USGA Executive Director Mike Davis acknowledges that bringing the tournament back in 15 years to coincide with the country’s 250th birthday has much appeal, and that Rory McElroy’s dominance of the course will not be a lingering negative factor.
The record 16-under-par total of 268 posted by Rory McIlroy to win the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club raised immediate concerns that the third time for hosting the tournament at the Bethesda, Md. club could be its last, because of the well-known obsession of the United States Golf Association (USGA) with trying to protect par for its championship. But the Washington Post’s post-tournament coverage included an encouraging article that indicated Congressional still seems to be front-of-mind with USGA officials for bringing the open back to the nation’s capital in 2026, to coincide with the celebration of the United States’ 250th birthday.
“There’s such an appeal to that point,” USGA Executive Director Mike Davis told the Post. “First of all, to get to the middle Atlantic, to get to the nation’s capital, infrastructure-wise, it works. There’s lots of land. It’s great to do an event. It’s good for spectators. The golf course certainly is a great test, and so there’s no reason we wouldn’t come back.”
U.S. Open sites are currently determined through 2019, with the 2018 event having been awarded to Shinnecock Hills on Long Island last week. Typically, interested clubs send a letter to the USGA 10 to 12 years prior to the year in which they want to host the tournament. The USGA staff then conducts what amounts to an interrogation — one that could be less in Congressional’s case, the Post notes, given that the club has held two Opens since 1997. Tournaments are then awarded seven or eight years in advance.
“But in the preliminary discussions,” said Ben Brundred, the co-chairman of Congressional’s 2011 Open committee, “the concept of here, 250th anniversary, the U.S. Open — it seems to make sense to a lot of people.”
Both the USGA and Congressional defended the golf course as well, even as McIlroy shredded it, setting records for most strokes under par and lowest total score. Before McIlroy arrived here, no one had ever been more than 12 under in a U.S. Open. Twenty players finished under par; only a tournament held at Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago, in 1990, produced more, with 28.
The reason for so many low scores this year, Davis said, was pretty evident: an especially rainy spring that extended in the D.C. area right up to the week of the Open tournament.
“I would say the only downer really has been that the golf course, we’ve had so much rain, we never got it firm,” he said. “That’s a downer. It doesn’t matter what golf course — Pebble Beach, Shinnecock Hills, Pinehurst — this would happen. So the players didn’t really get to see the true Congressional, because it makes you think. There’s much more strategy when you get it firmer and faster.”
The U.S. Open is always played on Father’s Day weekend, in June, a period during which it is hardly unusual for Washington to receive rain. Still, Davis said Congressional would “absolutely” be considered for another Open, “if we’re invited.”
“The score means nothing,” he said. “The winning score right now could be even par if it was firm and fast. It wouldn’t be anything that the club did [or] that we did. It would be everything that Mother Nature did.”
The course did receive some criticism from players over the weekend — defending U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said he was “disappointed” it was so soft — but most seemed to understand that the USGA never got the course it truly wanted. Asked if Congressional was worthy of holding the Open, Phil Mickelson said immediately: “Oh, yes.”
“I think the great thing about this tournament course and the setup is that the best player this week is going to win,” Mickelson added.
That also held true when Congressional hosted its two previous U.S. Opens. In 1964, Ken Venturi, one of the most talented players of his generation, took the trophy and in 1997, Ernie Els, en route to the world’s top ranking, beat two of the other elite players of the time, Colin Montgomerie and Tom Lehman.
Those are the kinds of champions the USGA wants, the Post noted, because it feels the Open should select the best player, and McIlroy — with the talent to be a star for the next two decades — certainly seems to fit that profile.
Both Davis and players pointed out, too, that McIlroy’s winning score was a clear exception even during a week of low scoring overall. He beat runner-up Jason Day by eight shots. Rees Jones, one of the architects who has helped to add design touches to Congressional’s Blue Course, asked Brundred on Saturday if the club would have concerns if the winning score was 17 under.
“My response to him was, ‘If the winning score were going to be 17 under and we had a three-way tie for 16 under and then right down the list, then yeah, sure,’” Brundred said. “But this situation’s entirely different.”