The greatest tournament in golf is upon us this week. One hundred fifty-six qualifiers will tee it up at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. As usual, the U.S. Open is all about the course. This year, the course is very different from any one in recent memory, if ever. Why? There will be no rough. None of the famous U.S. Open rough, or rough of any kind, will be anywhere in sight.
Golf course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored the course in 2010 to the original Donald Ross design. They took out what rough there was and put back the original sandy waste areas bordering generous fairways. Wire grass that grows here and there will add to the difficulties presented by unpredictable lies.
Note to Dustin Johnson: read the rules sheet!
In addition, each hole is lined with trees that serve to isolate it from the rest of the course. The feeling is that where you are in all there is, isolated from the the rest of golf, maybe even the rest of the world. However. Errant tee shots running through the waste areas will end surrounded by trees, which will cause serious problems getting out with much more than a sideways chip.
The strength of the course is its greens, which have landing areas that could fit in a thimble. Shots mishit slightly will roll off the green to collection areas difficult to chip from. Subtle breaks in the greens mean getting down in two putts won’t be a walk in the park. These are Pinehurst’s real defenses.
Now click the picture above, of the 8th hole, to enlarge it. Imagine how much easier a shot from rough would be than from the sand and scrub leading up to the green on the right side. Imagine what’s going to happen to your ball if your approach misses the green even a little bit on the left. Even missing the green to the right will cause the ball to roll away. The entire course is like this.
One change that was made for this tournament is switching par on the fourth and fifth holes. The fourth, a short par five, is a long par 4 for the Open. The fifth, a long par four, the green of which is not receptive to a long second shot, has been lengthened to a 576-yard par 5. These two holes are the only ones that can be called hilly, with a blind drive into the fairway on the fifth. The rest of the course is reasonably flat.
The only water on the course is a pond on the 16th hole that is so close to the tee that it presents no difficulty.
There are no great holes at Pinehurst, just an unending string of very good ones that add up to a great golf course.
Who will win? Phil Mickelson! The winner will need to be able to get up and down A LOT, and whose short game is better? If Phil can play to reasonable form from the tee and fairway, that might be all he needs to win the one he has just missed so often, and complete a career major slam.
The USGA always has fun with the groupings in the first two rounds. Here are a few of the notable ones:
Mickelson, Rose, Fitzpatrick – the traditional pairing of the reigning British Open, U.S. Open, and U.S. Amateur champions
Watson, Scott, Scharwtzel – recent Masters champions
McIlroy, Simpson, McDowell – recent U.S. Open champions
Els, Clarke, Oosthuizen – recent British Open champions
Dufner, Bradley, Kaymer – recent PGA champions
Goosen, Ogilvy, Glover – former Open champions who haven’t won much since
Stenson, Kuchar, Westwood – the best players never to have won a major
De Jonge, Stadler, Lowry – really fat guys
Donald, Casey, English – the first two are English, while the third isn’t, but . . .
Spieth, Matsuyama, Fowler – really good young guys
Holmes, Woodland, De Laet – this year’s Bombs Away group