Golf Care caught up with its ambassador and three-time Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher to get his thoughts on an eventful US Open Championship this week. Gallacher talks through the British players’ struggles at Oakmont, the separation of the so-called ‘big three’, the extraordinary Oakmont conditions and the poor decision making that threatened to tarnish a brilliant performance by Dustin Johnson.
Last time we spoke we were celebrating five British golfers in the top 10 of The Masters leaderboard. Why do you think the Brits struggled so much this week?
“I think Rory McIlroy was a bit unlucky with the weather on Thursday. The character of the course changed almost immediately when it rained, going from fast and bouncy to very soft. This meant he lost his game plan. He started by hitting a lot of irons off the tee but wasn’t quick enough to adapt to the change in conditions. And I think he got very frustrated.
On the first day he left himself with too much to do, despite the fact he looked hot in the second round. But he just couldn’t keep it going. It’s just one of those things. He’ll be very frustrated.
Jamie Donaldson of course got frustrated, we know all about his tantrum! He made the headlines for the wrong reasons when the video went viral on social media, which I found quite amusing!
Likewise, Danny Willett snapped his Masters-winning putter, so it’s safe to say he didn’t do too well on the greens.
Lee Westwood was going well for a long time. We really thought this might be his week. He looked in control of his game, with three excellent scores: 67, 72 and 69. But, he played with Dustin Johnson on the last day and there’s always the possibility in golf of one of the pair playing well and the other one struggling. Unfortunately, on this occasion it was Lee Westwood. He just couldn’t keep up with Dustin Johnson and fell away.”
With Dustin Johnson overtaking Rory McIlroy into 3rd place in the world rankings, do you believe this brings to an end the ‘big three’ term that has been used recently?
“There’s no question about it: week in, week out, Jason Day is the best player in the world. With Jordan Spieth having such a fantastic year last year, it was always going to be tough to match it in 2016. I think it’s not going to be the same Jordan Spieth every week and I think he needs to pace himself.
Rory’s changed his schedule this year – he says he won’t play any more than three or four weeks in a row in preparation for the Majors. We’ll just have to see at the end of the season if he’s got his schedule right. The season is not over for Rory though. He didn’t play in The Open last year when he was looking to defend it because of injury, so he’ll want to make up for that at Royal Troon.
I’ve always felt Dustin Johnson has been just outside this top three – that he was a star player, ready to break in. If you look at his past record, he’s done really well without actually winning. So, having won yesterday, I think we can expect him to be a mainstay in the majors in years to come.”
Given the events of last week, would you say that Oakmont is the hardest golf course in the world?
“It’s rightly got the reputation for being the toughest test on the US Open rota. If you look at past US Open winners at Oakmont – Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Larry Nelson who won the USPGA there, Ernie Els, Cabrera— they’re all substantial winners. It just shows that the golf course is exceptionally difficult, especially on the greens. They’re very sloping and there’s no such thing as a straight putt. If you’re just slightly off-line with an iron shot, the chances are you’ll be 30 feet away because of the slopes.
Unless you’re a player like Dustin Johnson, hitting drives 320 yards dead straight, it is a struggle to get round. That’s basically what the US Open people want. They take great pride in setting up the toughest of golf courses to find out who the best player is.
I think the players accept it every nine years. They’re not going back there until 2025 and I think most of the players will be quite pleased about that!”
A word on Shane Lowry, who shot three phenomenal rounds to lead the US Open by four shots going into the final round?
“Shane Lowry is an exceptional player. When he won that WGC last year at Firestone, he showed he’s not a run-of-the-mill player. But, he’s never been in this position in a major, going out with a lead of four strokes, so it was a new experience for him.
Rory struggled in the Masters if you remember. He shot an 82 at Augusta on the final day having led. Tom Watson blew a lot of majors before he finally won one. Dustin Johnson himself has struggled to hold on to win one before now. Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors, but people forget he’s been second or third in 19 other majors!
You need to be in these positions regularly in order to win a major and I think the experience of being in that position will benefit him greatly in the future.
Remember, he came back to finish his third round in the morning, so it was a really long day for Shane Lowry. But, he’s definitely a potential major winner of the future.
He’s very popular is Shane. He looks like he’s enjoying himself on the golf course and we all enjoy it with him. He’s got a broad Irish smile when he holes a putt. Now you must remember, this is a guy who won the Irish Open as an amateur! When you win your home tournament as an amateur, it’s something special.
Shane Lowry has the potential to get to the very top and this experience of leading the US Open will be good for him. And finishing in second place is absolutely brilliant.”
Darren Clarke decided to give the US Open a miss as a player this year. In your experience as a Ryder Cup captain, what will he be up to in this period and what will be in his thoughts after a big tournament like this?
“I think it’s a good idea for the captains to play in other tournaments, that’s why Davis Love III is playing as often as he can. That’s where you meet the players, you see how they’re playing, you get to know them better and try and work on playing partners.
Since my day as captain, there’s now much more attention devoted to the media side of things, because that’s the era we live in now. The sponsors demand a lot more of your time; the players seem to demand more of your time. I noticed that with Paul McGinley last time around, it was almost a full-time job.
When I was captain I did have a full-time job: I was the pro at Wentworth and had to play on the tour. I had too many others things going on in my life to just give them all up to concentrate on the Ryder Cup.
We’re living in a different era now. TV wants Darren’s time: the press, social media, the sponsors all need his time. The American PGA want to speak to Europe’s captain to help promote the event. It’s altogether a lot bigger now, with the money, the TV audience and the spectators so I can totally understand where Darren’s coming from in deciding to give the US Open a miss this year.”