The U.S. Golf Association wrapped up its annual meeting 10 days ago without awarding a special exemption to the U.S. Open, which is what Watson would need to play in the national championship at Pebble Beach for the fifth time.
“The decision was that our committee is going to look at it in April,” said Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competition. “They feel like if there’s any special exemption, they want to look at it closer to the time of the Open.”
Nick Price in 2005 was the last player to receive a special exemption to the U.S. Open. Watson would appear to be a logical choice.
Along with being a past U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach, he showed his skills quite sufficiently last summer when he stood over an 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole with a chance to win the British Open. He wound up losing a playoff to Stewart Cink at Turnberry.
Two weeks ago, Watson played the Dubai Desert against the fourth-strongest field in golf this year and tied for eighth.
Davis said the USGA no longer awards exemptions at its annual meeting in case it overlooks someone who is playing well or hands out an exemption to someone who starts playing poorly late in the spring.
“Most years, we don’t even give a special exemption,” he said. “Certainly, Watson is being talked about.”
Davis said he expects a decision to be announced in May.
Pebble Beach last week for the National Pro-Am was nothing like it will look in June for the U.S. Open, mainly because the fairways and greens are soft and damp in the late winter of northern California.
The course will be firm in June, and it will play slightly longer. The scorecard will be 7,040 yards, the first time a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach has been measured over 7,000 yards.
As for the rough?
Mike Davis, the senior director of rules and competition, said the plan is for the rough to be cut at 2 1/4 inches (6 centimeters) for the U.S. Open on some of the shorter holes, and about 2 3/4 inches (7 centimeters) on some of the longer holes. Attribute that to the new grooves, which likely will be a bigger factor on firm greens.
“The rough will be less penal than you’ve seen in a long time because we know we’re going to have firm greens,” Davis said. “We want just enough grass between the club head and the ball to take the spin off.”
The rough will be brought in, and that was visible on certain holes during last week’s tournament. The most peculiar was the 11th, mainly because the green sits at an angle. The hole is designed for a tee shot to the left to give players a look at the depth of the green. For the U.S. Open, the rough is being brought in from the left, so the players will face a more shallow angle of attack.
If the USGA is being accused of taking away the designed strategy to make a hole harder, Davis pleads guilty.
“It’s such a short hole,” he said. “The thought was, they’re going to have some lofted club in their hand – a wedge or a 9-iron. Instead of playing up chute, playing across makes it harder. If that hole was 470 or 490 yards, absolutely we would move that fairway way left.”