Let me begin this by saying that if I ever shot 100 on a U.S. Open course, I would retire from golf a happy man.
With that said, Matt Lauer shot an even 100 last Friday at Torrey Pines, host of the upcoming U.S. Open, and he was not happy about it.
He took part in the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge, an exhibition that was sparked by a comment Tiger Woods made a year ago: that no 10-handicapper could break 100 on a course set up for the U.S. Open. (Note: You can watch highlights of the event on Sunday, June 15, at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, right before live final-round coverage of the U.S. Open.)
Two-time British Open champion Greg Norman served as Matt's caddy
at the Golf Digest US Open Challenge. (AP Photo/Christopher Park)
Matt (6.2 handicap) played with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (2.2), pop star Justin Timberlake (6.0) and "everyman"John Atkinson (8.1), who won a Golf Digest essay contest to try his hand at the championship layout at Torrey Pines.
Atkinson is not only a very good golfer, but he is also dealing with a serious medical issue just to play: he's undergoing treatment for advanced inoperable lung cancer, making him an inspiration for everyone watching, regardless of his finishing score.
At the end of the 6 hour and 15 minute round, Romo had shot 84, Timberlake 98, and Atkinson 114 (in addition to Matt's 100).
Altogether, the foursome did not record a single birdie on the 7,600-yard course, which featured diabolical pin placements, extreme rough around the greens and lightning-fast putting surfaces.
I spoke with Matt this morning about the experience:
DF: What were your expectations heading into this? What were you thinking you would shoot?
Matt Lauer: I practiced a fair amount for this in the past month. I was hoping to shoot 92 or 93. I did the math, thinking I'd make a lot of bogeys and a few others. But I thought I could make three or four pars, on par threes and par fives.
So I thought 92 or 93, and I was pretty much out of that ballpark after the first four holes.
DF: What did you do to practice for this? How can you practice for the kind of layout the players face at a U.S. Open?
ML: You can't practice for the conditions, you just can't. I play on courses with fairly fast greens, but they're not like this. There's nothing you can do to prepare for the rough. It's a different kind of grass. It's called Kakuya grass, and we don't have that on the East Coast. And the length of it is just unprecedented. No course around here grows it that high.
In addition to that, I don't have a course where I can really stretch it out to that length. At my course, I can go to the very back of the tee box and play it at 7,400 yards, but that's still 200 yards short.
So all I can do to practice is to go to the range and hit balls, trying to get my swing down, work on my short game. As it turned out, driving the ball was my undoing. It completely undid me.
DF: Why didn't you drive the ball well?
ML: I don't know...I think it had a lot to do with the pressure. Probably a lot to do with the enormity of the task. It was clearly a lot to do with the schedule of the morning. I was done hitting balls at the range way too early. I should have just hit a few balls, rolled a few putts and walked onto the course.
Instead, I stood around for a half hour, I got all tight, had time to think about it. And as it turned out, the first drive I hit was one of the worst drives I've hit in the past 10 years. Just a terrible, terrible drive. And I followed it with two other drives that were very similar.
DF: Aside from the way you played, was any part of it fun?
ML: While it was happening, it wasn't what I would describe as "fun." It was an extraordinary experience. It was intense. With the galleries and the cameras...I looked into the gallery and Fred Couples was walking along with me. Having Greg [Norman] as a caddy, and the other guys...knowing there were so many other people who were going to watch this because they wanted to know what they would shoot -- it was very, very intense and very pressure filled.
Would I describe it as fun? No. But would I do it again? Absolutely. Absolutely.
DF: More pressure than interviewing the president or something like that?
ML: It's a different kind of pressure. I've been doing big interviews for 14 years. I know how to do them. I know what it takes, I know how it's going to feel, I know how to relax in those circumstances. It's what I do.
Playing golf is not what I do for a living. So you're putting yourself out there in the most pressure-packed circumstances. And you're showcasing a skill that is not your primary skill. You're out of your element. And I think that's why it's so hard to play well in those circumstances.
DF: Was there any particularly useful piece of advice that Greg gave you during the round?
ML: After I had that disastrous four-hole start, he was really helpful at saying, "Put it behind you. There's 14 holes to go, take it one hole at a time." And that was really good, because at that point, I was ready to take a putter and hit myself over the head with it. I was ready to commit suicide right on the course.
Although I tried not to show it, I was really discouraged, because it's just not the way I play, and I was thinking to myself, Why are you doing this now?
Greg was also really good technically. He's a great reader of putts. He really knows greens. There were some times when I'd think a putt was going a ball or two left to right, and he'd say, "Actually, Matt, because the water drains off here, it's going a little more right to left." So he was a great help for that.
DF: What about the other guys you played with...what were your impressions of them?
ML: I had heard great things about Tony Romo's game, and he really can play. He says he's a two-handicap, but I think he's closer to scratch. He hits the ball, and he's got all the shots. He's also an incredibly nice guy, very fun to be with.
Justin Timberlake was very athletic. Kind of incongruous to see him in his hip-hop type outfit on the golf course. He can really play the game and is a true golfer. I was very impressed with the way he handled the pressure down the stretch. He was getting close to that magic number of 29-over par, and he could easily have bogeyed or double-bogeyed the last couple holes and missed it, and he played really well.
And John Atkinson, with all he's going through, and the fact that he had never been in a pressure-packed golf situation like this before -- or really ever faced any crowds or the attention like this -- he was a true gentleman. I know he didn't play as well as he wanted to play, but he inspired us out there.
I think the most emotional moment was on the 18th hole, when he and his brother and his family all embraced on the green. We all started crying, it was very moving.