Driving Dilemma

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The finals numbers beg the question. Twenty players averaged more than 300 yards on the measured holes for the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields last week. The average driving distance for the field Sunday was 295.8 yards.
 
Shinnecock Hills, the wonderful old Long Island doyen of a golf course, will host next year's U.S. Open. It won't play much longer than it did in 1995 when it measured less than 7,000 yards and Corey Pavin won with a 72-hole total of even par.
 
The question begs: Will Shinnecock Hills be long enough to handle the length capabilities the world's best players possess today?
 
'I don't ever see us adding significant yardage to that golf course,' Tom Meeks said Monday when asked if Shinnecock would need a steroid injection for next year's championship. 'It can hold its own any time.' Meeks oversees the USGA's course set-up at its major championships.
 
Shinnecock can hold its own because its winds are consistently capricious. That might sound like an oxymoron. But what it means is the winds blow more than 90 percent of the time. And because the routing of the golf course runs, in Ben Crenshaw's words, 'every which way,' the players rarely face the same wind two holes in a row.
 
Masters champion Mike Weir, who finished third at Olympia Fields, is glad the USGA isn't overreacting to the perception that last week's Open was a sitting duck for the so-called 'bombers.'
 
The facts are these: Only four of those 20 players who averaged more than 300 yards off the tee at Olympia Fields finished in the top 10. Only four players wound up under par for 72 holes. And the scoring average on Sunday was 73.
 
Meeks said the USGA has changed tee boxes on five holes at Shinnecock from 1995. But only three of those five holes entail the adding of significant length. They are Nos. 3, 4 and 8.
 
Meanwhile Meeks said he wouldn't be surprised if the USGA returned to Olympia Fields some time in the future. Probably,' he said, 'in the next 15 or 20 years.'
 
The U.S. Open dates are spoken for through 2009 and Pebble Beach is expected to be a lock for 2010. Influential Olympia Fields member Terry Lavin said he had a brief discussion with USGA vice president Fred Ridley on what the club would have to do to change the 18th hole if the Open were to return to Olympia Fields. It was not a formal discussion. But Lavin said he was encouraged that Ridley was open to talk about it.
 
The short list of courses, according to Meeks, on the U.S. Open rotation is Pinehurst, Shinnecock, Pebble Beach and Bethpage. The longer list usually includes standouts like Oakmont, Oakland Hills, and Winged Foot. Meeks said Olympia Fields still belongs on that list despite all the critics who said the course is not memorable.
 
Jim Furyk, the freshly minted U.S. Open champion, won't soon forget Olympia Fields. He wasn't among the top 20 in driving distance. But he was second in fairways hit.