The Controversial 2004 US Open

The 2004 tournament was marred in controversy over extreme course conditions

2004 US Open

The 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills was marred in controversy over extreme course conditions

The Controversial 2004 US Open

The US Open returns this week at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.

It has been a controversial tournament in recent times, with the USGA receiving plenty of criticism for the way that they set up their golf courses.

Last year at Shinnecock Hills saw more controversy, with Phil Mickelson hitting a moving ball and players commenting that the golf course had been lost.

It probably wasn't as controversial as the 2004 tournament at Shinnecock though, were greens were having to be watered between groups...

The Controversial 2004 US Open

The tournament has always been famed for its tough conditions where par is the desired winning score, but it got out of hand in 2004 with the course drying out from heat and wind.

With six under par leading after 36 holes, you certainly wouldn't think that the setup would be described as too difficult.

Although it went wrong on the weekend when the tournament officials attempted to toughen the course to bring the players back closer to par.

Shinnecock wasn't watered before Saturday and was more difficult for the third round and then wasn't watered again prior to Sunday's play - it became brutal.

No player broke par in the final round and the average score for the day was 79, nine over par. Ernie Els, playing in the final group, shot an 80.

It got so bad that the 7th hole became essentially unplayable.

The green was double-cut and rolled on the Friday evening and was reportedly rolled the next morning. It got worse as the weekend went on.

Players struggled to keep their balls on the green with their tee shots, chips and even putts.

On Sunday morning in first two ball of the day, both David Toms and JJ Henry made triple-bogeys on the 7th.

The next two ball had a double and a triple.

The seventh green seen being watered during the final round of in 2004. (A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Greenkeepers, astonishingly, were then out watering the green during groups on the final day.

They are infamous photographs that tell the story of the 2004 tournament.

Retief Goosen won the title at four under par with Phil Mickelson in second, two strokes back.

They were the only men under par, although there have only been four US Opens since 2004 with lower winning scores.

So was it too tough? The players seemed to think so.

Tiger Woods said, "This is our national championship and Shinnecock Hills is a great golf course, but they lost control of it.

"This is not supposed to be how golf is played."

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Jerry Kelly was even harsher.

"Every year the USGA make a mess of this event, but they've topped themselves this year," he said.

"They've ruined this tournament and made one of the great golf courses look bad."

USGA Chief Executive Mike Davis called the 2004 tournament "a great learning experience" back in 2011 when the announced Shinnecock as the 2018 US Open host.

"When it comes to a US Open, you've got the world's best players, and you're trying to set it up as the hardest event of the year," he said.

"It's easy to go from that point to having a setup where well-executed shots are penalised. And that's exactly what was happening on some of the holes."

This year the course has been lengthened by around 500 yards but the fairways have been widened and the course will surely be watered far more than it was back in 2004.

The winning score has been under par in the US Open in seven of the last 13 years, with Rory McIlroy (2011) and Brooks Koepka (2017) each finishing on a score of -16.

That perhaps is a sign that the USGA has indeed learnt their lesson from 2004, but have they gone too far?

Last year's course Erin Hills was heavily criticised for simply being a bombers paradise with wide open fairways. Despite its 7,800+ yard setup, players still took it apart.

The US Open setup is the most heavily scrutinised of the year and they will never please everybody.

Let's hope this year's tournament gets remembered for the golf, and not the course.

Elliott Heath
News Editor

Elliott Heath is our News Editor and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news, features, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as four Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats anywhere between 2-5. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!

Elliott is currently playing:

Driver: Titleist TSR4

3 wood: Titleist TSi2 HL

Irons: Mizuno MP-H4 3-iron, Mizuno MP5 4-PW

Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5