The 108th edition of our national championship begins Thursday at a stunning and municipal golf course called Torrey Pines South in San Diego.
The USGA wont get bent out of shape if 10 under wins. The USGA has decided to set par for 18 holes at 71 instead of the usual and grueling par 70.
There will be a short par-3 and, probably, a drivable par-4. And the finger and footprints of a forward thinking course set-up guy named Mike Davis and a state-of-the-art superintendent named Mark Woodward will be all over the place.
Davis title is Senior Director of Rules and Competitions with the USGA. Woodwards is Manager of Golf Course Operations. But neither is much for standing on ceremony or sitting still for formalities.
To be sure, there are still monied, blue-blazered and even hidebound members of the USGAs executive committee. But the U.S. Open has transitioned quite nicely into the 21st century.
Overlay Davis and Woodwards expertise with the renovation work of Open Doctor Rees Jones; throw in a crisp weather forecast calling for highs in the low to mid-70s; and add the intrigue of a special Thursday-Friday grouping that includes Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and you have a monster golf buzz.
You also have elements that the true golf aficionado will appreciate. If you like to play golf and like to know why a golf course looks and plays the way it does, keep reading. What follows are five reasons why preparing a U.S. Open these days has evolved into a highly-sophisticated science practiced by people who appreciate golf courses as works of art.
Even your grandfather might be impressed.
Woodward supervised the conversion of the greens from a stand of bentgrass to a pure strain of poa annua. That, says Woodward, allows us to get the green speeds to the firmness that the USGA needs for this event.
Those speeds, says Davis, will be close to 13 on the Stimpmeter. That speed, Davis adds, is subject to change. What he means by that is that playability will be paramount. Too firm is no good. And Davis, in his third year as No. 1 set-up guy, will not be afraid to err on the side of caution.
THE FAIRWAYS AND ROUGHS:
The fairways will be 100 percent kikuyu grass which when cut to fairway length props the golf ball up quite nicely and rewards the accurate player off the tee. The process of bringing the fairways to pure kikuyu involved widespread use of an herbicide called Revolver which, when applied, kills every other kind of grass except kikuyu.
The roughs had to be overseeded with ryegrass to tame the tendency of kikuyu in June in San Diego to get too thick. Dont take this the wrong way, there will be U.S. Open rough at Torrey Pines. But there will be several different cuts depending on how far the player is off the fairway.
THE THIRD HOLE:
On at least two days, this downhill hole will play from a tee box, set on a bluff, at 142 yards. Davis says the prevailing wind will be into the players faces. Long and left are the ocean and a canyon, respectively. Yes, Davis, says, this hole will remind people of the short 7th hole at Pebble Beach. But several players have already commented that it will be difficult to stop a golf ball from the 195-yard teeing ground if the green is U.S. Open firm. If they put the pin front left, youll have 10 groups waiting on that tee box, says Pat Perez, who worked at Torrey Pines as a teenager and estimates hes played the course at least 250 times. This is one hole Davis will watch closely during the practice rounds. Similar to the first green at Winged Foot at the 2006 U.S. Open, the third at Torrey is a hole Davis will not hesitate to protect from unplayability with water and manageable hole locations. But dont be surprised if the third winds up being the most talked about hole on the golf course before the week ends.
THE 18TH HOLE:
Many assumed this reachable par-5 would be converted into a bearish par-4 when Torrey Pines received the 2008 U.S. Open. But Davis wanted it to play as a risk/reward par-5 and he was able to convince USGA executive committee member Jim Hyler that this was the way to go. You can count on the 18th being reachable in two shots for much of the field on Sunday. And you should not be surprised if somebody makes a birdie or even an eagle on the 72nd hole to win the championship. Dont count on your grandfather remembering that ever happening at a U.S. Open in his day. We want players to get out there and have a choice, says Davis. To sit back there saying, Am I going to fly the pond? Can I keep it on the green? .Those things are very appealing to us.
Transparency was never a watchword for the USGA in its history of preparing championship tracks. But transparency is imperative in American business these days. And Davis, with help from Hyler, has gently but persuasively brought the U.S. Open out into the open.
I can promise you this golf course could be set up significantly harder than what its going to be set up, Davis says. We got a fair number of calls right after the Buick (Invitational, played at Torrey Pines South last winter) when Tiger got 19 under, or whatever it was, saying are we nervous about Torrey Pines being too easy for the U.S. Open. I know Jim (Hyler) and I feel anything but that. Our fear, knowing what the kikuyu was going to be like, knowing what the firmness was going to be like, is that Torrey Pines, given the length of the golf course (it can be stretched to more than 7,600 yards), is one place that actually could become too tough. So keep that in mind.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, there is no target winning score, says Hyler, who also serves as the chairman of the USGA Championship Committee. We are not trying to protect par or produce over par final scores. We want the course to be set up rigorous, stern but fair. Then whatever the winning score turns out to be is what it turns out to be.
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