Punch Shot: Bad call to end 18-hole U.S. Open playoffs?

Punch Shot: Bad call to end 18-hole U.S. Open playoffs?
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The USGA announced a major change to its playoff format on Monday. GolfChannel.com writers Rex Hoggard and Will Gray weigh in with their thoughts on the decision:

Hoggard: Big news today from the USGA. A few decades of tradition have been changed with officials announcing the playoff format for the U.S. Open will go from an 18-hole Monday finish to a two-hole aggregate playoff. Willy, there’s a lot to unpack here. Thoughts?

Gray: I’m conflicted. This makes a ton of logistical sense, as it’s in everyone’s best interest to crown a winner Sunday night. But there’s admittedly a part of me that will miss the occasional 18-hole Monday slog to decide the most grueling major. For something that popped up only about once per decade, I’m a little sad to see it kicked to the curb.

Hoggard: Spoken like a guy who never had to hang around for a Monday playoff at the U.S. Open. It is worth noting that the last Monday playoff at the Open was 2008, and we all know how historic and entertaining that was, but otherwise it leads to an anti-climactic finish in front of far fewer fans. Tiger v. Rocco was great, but the odds of that happening are always low.

Gray: Yes, there won’t be any oral histories about Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks tangling at Southern Hills 17 years ago, but they can’t all be instant classics. Can we at least agree that the move to a two-hole aggregate seems a bit … random?

Hoggard: Random works. Odd may be a better way to describe. It seems the USGA tested the waters with the U.S. Women’s Open, which went to a three-hole playoff a few years ago, and had some success. It seems the game’s rules makers (R&A, USGA, PGA of America, Augusta National) would consider some sort of uniform answer instead of everybody doing their own thing. Three-hole playoffs just feel right.

Gray: I agree that of the four options, I like three-hole the best (kudos, PGA of America). A single good shot holds a ton of weight, but a single bad shot won’t necessarily end the tournament. Goldilocks style. But it does seem like the USGA surveyed the landscape, saw that one-, three-, and four-hole playoff options were already taken, and went for door No. 4.

But given that USGA exec Mike Davis said as recently as June that the playoff format wouldn’t change on his watch, are you surprised that they made the change?

Hoggard: Strange, indeed, but then it’s been a busy few days for Davis (see last week’s dinner with Jack Nicklaus), so maybe he was distracted. I will say that although I’m a fan of moving away from the 18-hole playoff, social media is curiously filled with folks who, like you, enjoy their blazers blue and their playoffs of the 18-hole variety. Odd that in this day of instant media this is so popular.

Gray: It was unique! Here I am thinking brand differentiation is a positive. Alas.

Hoggard: You have an old soul, young Will. I will also point out that a lot of this will depend on what two holes the USGA uses for the playoff. With par being such an important number at the U.S. Open, this could quickly fade into a blur of fairways, greens and uninspired golf.

Gray: Yes, but remember this is the U.S. Open we’re talking about – the only major championship where par is malleable. Perhaps the dream scenario is just to play a par-9 couplet for the title.

Hoggard: Here’s my worry: the final two holes at Shinnecock Hills, site of this year’s championship, go par 3, par 4, and they likely would be the playoff stops. Not a lot of room for separation there. The Players seems to have gotten it right with a three-hole overtime on Nos. 16, 17 and 18, which give you the best chance for two-way traffic.

Gray: It’s a valid point that course routing would have a big role in dictating the best possible option. Hard to think that a par 3 as one of only two playoff holes is ideal, but I think back to Chambers Bay and recall that Nos. 1 and 18 running side-by-side would have made for a pretty sweet scene. That three-hole run at TPC Sawgrass works on a variety of fronts.

But the 18-hole option is gone now, for better or worse. Does that mean that (gasp) the Masters and its sudden-death format is the worst of the four major playoff options – or at least the most arbitrary?

Hoggard: It is certainly the least-imaginative, but then when it comes to the Masters you could probably have a “putt off” on the 18th green and it would still be entertaining. Augusta National would be the perfect place for a two-hole playoff, No. 18 first and then the 10th.

Gray: An Amen Corner playoff remains the dream, even if the sunlight of early April won’t allow it. Build some floodlights behind the 13th green, I say. But back to the original topic, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out. You and I have both certainly felt the media center tremors that the U.S. Open is overdue for the p-word, meaning that we’re sure to get one this summer.

Hoggard: No chance we don’t get a playoff this year and you and I both will be over the moon when it finishes Sunday. We can talk about how cool the old format was on the plane ride home on Monday. Kudos, USGA.

Punch Shot: Bad call to end 18-hole U.S. Open playoffs?

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