The Olympic Club strikes again.
With an assist from Mike Davis and his diabolical colleagues at the USGA, who set up the course and blurred the line between embarrassing and identifying the world’s best players, the course known as the Graveyard of Golfing Legends expanded its repertoire at the 112th US Open championship.
Call Olympic the Graveyard of Golfers. Period.
Yes, Webb Simpson emerged as the champion. He posted the lowest score, lowest in this case being an extremely relative term. He finished a stroke over par.
And how was Simpson able to cope with the layout that staggered the field to such an extent that the best players in the game couldn’t even hit the fairways half the time? He resorted to prayer.
"It’s pretty nerve-wracking," he acknowledged at his post round press conference after posting his 68, the low round of the day. "I knew it was a tough course. I had to go out and do as well as I could. I probably prayed more the last three holes than I’ve ever done in my life. It helped me stay calm."
Nerve-wracking? To say the least. Over four days, the winner hit 281 shots, knowing that the slightest error on any one of them would have disastrous results. The margin for error at Olympic was, well, there was no margin for error.
Simpson again: "I never felt like I did today. A lot of times, I had to hit my legs, because I couldn’t really feel them."
Fortunately for Simpson, he had Olympic History going for him, which was nice. This fifth Open at Olympic marked the fifth time that the eventual winner came from far back during the final round to win.
It also marked the fifth time that a relatively obscure player — this was Simpson’s second Open — slipped past players with prettier pedigrees to win.
Among those lurking near the lead on Sunday were Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell, David Toms, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington. Between them, they’ve won nine major championships. Simpson’s played in five.
"I have no experience in major championships, and contention, at all. So for me, to play Sunday four from the last group, was probably a huge help, as opposed to the last group.
"I felt a lot of pressure all week playing this golf course, how demanding it is. But I can imagine playing in the final group in a major is really tough."
Of course it is. Just ask McDowell and Furyk, the last pair out on Sunday. Both former Open champions, experienced at coping with Open pressure. How’d they fare?
At one point, McDowell missed eight straight fairways. "I hit three fairways today," he said after his round. "You’re supposed to hit it in some fairways. Yesterday I managed to shake off my fears and nerves and go out and really kind of get in a great groove. Today was a struggle."
Still, he had a birdie putt on the final hole to tie Simpson. But even that turned into a mind game. "That putt, it was weird, because I hit that putt in practice, and it bumped left and it moved right of the hole, and it just didn’t do that today."
Furyk had coped with the pressure for so long — he had held a share of the lead since the middle of the second round — that we almost expected to see him par in and win.
He bogeyed the sixth, along with myriad others, and made 11 pars. A pushed drive into the rough resulted in a bogey at 13, but he responded with two solid pars.
That was the end of Furyk as we knew him. Inexplicably, he pulled out a screaming duck hook on the 16th tee that would’ve rattled the Dalai Lama.
"The tee was a hundred yards up," Furyk noted after his round. "There’s no way to prepare for a hundred yards … to get to a tee where the tee box is a hundred yards up and the fairway makes a complete "L" turn … I was unprepared and didn’t know exactly where to hit the ball off the tee."
From that point, Furyk seemed dazed, unable to hit the single good shot that would enable him to salvage the tournament. He finished in despair, finding two bunkers by the final green.
After reflecting on the four-day battle won by Olympic, the new champion acknowledged that he’d had enough. "I did not want to play a playoff. I did not want to play tomorrow, for a lot of reasons.
"I just gained all the respect for the guys who have won multiple majors, because it’s so hard to do. The level of pressure is so much greater than a regular event."
Of course, they don’t have regular events at The Olympic Club, either.