Wednesday, June 11, 2014

U.S. Open Preview

Here is the latest top 10 from the Official World Golf Ranking:

1.  A. Scott (AUS)
2.  H. Stenson (SWE)
3.  B. Watson
4.  T. Woods
5.  M. Kuchar
6.  R. McIlroy (NIR)
7.  J. Day (AUS)
8.  S. Garcia (ESP)
9.  J. Rose (ENG)
10.  J. Spieth

There are only four American golfers in the top 10, and only two of those can be described as in the prime of their career.  The other two are Tiger Woods, who hasn't played all year, and Jordan Spieth, who has not yet turned 21.

On the other hand, Bubba and Spieth beat everyone at the Masters.  So there.

This year's National Open will be played at the legendary Pinehurst Number 2 course, which Golf Digest ranks as the 40th best course in the United States.  Pinehurst hosted the Open in 1999 (one of the best golf tournaments ever, won by Payne Stewart) and in 2005 (utterly forgettable, won by Michael Campbell).  But the old course has changed dramatically in recent years.  Here's a discussion from Golf Digest:

We wrote this about Pinehurst No. 2 back in 1989: "After years of tinkering with something that wasn't broke, the owners have finally attempted to recreate the special playability that was Pinehurst's hallmark, [converting] the greens to bent grass...with special care to maintain the existing contours of the marvelous Donald Ross greens and surrounding humps and hollows. They'll never have Pinehurst No. 2 back to where it once was -- irrigation and playing equipment being what they are today -- but their efforts are to be applauded." How wrong we were. A couple of years ago, a team headed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw killed and ripped out all the Bermuda grass rough that had been foolishly planted in the 1970s. Between fairways and tree lines, they established vast bands of native hardpan sand dotted with clumps of wiregrass and scattered pine needles. They reduced the irrigation to single rows in fairways and none in the rough to prevent grass from ever returning to the new sandy wastelands. So No. 2 is indeed back to where it once was. Which means it will be an intriguing fortnight when the 2014 Men's and Women's U.S. Opens are played on consecutive weeks on Pinehurst No. 2.

For many years, the U.S. Open was very predictable -- it was almost always played at famous old country clubs that had long courses with lots of rough and fast greens.  But ever since Mike Davis took over responsibility for setting up the U.S. Open course, we've been all over the place.  Davis is a golf nerd (we mean this in the nicest of ways), he is besotted with golf history (as are we) and he loves to take chances in order to achieve a cool outcome.

So you never know what the U.S. Open is going to be like until they start playing.  A few years ago, Congressional Country Club was left almost defenseless, and the winning score was 16 under par.  But last year, Davis's decision to take a chance on Merion -- which many observers thought was too short to challenge modern pros -- was vindicated with one of the best recent Opens I can remember.

Now we're going to Pinehurst for not one but two Opens, as the USGA has decided to play the Men's and Women's Opens on the same course.  But it's a Pinehurst and a U.S. Open unlike anything we've seen before.  As discussed above, the usual U.S. Open rough is absent, replaced by hardpan and wiregrass.  Will that be enough to defend the course?  What's to prevent someone like Bubba Watson from just blasting away and seeking to overpower the course?  No one will know until tomorrow.  But I like Mike Davis, and I like Pinehurst, and I really hope this works.

The big story is whether Phil Mickelson can complete a career Grand Slam by finally winning the National Open that has long eluded him.  Mickelson hasn't played all that well this year, but he came very close to winning here in 1999, and the fans will hope that lightning strikes for him.  Personally, I'm curious to see if Bubba can pull off the second leg of the Grand Slam.  If I had to pick someone, I would pick Adam Scott and his silly long putter.

Here's a detailed article in the Boston Globe about the changes to Pinehurst Number 2.  And here's the course card (Note that Davis usually has multiple tee grounds on some holes, so these yardages probably won't be the same every day):

1st Hole:  Par 4, 402 yds
2d Hole:  Par 4, 507 yds
3d Hole:  Par 4, 387 yds
4th Hole:  Par 4, 529 yds
5th Hole:  Par 5, 576 yds
6th Hole:  Par 3, 219 yds
7th Hole:  Par 4, 424 yds
8th Hole:  Par 4, 502 yds
9th Hole:  Par 3, 191 yds
Out:  Par 35, 3,737 yds

10th Hole:  Par 5, 617 yds
11th Hole:  Par 4, 483 yds
12th Hole:  Par 4, 484 yds
13th Hole:  Par 4, 382 yds
14th Hole:  Par 4, 473 yds
15th Hole:  Par 3, 202 yds
16th Hole:  Par 4, 528 yds
17th Hole:  Par 3, 205 yds
18th Hole:  Par 4, 451 yds
In:  Par 35, 3,825 yds

Total:  Par 70, 7,562 yds


  1. Here are the favorites, according to the British betting houses:

    R. McIlroy (NIR): 11 to 1
    A. Scott (AUS): 12 to 1
    B. Watson: 16 to 1
    P. Mickelson: 16 to 1

    No one else is better than 25 to 1 (those are the odds on Speith.)

    If you want to bet that an American will win, they'll give you odds of 13 to 18. If you want to bet that no American will win, they'll give you 20 to 19.

  2. I'm rooting for Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes, but, most of all, I'm down for getting an HP Majors-weekend on.

  3. Jordan Spieth ... 10-footer for birdie on No. 13 ... goes to 2-under ... one stroke behind leader "Vandy" Snedeker ...

  4. Vandy Sneds goes to 4-under. He's played eight holes. (Spieth has played five holes; he started on the back nine.)

  5. VandySneds is back to 3-under and joined there by Matt "KuKu" Kuchar. Spieth slips back to 1-under with a bunch of other people. Between those two groups is a person I've never heard of at 2-under, Clayton Rask. That's a great name right there.

  6. They've brought back the national flags on the U.S. Open official leaderboard web page. This makes me happy.

  7. Once again, ESPN has pushed aside the excellent radio team that normally covers golf on PGA Tour Radio to impose its own radio team. This makes me unhappy.

  8. Something has happened to ESPN's radio coverage, as we are now in a commercial break that has lasted for about 10 minutes. I've now switched to the "On Broadway" channel.

  9. Snedeker, who made the turn at 4 under after he missed a short putt that could have put him to 5 under, has now posted 6's on the par-5 10th and the par-4 11th. So he's now 1 under, and fading fast.

  10. Rickie Fowler is playing in plus-fours, presumably as a tribute to Payne Stewart.

    1. There are so many things about golf that I don't understand. I don't know what "plus-fours" are. Also, have you ever heard of "Amen Corner"?

    2. Plus fours are those fancy knicker-type pants that Payne Stewart used to wear.

      And yes, I know all about Amen Corner.

    3. The folks on ESPN Radio have confirmed that Rickie Fowler is, indeed, wearing the plus fours as a tribute to Payne Stewart. It's a good look for him; he should stick with it.

      Eric, do you remember when Payne Stewart used to wear NFL outfits?

    4. Fowler birdies 11 and is now 1 under. I like him a lot, and I really wish he was a better golfer.

    5. Yes, I always appreciated the NFL colors that Payne Stewart wore. And I knew about his knickers, which I always thought of as football pants--I just didn't know they were called plus-fours.

  11. "Henrik Norlander" is also a good name for a golfer from Sweden.

  12. Now ESPN is using some of the reporters from PGA Tour Radio, and their coverage has significantly improved. Good for them.

  13. Oh, OK ... The amateur, 19-year-old Matthew Fitzpatrick from England, is 2-under, with Norlander and Spieth, and one off KuKu's lead. Mickelson's 1-under, and Rose has birdied two of the last three holes after playing the back nine in 4-over.

  14. The USGA is running a commercial on the live stream where it is encouraging golfers "to play more of the game we all love" by squeezing in nine-hole increments on the way home from work, for example. When I was single and living in Henderson, I frequently did stop and play nine at the municipal course there near the Ohio River on my way home from work. And it really was great.

  15. Fowler has now joined Kevin Na and Graeme McDowell in the lead at 2-under, as KuKu just now falls back to 1-under with VandySneds, Philly Mick, Spieth, Rask and Nicholas Lindheim.

  16. As for our marquee streamers, Mickelson is now 1-under; Fitzpatrick, even, and Rose, 1-over. They've got two holes to go in their first round.

  17. Chris Berman has joined the ESPN TV coverage.

  18. So far the course is holding up. No one has shot lower than a two-under par 68 so far.

  19. Snedeker went out in 31, came home in 38, and posts a one-under par 69.

  20. Spieth is also in with a 1-under par 69.

    Fowler and Mickelson both shot even par 70's.

  21. Jim Furyk, who is not quite the Hale Irwin of his generation, is 2 under after 4 holes.

    1. Hale Irwin = 20 PGA tour wins, 3 U.S. Opens

      Jim Furyk = 16 PGA tour wins, 1 U.S. Open

  22. Brooks Koepka, a 24-year-old from Wellington, Fla., is now alone in the lead at 3-under. He has played five holes so far this afternoon.

  23. The PGA Tour guys have now pretty much taken over ESPN's radio coverage, so I'm very happy.

  24. I'm liking the rough-less Pinehurst. It's fascinating to see how bleak and sandy it all looks. Southerners have spent 400 years trying to make the South as pretty as possible, but there are many parts of the South where they don't get much help from nature.

  25. ESPN will be carrying the Brazil-Croatia World Cup match, which kicks off at 2 P.M. Central. The golf is switching over to NBC.

  26. Here's the scoreboard at 3 P.M. Eastern:

    1. B. Koepka: -3 (7 holes)
    T2. K. Na: -2 (18)
    T2. G. McDowell (NIR): -2 (18)
    T2. D. Johnson: -2 (6)
    T2. J. Walker: -2 (6)

  27. Bubba looks terrible; he is three over par after 7 holes.

  28. J.B. Holmes is 2 under par through 7 holes, and he is tied for the lead in the United States Open.

  29. Jason Dufner and six other guys are at 2-under. J.B. Holmes and 14 other guys are at 1-under. Kenny Perry shot 4-over. That's your U.S. Open at the moment.

  30. Germany's Martin Kaymer goes to 3-under alone with four holes to go in his first round.

    1. 4-under, two strokes up on the field, for Kaymer ... three to go in his round ... Kaymer uses his putter from way, way off the green. This was always my strategy in high-school golf back at Heath.

    2. Wow ... Kaymer birdies three of the last five holes, and he gets it to 5-under. That's three ahead of the field after today's first round.

      Holmes finishes even for the day.