Shinnecock Tricky Not Tricked Up


SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- What you might not know about the U.S. Open that begins Thursday at storied and daunting Shinnecock Hills is that the man mostly responsible for its current architectural flavor played high school golf against the fabled Francis Ouimet.
William S. Flynn was 54 years old when he died. But before he passed away he also helped design the golf course at the Merion Cricket Club. And he was responsible for the routing at The Country Club in Massachusetts and Cherry Hills near Denver.
All of these venues have hosted memorable U.S. Opens. And that is no accident. Flynn was ahead of his time. He was the first designer to build a million dollar golf course. He was the first designer to routinely put in three sets of tee boxes on every hole. And he was the first designer to propose a maximum distance for golf balls.
Flynn's philosophy on green complexes was simple: 'Steep slopes,' he said, 'are out of the question in the main body of a green.'
We can only wonder what he would think today about the speed on the green at the pitched par-3 seventh that most players are citing as the reason why it's almost impossible to keep their irons on the green in regulation. Too, Flynn might twist and turn a little in his grave if he knew how difficult it was to stop a ball from above the hole on the putting surface at No. 9.
The USGA is trying to protect par this week. And you can't blame them. Steve Flesch said Tuesday the long hitters will be choosing short irons into the par-5 fifth if the wind is behind them. USGA set-up guy Tom Meeks countered by saying trying to keep the ball on the surface at the fifth green is like trying to stop a shot on the top of a basketball.
The 18th hole at Shinnecock is famous for the 228-yard Sunday 4-wood Corey Pavin floated to within five feet in 1995 to help close out his two-shot victory in that tournament over Greg Norman. In a Monday practice round Craig Bowden hit 7-iron into the same hole. His ball found the bottom of the cup for an eagle 2.
It's impossible to predict the winds at Shinnecock from day to day. But they will be a major factor. Their caprices and Flynn's varied design are what make Shinnecock tricky but not tricked up. Tricky golf courses favor crafty players. Raymond Floyd in 1986 and Pavin in 1995 won U.S. Opens here because they knew how to 'fit' their tee balls in the right spots. And both possessed superior short games.
This is unlike last year's Open Championship in England which was more quirky than tricky. There's a big difference. Good drives were often punished at that tournament. That won't be the case at Shinnecock.
William S. Flynn made sure of that before he died way too young.
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