to come their way. Trees could not be more penal than those which line the fairways of the Olympic Club.

With Jack Fleck and Billy Casper on hand for the prize-giving ceremony, there was again the reminder that Olympic seems to give the favorites the back of its hand during the Open.

Fleck upset Ben Hogan in 1955, Casper did the same in 1968 to Arnold Palmer, and there was the greatest of disappointment in 1987 when Scott Simpson found a way to keep the trophy out of the grasp of Tom Watson, a Stanford alumnus.

Simpson became the ninth straight first-time winner of a major, dating back to Graeme McDowell’s victory at the U.S. Open in 2010 — followed by Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson.

Golf, some critics are now saying, needs a hero, someone who can dominate the sport, which is why there was so much favoritism shown by the gallery to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson early in the week.

A close inspection of the winner reveals that he has, in a short period of time, fashioned a solid game. When Simpson left Wake Forest (playing there as the winner of the Arnold Palmer Scholarship), he experienced disappointment before convincing success.

In 2011 at the Transitions event, a bogey on the last hole kept him from winning his first PGA tournament. He lost two of three playoffs.

However, he won twice on the tour before Sunday and was second on the 2011 money list.

He was leading the Fed-Ex standings last fall when Bill Haas won the Tour championship and overtook him.

After a clubhouse scene with wife-hugging glee, Simpson picked up the Nicklaus medal and nearly $1,500,000.

And don’t forget, he came from behind to win. He has the ingredients to become the Tour star many are looking for.