There was a war to win, so back in the early 1940s golf went into hibernation and golf courses were converted to other uses.
At Congressional Country Club, instructors from the O.S.S. (an early version of the CIA) taught lessons in, among other things, how to choke people.
If there was ever a better venue for a U.S. Open, it hasn’t been built yet.
Choke jobs are as much a part of major championships as big silver trophies and green jackets.
Majors are lost more than won. Just ask Rory McIlroy, who led going to the back nine on Sunday at The Masters but melted down after he just about hooked his tee shot on 10 into Berckmans Cabin up on the hill.
Jean Van de Velde, who needed only a 6 on the last hole to win the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, went mad and wound up trying to hit a drowned ball out of a burn (Scottish for peat brick-sided ditch) en route to a 7.
In the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness, Hale Irwin gagged his way home, going double-bogey, bogey on the final two holes. He still won by two, mainly because everyone chasing him had their hands around their own throats.
The U.S. Open likes to bill itself as golf’s sternest test. The rough is high enough to hide thumbscrews and the occasional rack left over from the Spanish Inquisition.
The clubhouse parking lot is softer than the greens. No joke - one night during the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, someone somehow drove their car over one of the greens and it didn’t leave a mark.
Sadly, the sadists who have run the United States Golf Association since Franklin Roosevelt was a lad have gone all P.C. in their old age.
Mike Davis, the USGA’s major domo, is no Marquis de Sod like his predecessors. He’s installed graduated rough, drivable par 4s, and while Congressional will be the longest course in major championship history (7,574 yards by the scorecard), he’s turned one of 1997’s par 4s back into a par 5 and made the course a par 71.
Of course, the notion that the Open is easier is a relative term.
Despite Davis’ more docile setups, the winning score has been even par or higher in four of the past six U.S. Opens.
Winning the Open remains easier than cold fusion but harder than the federal tax code.
And it should be like that. This is our national championship, not the Pizza Hut Pro-Am. You shouldn’t be able to shoot 23 under. You can, however, have 23 over, Spalding. You’ll get no birdies and like it.
Ernie Els shot 4 under to win the Open last time it was at Congressional in 1997. Here’s hoping the rain will stay away, the course will play firm and fast and the scores will be higher than that.
Don’t make us call those O.S.S. choking instructors out of retirement.