Rory McIlroy (left) and Dustin Johnson have been thrown in the middle of the controversy. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy (left) and Dustin Johnson have been thrown in the middle of the controversy. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

US Open golf ‘boycott’ controversy erupts

The US Open controversy is starting early this year.

A frustrated - and anonymous - group of players vented their growing anger with the USGA and revealed to Golf Digest that it almost led to a boycott of the event.

"We had about 10-15 guys who were willing to sit out after 2016. Some of them were big names - Dustin (Johnson) was one, Rory (McIlroy) was another," a player who has won multiple times on the PGA Tour said.

The anger revolves around unfair course setups, an unwillingness by the USGA to consult with the PGA Tour about those setups and a purse that has not grown with a TV contract that went from $37 million to $93 million when Fox took over the rights in 2015.

The USGA later announced on Tuesday that the purse was going up by $500,000 for both the men's ($12.5 million total) and women's ($5.5 million total) US Open.

The boycott discussion, though, materialised when Johnson was given a dubious penalty during his 2016 triumph at Oakmont. One player speculated that if Tiger Woods had been playing at the time, and not out with back issues, the plan might have gone through.

"I figure we needed about 25 guys, and I think we could have gotten there based on what I was hearing from players. Really, just one would have done it, but Tiger wasn't playing at the time. Without us, they don't have a tournament," one player said.

The PGA Tour handles every other event held in the US, except the US Open, which is under the USGA's purview. Multiple players wondered to Golf Digest why the USGA refused to discuss course layout and pin positions with the experts who handle it on a weekly basis. Instead, the players say, the USGA's obsession with having the winning score over par has led to dubious decision-making.

"What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over when it doesn't work. That's where we are," a multiple-major winner told the magazine.

Another player labelled the event a "disaster." Phil Mickelson became the face of that anger last year at Shinnecock when he hit a moving ball as it was rolling down a hilly green and was eventually assessed a two-shot penalty.

"Phil was sending a message: 'You cocked up Shinnecock last time, when I should have won, and now you've done it again. So now I'm going to show you up for what you are'," one player said.

This most recent round of complaints comes just two weeks before this year's US Open at Pebble Beach, and it puts an early bullseye on the USGA if it cannot maximise the allure of one of the country's most famous courses.

"If they f*** up Pebble Beach, I can see players not going back. That's America's St. Andrews," another player said.