Course setup too tough? USGA honcho says too bad

? John Daly swatted a moving ball with his putter at Pinehurst No. 2 to protest tough conditions at the U.S. Open.

Tom Lehman was belligerent about the hole location on the 18th at Olympic Club. Nick Price was so angry about the 10th hole at Bethpage Black that he gave the USGA an F for course setup. “A pitiful effort,” he said.

Olin Browne was ticking off his list of favorite golf courses: Riviera, Colonial, Quail Hollow, Harbour Town, Westchester “and whatever course they play the U.S. Open on before the USGA gets a hold of it.”

Not a year goes by that someone doesn’t complain about something at the U.S. Open, the self-described “toughest test in golf.”

The man responsible for preparing the course is Tom Meeks, who makes few apologies.

“In a perfect world, I wish they would give me a hug and a kiss and said I did a good job. But that’s not going to happen,” said Meeks, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competition who has been setting up U.S. Open courses since 1996.

“It can’t happen when we do what we do — try to determine the best player in the world,” Meeks said. “We’ve got to make it hard. And when we make it hard, it challenges them. If we don’t make it hard, why have a U.S. Open? We might as well run another PGA Tour event.”

The PGA Tour likes to say “these guys are good.” Out of 20 tour events this year, only at Riviera did the winner fail to reach double digits under par.

The U.S. Open requires these guys to be even better.

“You have to accept that you’re not going to make birdies at a U.S. Open,” Jeff Maggert said. “You come out here every week, play good, and you expect to make four, five or six birdies a round. You go there … you can play perfect and not make one.”

The most valid complaint was in 1998, when Meeks set a hole location on No. 18 at Olympic Club that was nearly unplayable because of the firm green.

Meeks concedes it was his biggest mistake.

“If you have any doubts on a hole location, don’t use it,” Meeks said. “I went against my better judgment.”

Meeks took almost as many hits for last year on No. 10 at Bethpage.