Venue: Pinehurst Resort, No. 2 Course, North Carolina
Course: Par 70, 7,562 yards
Current Champion: Justin Rose
Past 6 Winners –
2013: Justin Rose
2012: Webb Simpson
2011: Rory McIlroy
2010: Graeme McDowell
2009: Lucas Glover
2008: Tiger Woods
Past 2 Winners at Pinehurst –
2005: Michael Campbell
1999: Payne Stewart
The 2014 US Open is just 2 weeks away and the pre-tournament talk has reached fever pitch.
All understandable. The 2nd major of the year, an unofficial start to summer and an event that has heralded some of the grittiest, toughest, physiological tests in the history of golf.
Just how we like it at DownThe18th. And now that there is no Tiger Woods, who lost out in his battle to overcome a spine injury, the 114th edition is going to be incredible.
However, this year it is going to be a completely different challenge to what we have come to expect.
The USGA selected the historic Pinehurst No.2 course in North Carolina, which has hosted 2 US Opens in recent history, with Payne Stewart winning back in 1999 and Michael Campbell surprising everyone in 2005. But the extensive renovation made by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw has radically changed the whole look, set up and feel of one of America’s finest golf courses.
So, the questions a lot of you will be asking is, how will this effect betting and what sort of test with the players be facing come 12th June?
Well, with this, our first preview, we hope we can go some way to answering them.
“There are only two mowing heights out there. There will be the height they cut the fairways and the height they cut the greens. We’ve never encountered something like that for a U.S. Open.”
Mike Davis Executive Director USGA.
Firstly, taking a brief look at some of the history of Pinehurst will help give a clearer indication at how the course used to play and makes us understand the reasons behind this innovative renovation.
Famed course designer Donald Ross opened No.2 in 1907 and it has gone onto host USPGA’s, US Open’s, Ryder Cups and US Amateurs. Basically, this track is firmly etched into the record books.
Stats wise Stewart and Campbell both played sensibly and excellently from tee to green for their wins. Campbell ranked 8th in driving accuracy throughout the week and both inside the top 20 for GIR.
The reasons finding those dance floors are absolutely crucial is because of how difficult the raised, bentgrass greens are to stay on. They are known to resist shots like a trampoline, resulting in the ball drifting and skidding into run-off areas where pins are sometimes not visible.
When you consider Stewart and Campbell both won with GIR % no higher than 58 (the equivalent to second from bottom in the GIR PGA Tour stats this year), you realise that everyone will have to be saving their par at some point. And this is where your scrambling really comes to the fore.
These greens have hardly been altered, so we can take some insight into the week from here, but it is the rough, length and fairways where an abundance of these modern golfers are frothing at the thought of how their game could suit.
Crenshaw and Coore have tried to restore Pinehurst into something they firmly believe Ross originally intended to create
“We felt like it was time to really try to help restore the character we think Donald Ross intended.”
Resort owner Bob Dedman
What does that mean? Well, firstly the course will be playing as long as 7,562 yards!! Compared to 7,214 in 2005. It will be the longest par 70 in US Open history by some distance.
Secondly, there has been extensive upheaval of all the rough, with replacements of what the USGA is calling ‘waste areas’. This consists of sand and vegetation with pine needles, natural fescue and all sorts of crazy bother that will require improvisation of the highest order at times, especially at the weekend when the crowds have trampled, trodden and sunk their trainers into the grounds around the fairways.
To put it into perspective, 40 acres of grass has been replaced by 35 acres of this wasteland. That is just mind-boggling.
The worry for many players will be what actually is a hazard and not because the merge into sudden bunkers is not strictly obvious.
“We will play bunkers as bunkers. So they will be hazards. The other sandy wire-grass areas that have other types of vegetation will just be through the green. So in those areas the player can ground his or her club, can remove loose impediments.”
Mike Davis Executive Director USGA.
It will not be an easy task, but do no be surprised if there is some sort of confusion or controversy before the winner picks up the trophy come the Sunday.
The fairways have also been widened, giving those bombers more of a chance to free their arms and send the ball miles down the lengthened track. Do not be fooled though, it is still important to find the fairways because you will be able to attack pins and control the balls on the greens way more comfortably.
They have also changed par around on the 4th and 5th holes, with the former hardest hole on the course (the old par 4 4th) has now become a par 5.
In all honesty, the changes are so drastic that it will be an exciting challenge trying to pick the winner from the elite.
What will it take to win?
With any major championship, it is obvious to say, but your mental game needs to be perfectly in with your game. No doubting that.
Hitting the ball long will of course be an advantage, but the bombers will have to keep it in play more often than not and then they will certainly be challenging.
For the shorter hitters it is all about pinpoint accuracy and plotting your way around the course in order to find greens with greater ease and grab birdies when the time is right.
We will definitely be looking at how high certain players can get their ball because they can obviously find greens with greater ease, whilst putting is of course absolutely vital. Every winner of every major putts relatively well because holing those ‘clutch-putts’ make all the difference.
However, where we feel the tournament could be won or lost is around the greens. Scrambling will be an inevitable skill to conquer because everyone will miss greens, so when you do, how many can you save.
What they are saying
“A length hitter who just hits the ball long will not win this Open, though. You need to hit it long AND high. And, at the end of the day, you have just GOT to make the putts.”
Mike Davis Executive Director USGA.
“Over par will win”
Swedish golfer Jonas Blixt, after a practice round back in early May.
“Pinehurst is an iron-shot golf course, a second-shot golf course.
It will be a unique type of challenge next month, and a unique type of short game is going to be required around there because of the greens
I am just worried that this year’s U.S. Open, with no rough, is going to give the bombers a little too much space, that’s my only concern.”
Northern Irish 2010 champion Graeme McDowell.
“You’re going to have to use a lot of imagination around the greens, bump it into slopes, putt up the hills. There’s going to be a lot of visualization and imagination needed.”
2011 champion Rory McIlroy
“You’ve got to be in the fairway to have a realistic chance of controlling your shot and staying on the green.”
FBI’s favourite Phil Mickelson.
“This year it is going to play more of a running game, more of a mix between a US Open and a British Open Championship.”
Reigning champions Justin Rose
So, where does that leave us?
Well, our full selections will be up on our final preview next Monday afternoon (GMT) but there are a few names that have been floating around our heads in the past few days.
We cannot deny Phil Mickelson interests us, but are his allegation going to prove too much of a distraction?
Webb Simpson is a local lad with an impeccable short game and Luke Donald has everything barring significant length off the tee.
Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley appeal for their scrambling, whilst Ryan Palmer really does have everything as well as a bit of recent form.
You may find only one of these names makes our list, because for the first time ever on a major, we are not chucking our big money antepost as of yet, we will be biding our time and making sure our research and decisions are as thorough as possible.
This is going to be a true test at the end of the day, so we need to give it justice.