Another Massacre at Winged Foot

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U.S. OpenMAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Retief Goosen was practicing his mid-range game Tuesday at Winged Foot, hitting balls from about 45 yards out off a practice fairway. He then moved over to his left, into the rough, where he hit a few more. He then moved over a little further left and the bottom half of his shoes disappeared. Another few steps over to the left, and grass completely covered the cuffs of his pants.
 
For the first time, the United States Golf Association is implementing a graduated rough at their National Championship.
 
Rocco Mediate
Rocco Mediate plays out from some of the gnarly rough at Winged Foot.
The concept is quite simple: The further you hit it off line, the worse the deal is, said Mike Davis.
 
Davis is the USGAs new set-up man for the U.S. Open, taking over for the retired and oft-criticized Tom Meeks. A couple of years ago, he suggested the idea to USGA Executive Director David Fay, and it took off from there.
 
Now, as Davis says, Were better fitting the punishment to the crime.
 
According to Davis, the fairways on Winged Foots West Course measure 22-28 yards wide. After that, there is a 6-foot swath of intermediate rough that measures about 1 inches long.
 
The next 20 feet out is called the first cut of primary rough, and stands about 3 inches tall. Our goal is to have this rough playable, but still penal, Davis said. We want to allow the players to show their skills.
 
After that, you have the second cut of primary rough. This is where it gets interesting, and where bad drives come to die -- or get lost. The gallery has even been pushed back an extra 15 yards to keep fans from trampling down the highest rough.
 
This measures about 6 to 8 inches, explained Davis. Youre going to get a lie where you just have to advance the ball, try to get it into the fairway. There is almost no chance to get the ball on the green (from this cut).
 
Defending champion Michael Campbell got a chance to play his first nine holes on the West Course Monday. Tuesday, he was simple and direct in his assessment of the rough.
 
What I saw yesterday was brutal, he said. Its probably a golfers nightmare this week, because you cant see the ball sometimes.
 
That, according to Davis, should only happen if you drive it well off line ' and if you do, then you deserve what you get.
 
You have about a 41-to-46-foot corridor to drive the ball and keep it in play, Davis said. That includes the fairway, the intermediate rough and the first cut of primary rough. Beyond that, you should have to pay the penalty.
 
He then added matter-of-factly, This is the U.S. Open.
 
It makes sense, said Chris DiMarco. If you miss the fairway by a yard, you shouldnt be more penalized than if you miss it by 20.
 
The rough isnt the only thing players have to concern themselves with this week. Theres also the matter of a par 70 playing to 7,264 yards. But even more so than distance, the biggest detraction to scoring may very well be the greens.
 
I think everyone is so wound up thinking about the rough, they do forget about the greens a little bit, said Luke Donald. They are quite slopey in places; I think the first few greens especially.
 
You really do have to think about where you want to position your second shot into the green, because the greens are that slopey, usually from back to front, which makes it tough. You cant be too aggressive out there.
 
These greens are some of the most severe greens youll ever face, said two-time U.S. Open winner Tiger Woods.
 
The last time a major championship on the regular tour was contested at Winged Foot, the 1997 PGA Championship, Davis Love III won in a runaway with an 11-under total. In 1984, the last time a U.S. Open was held here, Fuzzy Zoeller defeated Greg Norman in a playoff after both men tied at 4 under. And then there was 1974, known as the Massacre at Winged Foot, when Hale Irwin was crowned champion with a 7-over score.
 
As for predicting a winning number this time around, Davis believes that there are too many factors that could sway scores in either direction. The course is still on the wet side from an abundance of rain over the past few weeks ' and more rain is expected on Wednesday. Davis is hoping that the course will dry out by Friday so that players and fans will get a true sense of how it is supposed to play over the weekend.
 
I dont think youre going to have the so-called Massacre at Winged Foot, where players just walk off saying its impossible, Davis said. Could 7 over win? Yeah, maybe, if it got crusty and really windy. Maybe it could.
 
But black numbers, Davis says, are not the USGAs goal this week. And neither do they want anything resembling Shinnecock Sunday in 2004.
 
We tried to get the golf course set up in a way that its a very stern, rigorous test, but that its not so much so that they cant use their skills to play the game and to where good shots are penalized. We dont want that,' he said.
 
Phil Mickelson has spent the better part of nine days over the last month prepping his game for this layout. He said that he feels like he knows the course better than anyone outside of club member Andy Svoboda, who is also in the field, but that scoring is all relative to the conditions.
 
This golf course is set up for pristine conditions ' zero wind, 80 degrees and warm. And if they dont get it, this course will be almost unplayable, he said. The greens are going to be way too fast, the rough is going to be too thick, and the fairways are going to be too tight for anybody to sniff par if we get 15-, 20-mile-an-hour winds.
 
If were faced with that, everything changes, because were looking at ' I think (good) scores are going to be higher than 74.
 
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