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making of a chaotic


Behind the making of a chaotic U.S. Open

PINEHURST, NORTH CAROLINA - JUNE 16: Bryson DeChambeau of the United States poses with the trophy after winning the 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort on June 16, 2024 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
By Brendan Quinn
Jun 17, 2024


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PINEHURST, N.C. — It was nearing 10:30 when the morning wave at the 2024 U.S. Open made its way across Pinehurst No. 2, sitting at a table set by John Bodenhamer and the USGA. You could hear them coming. A quiet morning started shifting. Bodenhamer had woken before the weather, arrived at Pinehurst a little before 6, and set out with his team to arrange every tee marker, every hole, and every yard of what would be the final round of the 2024 U.S. Open. Now the day was coming.

Bodenhamer angled the right tee marker on the 18th tee box perhaps one millimeter in an imperceptible direction. He stood up, stepped back, checked the alignment. A pause. A thought. Another tweak — another millimeter. He nodded. “Got it.”

We’d spent most of the morning together at this point. Bodenhamer, in his 13th year with the USGA, is the organization’s chief championships officer, which is exactly what it sounds like. He oversees every national championship — from juniors to amateurs to seniors to this — the big one. He and his team dress the course in real-time, following long thought-out plans, but also making decisions in the moment. They are dissected when things go wrong. They are forgotten when things go right. That is the job.

But on this morning? All this work? It all felt a little moot. Bryson DeChambeau was on his way to Pinehurst. Another day of mashing drives to inconceivable locations, picking apart greens with a calculated short game, and likely winning his second U.S. Open. Bodenheimer & Co. saw this movie before at Winged Foot in 2020. Back then, DeChambeau entered the final round trailing by two strokes. He won by six.

Now he’d come to the course with a three-shot lead. Standing on 18 tee, all Bodenhamer could do is shrug. If DeChambeau dominated again? If a drama-free Sunday unfolded in the Sandhills? So be it. Tip a cap.

But considering the layout behind him, one he’d poured over every inch of, Bodenheimer thought about what might be possible. “I think we could see a 65 from someone like Rory (McIlroy), someone who has that kind of power,” he said, “If he can get a couple early, then just hang on for the last few?”

Hey, anything would be possible, right?

If there’s one constant in the playing of the U.S. Open, it’s an intense, insatiable desire for it to be all things to all people. It has to be classic, sapped in history. It has to be modern, and ahead of the curve. It has to not only test golf’s greatest players, but also bring them to their knees, maybe embarrass them a little bit. The people want carnage, but not a sideshow. They want tests, but no real answers.

For those mapping out the madness, there’s no option, except to get it right. Bringing the U.S. Open to Los Angeles Country Club last year, the USGA wandered a strange new land and ended up in the spotlight for not matching expectations. Not the first time, in a variety of ways. At LACC, scoring records fell in the first round and Bodenhamer ended up on Golf Channel that Thursday night answering for it. He was asked if the USGA worried its national championship was losing its identity. He was asked if the tournament might no longer be the toughest test in golf.



Bryson DeChambeau eliminates the guesswork. This was his U.S. Open to win

The questions might’ve seemed hyperbolic, but then Bodenhamer answered.

“Yes,” he said. “I think we want to keep that. That’s our DNA. Those are things that have been our heart and soul for 125 years. So we’re paying attention and we’ll adjust accordingly.”

John Bodenhamer is in charge of the course setup at each USGA championship. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

That week next to Beverly Hills ended with Wyndham Clark finishing at 10-under and over 20 players finishing under par. In reality, the scoring was as much about early week weather and course conditions as anything else, but it all remained open to critique.

This is the life the U.S. Open has chosen.

Coming to Pinehurst this year, the USGA arrived at its first foray into what it is calling its anchor sites — classic tracks it will return to again and again in the coming decades. While future U.S. Opens are scheduled at a variety of sites, spanning out to as far as 2051, three courses — Pinehurst, Oakmont and Pebble Beach — will be the mainstays. Pinehurst is booked for four, including a double-dip men’s and women’s affair in 2029.

In other words, coming into this week, much was riding on not only presenting a proper national championship but re-establishing the identity of the U.S. Open. And doing so at a site with which it’s in a committed relationship. And still being all things to all people.

Bodenhamer arrived at the first tee at 6 a.m. Sunday alongside Jeff Hall, the USGA’s senior manager of U.S. Open Championships. The two work in unison, but Hall only refers to Bodenhamer as “Boss.” The two, overseeing a massive staff from the USGA, its variety of partners and Pinehurst Resort, set Sunday’s dance card. Arriving on each green, Bodenhamer, Hall and others, including senior director of player relations Scott Langley, a former 10-year tour pro, smacked putts at the day’s predetermined pin location.

They give the eye test. Technology does the rest. All readings imaginable — speed, firmness, smoothness — are available and accounted for.

As Bodenhamer puts it, a perfect U.S. Open putt rolls past the hole and, just when you think it will stop, it bleeds one or two or three more feet. Every putt is a dose of pressure. All pressure requires survival. Whoever survives, wins.

The technology at the root is the counter to today’s realities. An American classic, Pinehurst No. 2 is a 117-year-old course shaped in the sand and carved through lines of skinny pine trees with root systems spider webbing 30 feet deep to a layer of clay far beneath the land. It holds up against futuristic golfers whirling space-aged golf clubs because it’s been shaped and stretched for generations.

But it still needs a good plan.

And every plan is a matter of time and place and feel and experience.

Pinehurst’s fifth hole, short by pro standards, was reliably the easiest hole each day of this U.S. Open. Sunday was no different — a modest 587 yards into a front left pin. Every player with any discernible length would be tempted to go for the green in two, except, on closer inspection, the hole sat atop a false front. One could play No. 5 in three shots and nearly assure himself a good birdie putt. But the hole’s yardage felt too short not to attack, so longer players like Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy attacked. The result? Dechambeau’s approach found the right bunker and he made a par. McIlroy’s approach threatened to run at the stick, but died on the false front and careened into a terrible lie at the base of the left bunker. He left with a bogey. One might call it a costly bogey.

“That’s what we do,” Bodenhamer said. “We want to give them a number they can’t refuse.”

Course setup is, in its essence, storytelling.

And every good story needs drama.

And a tragedy.

And a winner.



Rory McIlroy and the U.S. Open he will never escape — even though he tried

A member of the Pinehurst grounds crew waters the 13th green during the U.S. Open. (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

By midafternoon, away from the noise, Bodenhamer and Hall sat in a makeshift office in a temporary trailer built on the opposite side of Pinehurst’s clubhouse. Two old guys watching golf. Bodenhamer stood, shoulders hunched, a few feet in front of a 42-inch television, hands stuffed into flat front pant pockets. Hall sat behind a desk, one eye on a laptop, one eye on the TV.

Then it got interesting. All things, all at once …

A drive from DeChambeau flies a mile off course, down the right side of the eighth hole, where the setup offers a treacherous back pin placement.

“Is there any relief over there? Where’s the NBC truck?”

DeChambeau is dancing on the wiregrass, trying to find something resembling a stance.

“This is good. We need that stuff to be in play. That’s why it’s there.”

McIlroy sinks a 14-foot birdie putt on No. 9.

DeChambeau ends up 30 yards left of No. 8 green, flipping a white-knuckle chip onto the green and rolling in an 11-footer for an all-time par-save.

“That’s just unfair.”

“People have absolutely no idea how good that was.”

McIlroy makes another birdie, this time a 27-footer on 10 to reach 6-under. Patrick Cantlay, still in the hunt and paired with McIlroy, makes a birdie on top of his.

“This is what we want to see. Birdies and bogeys. Look at these fans. You kidding me?”

DeChambeau, in another awkward stance in the wiregrass, saying to his caddie, “Stupid Stance again,” loud enough for the broadcast to hear.

“You know, I always say, we mow those fairways every day. You just have to hit it there.”

Then DeChambeau punches out, flips a 41-yard pitch to 5 feet, and makes par.

“OK, this is getting pretty good.”

Hours earlier, from the 13th tee, Bodenhamer declared this is where the tournament would turn. A short par-4, moved way up from earlier in the week, followed by “four holes playing exceptionally long that won’t give up much.” The goal of the short par 4: Variety of shots. The result: McIlroy pumping a driver over the back of the green, banking the grandstand (“A double off the monster,” as Bodenhamer put it), and DeChambeau hitting 3-wood dead at the flag and onto the green, before catching a long carom into the area back.

Both left with birdie.

On 15, a right pin placement into a 207-yard par-3 was clearly going to be brutal. Langley, who played in four U.S. Opens, recommended a light coat of water to avoid it being borderline impossible to hold with a good approach. Bodenhamer surveyed the green, asking multiple opinions.

“OK,” he finally said, walking off toward 16, “give it a little spritz.”

“We could make it stupid hard,” he said, back in the cart, “and have this be a situation where they can’t hit the green. We could put people back there all day,” he continued, pointing to a collection area behind the green. “It could make it average 3.8 (scoring). But we don’t want to do that. Our measure is, if they make a quality swing, it should be fair.”

Fair, but not easy. Both DeChambeau and McIlroy stood on 15 with short par putts. Both missed.

On the par-4 16th tee, Hall said to Bodenhamer: “Alright, we have a decision to make. If we put the tee markers at the tee sign, it’s 541 yards.”

Bodenhamer looked at him and shrugged. “The problem is?”

Hall: “I don’t have a problem at all. I just want to make sure that we don’t get into a distance discussion.”

This is where a setup can only do so much. The USGA could’ve put some holes in Raleigh this week and certain players would’ve still reached them. Distance is no longer defense. All that Bodenhamer and Hall can realistically use at the U.S. Open are difficult decision-making and challenging greens. That, and a healthy reliance on the frailty of human nature.

There was a discussion about how long No. 16 would play on Sunday for Bryson DeChambeau and the rest of the U.S. Open field. (Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

Late afternoon on Sunday, with tens of thousands of fans crunching in around Pinehurst’s final holes, McIlroy stood over a 4-foot par putt on the monstrous 16th. He missed it. Fifteen minutes later, DeChambeau stood over a 3-footer to leave unscathed. He made it.

The par-3 17th was open for business, ranking as the second-easiest hole of the day, allowing 27 birdies, but neither McIlroy nor DeChambeau took advantage.

That sent the day to 18.

Playing a group ahead, McIlroy arrived at the final hole at 2-under on the day, 6-under for the tournament, and one hole from winning his first major victory in 10 years. DeChambeau wasn’t far behind.

Bodenhamer and Hall, meanwhile, were on the move. Armed with ear-pieces and walkie-talkies, they set out toward No. 17 to get back to work.

It was time to prep for a playoff.

Eight hours before McIlroy missed his final putt, before DeChambeau blasted a bunker shot that will be replayed forever, before the 18th green staged one of the wildest endings in U.S. Open history, John Bodenhamer drove up the 18th fairway at Pinehurst in a golf cart.

He slowed, passing Pinehurst No. 2 Superintendent John Jeffreys strolling alone up 18.

“You like this walk?” Bodenhamer asked.

Catching himself, Jeffreys replied, “Man, just trying not to get choked up.” In his right hand, Jeffreys carried a commemorative flag for the 18th pin on the 72nd hole of the tournament.

Driving past, Bodenhamer said to no one in particular, “Is that any good or what?”

Up on the green, USGA officials milled around, circling the green and looking at their final hole location. Seventy-eight feet from the front of the green, 18 feet off the right. The same hole location of Payne Stewart’s first-throwing putt at the 1999 U.S. Open. The kind of moment you hope to recreate, if you’re telling a story.

Bodenhamer rolled some putts. Hall rolled some. Langley, too. Bodenhamer moved the small wire flag marking the hole location a couple inches. Langley, seeing potential issues with a little extra movement, suggested moving back. Discussion followed. They agreed. The mark was moved back.

“Let’s get it right,” Bodenhamer said.

Then the hole was cut.

Nine hours later or so, one putt found it.

Another didn’t.

And the 2024 U.S. Open met its end.

(Top photo: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

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Brendan Quinn

Brendan Quinn is an senior enterprise writer for The Athletic. He came to The Athletic in 2017 from MLive Media Group, where he covered Michigan and Michigan State basketball. Prior to that, he covered Tennessee basketball for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Follow Brendan on Twitter @BFQuinn


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Jim B.

· Mon

Outstanding looks at things the average fan never either sees or even knows about. Why we subscribe


Guy H.

· Mon

That was a great read!!


Jeff L.

· Mon

Wow, loved that look behind the curtain. Thanks B.Q.