UNIVERSITY PLACE — In a scathing indictment, PGA Tour player Billy Horschel blasted the greens and the fan experience at Chambers Bay Sunday after shooting a final-round 67 to finish the tournament at four-over 284.
Horschel, the 20th-ranked golfer in the world and 2014 FedEx Cup champion, didn’t hold back, and claimed he was speaking for many of his fellow pros.
“I think a lot of players, and I’m one of them, have lost some respect for the USGA and this championship this year for the greens,” he said. “And not only the greens. One of the biggest issues I have is for the fans. Here we are in the Pacific Northwest, where we haven’t been since the late ’90s (for the PGA Championship), and the viewing is awful.
“I feel like the fans got robbed this week being able to get up close to the players and see the shots we hit and see the course to the degree that we see it. It’s frustrating that the USGA would — I don’t want to say come here, because I want to come here to the Pacific Northwest — but come to this golf course. And for the architect (Robert Trent Jones Jr.) to say that they built this golf course for the U.S. Open is awful.”
Playing the ninth hole, Horschel missed a putt from inside 10 feet and then made a waving hand motion to imitate how the ball “fishtailed,” in his words. The lack of consistency on the greens were one of his many issues with the setup. He said his frustration was building for the past few days.
The greens, he said, didn’t “allow someone who’s a really good putter to shine.”
When Horschel got to the media interview area, he said, “I’ve been waiting for this moment all week.”
“I played out my tail, out my ass, to shoot 3-under par,” Horschel said. “And I really felt like I should have shot 6-, 7- or 8-under, but I wasn’t able to due to the fact that some of the putts I hit just hit some really bad spots on the greens and got off line and didn’t go in.”
Horschel took special aim at USGA executive director Mike Davis, who helped bring the tournament to University Place and has played an instrumental role in setting course conditions.
“I’ve known Mike for roughly 10 years now since I was on the Walker Cup team,” Horschel said. “I don’t know what he is. Obviously, he is inside the ropes the last couple of days, but he’s not on the putting green seeing the way the balls move. He’s from a little bit of a distance.
“When he sets the pins in the morning, if he’s out there and they roll the greens, yeah, they roll great first thing in the morning. Right after they’ve been cut, they’re great. But shortly after that they get bad.”
Horschel said that some players aren’t speaking for fear of criticism, but implied most feel similarly: Chambers Bay is great from tee to green, but the putting surfaces, a mix of poa annua and fescue, are problems because of their lack of consistency. He wants the USGA to admit they made a mistake, own up to it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“There’s obviously an issue with these greens, and I don’t know if he’s just trying to sugarcoat it so it doesn’t look bad,” he said. “I heard someone say that the TV is making the greens look worse than they are. That’s a complete lie.”
He described a conversation he heard about No. 4, which has been the object of much criticism for being nearly barren. A caddy was asked if grass was left, and Horschel quoted him: “Yeah, two blades, and they’re not close.”
Horschel said when he was here six weeks earlier, the course was green.
“The greens rolled a lot better than they did now; they had grass on them,” he said. “They weren’t very fast. They weren’t bouncing like they are this week. And I think when they went ahead and cut them down, they tried to get them quicker and faster. That’s when they lost some of the fescue and that’s when all the dirt started showing up, and the only thing that survived was the poa.
“I didn’t think it would be that bad six weeks ago. I thought they would have plenty of time to get them into a condition that was very playable.”
Horschel tried to make sure his audience understood what he was criticizing.
“I had a great experience this week — the fans were awesome,” he said. “I just wish they were closer to us so they would have seen the golf course the way we were and see the shots we were hitting. They would have a closer feeling to us. There’s no fans on No. 8, none. I’ve never seen a golf course at any championship ever where there’s no fans on a hole at all.
“If you want to change something, make sure the putting surfaces are better. And make sure the fans have an easier way to walk around.”