US Open Rough Reputation Endures

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SAN DIEGO ' Theres a tendency on the eve of our national championship to dismiss the whole discussion of the rough as so much annual golf yadda. Oh yeah; we hear it every yearthe rough is up, its awful, brutal, pitch-out-if-youre-lucky stuff, get in it and your career will crumble in a shot. So whats new?
 
But U.S. Open aficionados know that you can never dismiss the rough at this tournament. It may differ in quality from year to year. Thicknesses may vary ' it may be high and wispy one year or lower and juicy the next ' but its always a problem.
 
And why shouldnt it be? If the U.S. Open is supposed to be a test of the elite golfers complete game, that should include driving it on line. The USGA in recent years has instituted graduated cuts of rough ' this year, its about an inch and a half near the fairway, and it rises step-by-step in two more cuts to about five inches out by the gallery ropes. The idea, of course, is to graduate the pain as well. The penalty for hitting it four feet off line shouldnt be the same as for 40.
 
The second cut is still pretty tough, said Jason Gore the other day after playing 12 holes. You can get some spin, but not much. It depends, said Gore, on whether the ball sits up or dives down ' and that could depend on the moisture situation. No rain falls this time of year in San Diego, but the marine layer ' some call it June Gloom ' comes in off the ocean as a high, dense fog. Warm air in the inland desert, just eight or so miles away, sucks the gloom in off the cooler ocean. It can sometimes dissolve into a mist.
 
Then theres the simple fact that a golf course in June is not the same as it is in January. When the Buick event is played here early in the year, the predominant grass in the rough is winter-loving rye. Now, its tougher Kikuyu. The difference is more than cosmetic.
 
In January, hitting through the rye is ' well, youre hitting through the leaves of the grass plant, said Mark Woodward, director of golf operations for Torrey Pines. Much easier. But when the Kikuyu is in, the club has to get through the stems of the plant as well.
 
You can feel the club turn in your hands as Mark says the words. And the players know it. Most have their rough-escape tools properly adjusted by now ' wedges with the proper grinds in the heel and leading edges looking good and not digging too much. Others feel the need to tinker.
 
I know some guys have ground the leading edges down like knives, said Retief Goosen. But not Goosen. He likes to grind his own wedges in the TaylorMade-adidas Golf tour van, but he refuses to mess with things this week. Same for Aaron Baddeley, who expects to rely heavily on his 60-degree wedge (which is bent up to be a 59).
 
No, I wouldnt do anything to it, Baddeley said. If I do, itll play differently.
 
And different is not what you want this week. In the complete-game endurance test that is the U.S. Open, you lean on what you have brought with you ' what got you here.
 
And thats not yadda.