2019 U. S. Open Preview

Winner: Gary Woodland by three shots over Brooks Koepka.

The 119th United States Open will be played from June 13-16 at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California. Defending champion Brooks Koepka will try to make it three in a row, last done, and only done, by Willie Anderson in 1903, ’04, and ’05.

Many people say that Pebble Beach is the quintessential U.S. Open venue. I am partial to Oakmont, but PB isn’t a bad choice.

It first hosted a national tournament in 1929 when the USGA held the U.S. Amateur there. East Coast opinion was that the USGA had lost touch with reality as the best courses were, naturally, in the metropolitan (New York) area.

Bobby Jones was the co-medalist in the seeding rounds, but lost in the opening round of the championship to Johnny Goodman, who would later become the last amateur to win the U.S. Open, in 1933. Goodman also won the U.S. amateur, in 1937.

Forty-three years later, the first U.S. Open was held there, the first of now six, the debut won by Jack Nicklaus on the wings of a 1-iron that hit the pin the 17th hole the final day for a kick-in birdie.

See the USGA’s hole-by-hole flyover of the course.

Part of my life in golf involves Pebble Beach. During WWII, my mother was in the Navy, stationed in Hawaii. One of her close friends there had a brother who became a physician in the Bay Area later on, a very successful one, and who had an apartment on the Monterey Peninsula a sand wedge away from the 18th green at PB. Maybe I should have said a VERY successful doctor.

It was in one of the white buildings behind the green in this picture, copied from the flyover video at 11:38.

In 1962, my family went to visit my mother’s friend and family, who were living in San Jose. While we were there, we took a trip to that apartment for a few days. I went out on the course and walked the front nine all the way to the eighth fairway. Believe me, you just don’t know how beautiful that little peninsula in the photograph below is until you have been there.

There are no significant upgrades to the course for this tournament. The last time, the USGA used mowing to shift the location of some of the fairways, most notably the 9th and 10 holes, two seaside par 4s. Wouldn’t you guess, they put the fairways closer to the ocean. But as some people say, you have the entire North American continent on the left, so there is no reason for you to go right.

(Click to enlarge)

It is said that Pebble Beach consists of eight memorable holes and ten holes that are, well, not so memorable. The ocean holes are indeed spectacular, especially the stretch from 6 to 8 (above).

Number 6 launches you uphill into what the weather is doing that day, with a splendid ocean view. No pictures or the television show you how big this hole really is. Number 7 is the shortest hole in major championship golf at 109 yards, but it can play anywhere from a flip wedge to a 5-iron, depending on the wind.

Number 8 rises uphill with a tee shot blind to the landing area, and then perhaps the finest second shot in all of golf—over a cove to a tiny green well below the surface you’re standing on.

Watch them putt on 16, a green that slopes noticeably from right to left. Players finding themselves with a long uphill putt seldom reach the pin. They just can’t bring themselves to hit the bill hard enough.

The course is quite short by modern standards at 7,072 yards. That means shorter, straighter hitters, such as Jordan Spieth, who is playing much better now, are in the hunt if the USGA finds a way to neutralize the uber-long game while not being stupid about it.

Traditionally, the U.S. Open has been a survival contest that favors the straight hitter who can keep his mind together for four rounds of golf on a course that punishes every mistake. That’s not what the tournament has been for a while, but it was the reason why the U.S. Open was once my favorite tournament. It can be again, with inspired leadership.

Who is going to win? Phil could. He plays well on this course. He had better play well, because this might be his last serious chance to add a first to his six seconds. One thing for sure, he won’t be wearing these pants.

But if I knew who was going to win, I would keep it a secret and head down to Vegas to put down a TON of money on a sure thing.

Since I don’t know, I’ll retreat to Ben Hogan’s advice to Nick Faldo on how to win the U.S. Open: “You shoot the lowest score.”* That’s who’s going to win.

The final round of the Open is on Father’s Day. If golf is part of his life, what better way to spend the day than watching the Open with him? I always did.

* Vasquez, Jody. Afternoons With Mr. Hogan.

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