Pinehurst's greens will be Open worthy

Jun. 11, 2014 @ 09:28 PM

Prior to today’s start of the U.S. Open, both Bubba Watson and Jason Day referred to Pinehurst No. 2 as a “second-shot golf course” - how players approached the green would be the most important shot of the tournament.

“I’m not sure what the winning score will be, but it’s a premium on second shots,” said Day, the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Open at Merion. “You have to have a very, very sharp short game this week.”

U.S. Opens are known for their difficulty and producing winning scores at or above par. As a U.S. Open course, No. 2 is no different, and as a 7,562-yard par-70 course, it will be especially so. But just because it’s long doesn’t mean there’s lots of room to hit booming drives. Watson, one of the PGA Tour’s longest hitters, talked about scaling back off the tee and laying up, something unnatural for him.

Many players in practice rounds hit fairway woods and irons off the tee because there weren’t many landing areas for the normal long PGA Tour drive. Some will hit driver, yes, but don’t expect it to be commonplace.

“It’s a much smaller golf course than we normally play on Tour,” said Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion. “There are some areas which you really don’t want to find yourself and then there are some other areas which are fairly playable and you’ll get away with missing. Everyone is going to miss a few more greens this week than they’re used to. So they better be ready for that.”

Oh yeah, the greens. Hard as a rock. Normally when you play your five-iron second shot into your club’s normal par-4 green, if you hit it well enough, you’ll get a “thud” and a little bit of roll. Not this week. It’s a “pop” and a lot of roll. Defending champion Justin Rose compared that kind of play to Augusta National, home of the Masters, in that the players will have to hit more into zones rather than shooting for the pin.

“To come into these greens, you’ve got to be very precise,” said Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion. “And then you are a little bit in that luck of the golfing gods which way it bounces coming into the green. There’s like a third or half of the green that is actually a playable surface, so you’re going to have very small landing targets.”

Thick rough is a normal challenge at a U.S. Open., but when Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored the course in 2011, they replaced the rough with what was originally there, a sandy area with spots of what’s called wire grass that looks like a porcupine whose body is buried in the sand but the tentacles are sticking out.

So Watson said the challenge is more with the greens than the rough this U.S. Open. During the first hole of his practice round on Tuesday, he hit a 4-iron from the tee to 184 yards from the front of the green. He pulled out an 8-iron and landed it right in the center of the green, but it bounced over.

“So I hit two great shots, but it’s 20 yards over the green because it decided that it was firm,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for a better golf course, but the greens are very, very unfriendly.”

But does unfriendly mean unfair?

“They’re going to be fair to somebody, the top 10 this week are going to be happy with them,” Watson said. “I don’t think it’s unfair, I think it’s a different mindset of golf. I don’t play chess, but it’s a chess match. You have to play to a certain spot and hopefully two-putt from 60 feet or just off the green, get up-and-down to get your par and then try to attack on another hole.”

That way of play can lead to a lot of anxiety during the tournament, and will likely lead to a lot of over-par scores.

“It can be very frustrating to play these greens because you can go from one side of the green to the other side pretty quick,” Day said. “You can rack up a big number very fast.”

It will make players uncomfortable and concerned. But that’s what a U.S. Open is all about.

“I think particularly as the course continues to firm up and firm up, you have areas where you could feel more comfortable playing from,” said Matt Kuchar, who played in both of the previous U.S. Opens held at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999 and 2005. “But you’ve got to be so precise that even with great course knowledge, even hitting a good shot you’re going to end up in places where you’re going to have a very difficult time saving par.”