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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: There is a word many use too liberally but we aren’t all that fond of – unless it fits as well as it did Sunday at the U.S. Open

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Is it possible to hold multiple thoughts in one head at the same time? We’re going to try today. All have to do with the U.S. Open’s outcome Sunday. Thoughts such as Rory McIlroy choked. Bryson DeChambeau got lucky. Pinehurst No. 2 is not a fair test. All true. As is one more. DeChambeau deserved to win.


• We spent way too many hours watching golf on Father’s Day. Too many hours sitting on our back end, snacking, sipping Diet Pepsi and, basically, acting like one of the spaceship denizens in “WALL-E.”

And yet it was worth it. Mainly because we took notes.

DeChambeau, who entered Sunday’s final round with a three-shot lead, hit one of the most iconic bunker shots you’ll ever see at the par-four 18th, allowing him to edge McIlroy by a stroke. It followed one of a half-dozen final-round recovery shots necessitated by his wayward driver. Pressure-packed, the exquisite sand wedge isn’t the only reason he deserved to win, but how it happened, where it happened, and, most importantly, when it happened ­– on the 72nd hole – was.

Playing four rounds in four days is the definition of championship golf. Coming out on top after that, instead of say, 54 holes in three days, matters. As does the setup, the tradition, the never-ending connections to the past.

Sadly, that last one is starting to slip away.

Love or hate the way the United States Golf Association has set up its championship venues over the decades, there is one thing you can say about the organization’s usually way-too-tall rough just off the fairways. It’s fair. Miss your aim point and, boom, you are in deep trouble. No ifs, ands or “where-the-heck-is-my-ball” about it. The rough is penal for the just and the unjust alike.

That’s not the case anymore at Pinehurst. There is no rough at what has become one of the USGA’s three “anchor” courses. It’s been replaced with native areas, sandy spots with hit-or-miss clumps of grass that, as the announcers reminded us throughout the week, determine the path forward. Or sideways.

DeChambeau missed nine fairways Sunday. Had a 50/50 chance, it seemed, of having a lie that was near-impossible to do anything with. Instead, just once was his ball in jail, a golf term that Scotty Scheffler understands these days. That’s darn lucky.

A couple times, including the 18th, DeChambeau hit the ball so far the native area was no longer a factor. Other issues cropped up, sure. But not a ball-eating, uncut grass monster. Such outcomes are fair, because they highlight his ability.

McIlroy drove the ball better. Much better. But the couple times he did miss the fairway, his luck was poor. And luck it was. When the U.S. Open is played next year at an anchor course, Oakmont, luck will have less to do with it. Same with Shinnecock in 2026. Another anchor, Pebble Beach in ’27. Or, even, Pinehurst No. 2 25 years ago, when DeChambeau’s hero, Payne Stewart, won his only major title. The videos NBC showed all week of that final-round duel with Phil Mickelson highlighted how much the course has changed. And how different the test is.

All that, however, doesn’t hide the fact McIlroy had the tournament in his hands. On his putter. The 10-year streak of coming up short in the majors was about to end. All he had to do was make two putts of less than 4 feet. One of two even.

After making 496 consecutive putts inside 36 inches this year, he missed one of 30 inches at the 16th. It cost him the lead. He faced a 39-inch one on 18. He missed it too. It cost him the tournament.

It’s hard to attribute it to anything other than choking under the pressure. More than 3,600 days of hearing the noise, the questions concerning when he would win his fifth major title – he had four by age 25 – must have weighed on him like the Blarney Stone – though he didn’t show it most of the day.

With a two-shot lead and five holes to play, he seemed poised to kiss another trophy and smile for the cameras.

Instead, there were only pictures of him climbing into his courtesy car and racing away from the venue, avoiding the media and the glare of failure. Maybe he was cursing his bad luck. Maybe he was angry at a couple of late decisions.

Maybe he was just not up to the test. Again.


WSU: Around the Pac-12 and the nation, we can start looking ahead in earnest. It’s not all that long before the Pac-12 Networks go dark (June 30). And, if you are interested in, say, Washington or Oregon, you will need access to the Big Ten Network to keep up. John Canzano delved into that this morning. … Canzano also had a Father’s Day column Sunday. … The football numbers stories continue in the Oregonian, with No. 76 from Oregon State and Oregon available today. … UCLA continues to recruit help for its defense. … For some freshman basketball players, summer workouts are the first time they’ve lived away from home. Not for this Colorado player, though. … The best softball pitcher in college is becoming a free agent. Stanford’s NiJaree Canady is entering the portal. We’re guessing – and it’s just a guess – she will end up at four-time defending champion Oklahoma.

Indians: If you want, you can start planning for the postseason. Spokane will play for the Northwest League title in early September. The Indians assured themselves of one of the two spots in the championship series with a 5-4, 10-inning win Sunday in Vancouver. Dave Nichols has all the details on the team clinching the first-half title. … Elsewhere in the Northwest League, Hillsboro took over second place with a 17-4 rout of visiting Tri-City and Eugene’s 8-5 home loss to Eugene.

Mariners: We could have spent our time today declaring the 2025 Seattle Mariners the best team in the American League, but that may not be true. They are, however, obviously the best team in the American League West at the moment. Their three-game sweep of the second-place Rangers proves it. As does their 8½-game lead in the division, largest in baseball. All came about thanks to eight innings of shut-out ball by eventual A.L. Cy Young Award-winner Logan Gilbert and an offense that scratched and clawed out five runs. … No need to sweat Sunday. No one-run win this time. … Good news from the injury front. Gregor Santos is closer to returning to the bullpen. … The M’s City Connect uniforms are well liked.

Sounders and Reign: We combined the two Seattle professional soccer clubs today because their combined ownership became official Sunday. … The Reign snapped a four-match losing streak. No, they didn’t win. But a scoreless draw with the visiting Portland Thorns did the trick.

Seahawks: Yes, we have thoughts in the S-R about the mini-camp practices to pass along.

Storm: A full-strength Mercury proved to be too much for the visiting Storm on Sunday, as Seattle fell 87-78.  

Kraken: Are the Oilers ready to roll the rest of the way in the NHL final series? They are still down 3-1 to Florida but are coming off a blowout win.

Olympics: Competing in the Olympics is the dream for any athlete that heads to the U.S. trials, no matter the sport. But making the team isn’t easy. And can be downright cruel. The swimming trials, going on in Indianapolis, are the most illustrative of them all, what with record holders sometimes coming up a 10th-of-a-second short, finishing third and staying home. In track and field, whose trials open later this week in Eugene, third is good enough. But still elusive.

Sonics: Though Dallas won big in the last game, don’t forget the Celtics, who had the NBA’s best regular-season record, hold a 3-1 lead heading into Game 5, and will welcome Kyrie Irving and the Mavericks into the Garden tonight (5:30, ABC).


• Watched golf yesterday. Heading out to “play” the game today. Well, not really. It’s the annual Wet Dog Fur Open, the S-R’s sports department tournament. We’re still on the injured list, and expect to be for at least four more weeks. However, we think we can putt a little. And talk a lot. So, we’re going to participate. Drive the cart. Read breaks. Make fun of bad shots. Praise good ones. Carry the sunscreen. Buy lunch for anyone related to us. Serve as Uber driver to-and-from the course. That sort of stuff. Until later …