Michaud: Tough course 'makes it a U.S. Open'

His course took a verbal beating over the weekend, but Shinnecock Hills course superintendent Mark Michaud considers the U.S. Open a success.

"Nobody [on his staff] was hanging their head, I'll tell you that," Michaud, who spent five years getting the course ready, told Newsday in Tuesday's editions.

Players went on a verbal rampage following completion of play Sunday, offering staunch criticism of the hard greens and fairways that produced 28 one-round scores of 80 or worse and an average round of 78.727. Winner Retief Goosen (4-under 276) and runner-up Phil Mickelson (2-under 278) were the only players to finish under par.

Though it was the U.S. Golf Association, and not Michaud, that made the decisions on course conditions, Michaud defended the difficulty of the layout.

"When there was no wind, which is the course's first defense, we had to go to the second defense, which is to make it firm and fast." If they didn't do that, Michaud told Newsday, "it would have been just like any PGA Tour event.

"I think they lost control of the golf course," Tiger Woods said after shooting a final-round 76. "It's terrible for our national championship." Even Goosen was critical, saying of the greens: "I hope they get them back alive again."

Swing coach Butch Harmon, speaking Tuesday on The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio, like some players was particularly critical of the seventh green's hard surface.

"They should make it as tough as they can and still be fair," Harmon said. "I think it got out of hand on the weekend especially on the seventh green and a couple of other greens, but the seventh in particular. The seventh green especially was totally out of control and completely unplayable.

"And for [officials] to say they didn't know it was going to get like that is total rubbish. They know when the wind blows, the greens dry out, and they put very little water on them."

Michaud believes the course was set up just right.

"We had the flexibility to make it a U.S. Open championship," he told Newsday. "I didn't want to tick anybody off, but when you get guys swearing at you, when you get guys who usually don't say anything throwing their clubs, you know you've done your job."

USGA vice president Walter Driver, head of the competition committee, makes the final call and was the one who decided Sunday to have the greens watered.

Driver told Newsday that the USGA had expected the prevailing wind, which carries cool, moist air from the southeast. Instead, a dry, warm wind came from the northwest Saturday night, baking fairways and greens for the final round Sunday.

"We start setting courses up for championships four and five years in advance and you cannot change an Open course setup in 12 hours," Driver said.

Despite the overwhelming disgust at conditions on the part of the players, the USGA is still interested in returning the Open to Shinnecock, which is booked through 2010.

"I don't think it's any secret that we like Shinnecock," said Marty Parkes, USGA's senior director of communications. "We've been there three times in 18 years and I'm not sure we've been any place that often. What it really comes down to is, does the club want us back?"

Jacques Nordeman, chairman of the U.S. Open committee for Shinnecock Hills, told Newsday it was "impossible to say" if the club would again host the tournament until the question is posed to the committee.

But, he did say, "It was a wonderful tournament. And Shinnecock is one of the very best courses for a major championship."

Michaud was intrigued by the thought of the Open returning to the Club.

"I can't wait," he told the newspaper.