Calendar Says US Open Course Says British

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SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Brad Faxon found his shot nestled deep in green grass along the first fairway, typical of tee shots at the U.S. Open that miss by the smallest margins.
 
What happened next reminded him of another Open.
 
His wedge hit the front of the green and hopped high, rolled toward the back of the green and, just when it looked as if it might stop, curved to the right and gained speed until it dropped out of sight, into a deep bunker.
 
Shinnecock Hills GCFaxon smiled as if he had seen this before.
 
'British Open,' he said.
 
The calendar says June. The links-style course says July.
 
Everything about Shinnecock Hills and the 104th U.S. Open has the feel of a British Open, from the stately clubhouse to the waves of waist-high grass framing the fairway to the strong sea breezes that blow south from the Atlantic or north from Great Peconic Bay.
 
About the only things missing are fish and chips and bacon rolls sold at the concession stand.
 
Kevin Sutherland arrived Monday morning to overcast skies, flapping flags and weather cool enough for a sweater.
 
'When I got out of the car, the temperature, the grass, the white tent ... I thought I was at the British Open,' he said. 'And that was even before I saw the course. The only difference between this and Lytham is they have ice here.'
 
Tiger Woods stood on the 398-yard eighth hole Tuesday morning with a driver in his hand, surveying a fairway he could barely see and a landscape that made him wonder if he was really in New York.
 
'This looks like the back nine at Carnoustie. Only that would be the size of the fairway,' he said, pointing to a winding dirt walkway through the weeds.
 
The fairways at Shinnecock are no bargain at 26 yards wide on average. And they are so firm that Faxon threw a ball onto the ground and caught it level with his waist.
 
'I don't think there's another U.S. Open like this one,' Woods said. 'This is very much like a British Open. You can actually putt from 30, 40 yards off the green if you so choose. That's certainly not the case at any other Open venue we play.'
 
It wasn't even the case the last time the U.S. Open came to Shinnecock Hills in 1995.
 
Back then, most of the greens were surrounded by thick rough so typical of the U.S. Open. Now, the slopes around the greens are shaved, allowing the ball to run some 10 yards off the green, similar to Pinehurst No. 2.
 
No one notices it quite like Masters champion Phil Mickelson. He still remembers how he got buried in the thick grass to the right of the par-5 16th green at Shinnecock in the 1995 U.S. Open. Lefty played that hole in 6 over par for the week and finished four shots behind.
 
'I don't know if it was the USGA being nice to me or if it was the USGA laughing at me, but they shaved the entire area right of 16 where I had been hacking it out of rough,' Mickelson said. 'It's fine now. I like the fact that it is now fairway. Thank you.'
 
The wind can hold its own with anything on the British Isles.
 
Even as the sun was trying to break through early morning fog, the flags -- Stars & Stripes, not Union Jack -- were whipping. Woods hitting a driver on the 398-yard eighth hole spoke volumes. He followed that with a 5-iron onto the green.
 
As for the land itself?
 
'It's got that color that we get back in the old country,' Ernie Els said. 'And it plays very firm. It's got all the makings of a British Open right there.'
 
Shinnecock Hills, which held the second U.S. Open in 1896, is not a true links. That's determined by the type of soil on which the course is built. According to USGA historian Rand Jerris, there is no true linksland in the United States, although just about everyone agrees that Shinnecock plays like one.
 
'I spent a lot of time the last couple of years playing links golf around Ireland,' Padraig Harrington said. 'I'll be prepared for this. There will be mayhem if the winds change. Somebody told me there were four different winds at the last Open here. If that happens, it's going to be difficult.'
 
Raymond Floyd was the only player to break par in 1986. Corey Pavin won at even par in 1995. Some suggest that a score over par could win the U.S. Open for the first time since 1978 at Cherry Hills in Denver.
 
The last major won over par was Carnoustie in the 1999 British Open, one of the most exasperating majors in recent memory. The fairways were no more than a dozen yards wide in spots, the rough was deep enough to lose clubs (or the caddies carrying them) and the wind was howling.
 
Shinnecock has its own set of problems.
 
The par 3s are particularly tough, the best example Tuesday coming on the 17th hole. Sutherland, Chris Riley, Chad Campbell and Chris Smith each hit two balls to the 179-yard hole. None stayed on the green.
 
'Is it time to go home yet?' Smith said.
 
The course plays only 6,996 yards at a par 70, numbers that can be misleading. Woods hit a 4-iron into the 189-yard seventh hole, then said in a defeatist tone, 'I can't get there with a 4-iron.'
 
That's the kind of stuff that usually happens on links that start with Royal or Saint.
 
Still, Els knew exactly where he was -- and what he was trying to win.
 
'It's still got that element of a U.S. Open, with the greens very fast and rough up,' Els said. 'So, you've got to be careful.'
 
Related links:
  • Shinnecock Hills Course Tour

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