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USGA Puts Best Foot Forward

U.S. OpenThe Foot.
As in, Have you played The Foot? or have you seen. The Foot?
We are, of course, talking about Winged Foot, where the USGA will stage the U.S. Open this week.
St. Andrews in Scotland, we have been assured, is the cradle of golf. But there really isnt an official signature golf course in the United States. Not even Augusta National.
Pebble Beach, Pine Valley, Seminole and a handful of others can all lay claim. But Winged Foot may have more varied and memorable history than any track in this country.
Consider that A. W. Tilly Tillinghast, the man who designed Winged Foot, is also the man credited with inventing the golf term birdie.
Consider that one of Winged Foots early members, a chap named Mulligan, is credited with inspiring the golf term Mulligan. As in, Ill just take a Mulligan.
Winged Foot is private which severely limits its exposure. But winners of the U.S. Opens played there'Bobby Jones, Billy Casper, Fuzzy Zoeller and Hale Irwin are very public figures.
What kind of a man does it take to win a U.S. Open at Winged Foot?
In my opinion, Tillinghast said many years ago, the winner can only be a man who hits them far and true and who can stand the gaff from start to finish.
Ah, yes. The gaff.
Jack Nicklaus never won a U.S. Open at Winged Foot. But he took a lot of guff for famously putting his golf ball off the first green of the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Irwin won that year with a 72-hole total of 7 over par in a championship that came to be known as The Massacre at Winged Foot. Tom Watson said playing Winged Foot that year was like chewing glass. Jim Colbert called it probably the hardest course of all time.
While youre at it, chew on this: Since the 1997 PGA Championship which Davis Love III won at 11 under, the golf course has been lengthened by 277 yards to 7,264. Par is 70. The 12th hole alone has grown from an eminently reachable 540 yards to a beastly 640 yards.
Tiger Woods, who hasnt played a competitive round of golf since the Masters, and Phil Mickelson, who will be trying for his third straight major championship victory, will be the most watched players minute by minute. But the man of the hour will be the USGAs Mike Davis.
Davis has taken over course set-up duties from Tom Meeks. Green speeds, I promise you, Davis has said, will not be pushed to the limit.
They dont need to be. As course architecture expert Ron Whitten pointed out recently in Golf Digest, built atop granite, gneiss and basalt long before internal drainage, the greens were deliberately shaped so no raindrop had a chance of clinging to its purchase.
In other words, the greens will be slippery without trickery. Gneiss work Tilly. Call it Foot speed.
Jones, by the way, won his Open at The Foot in 1929 after squandering a six-shot lead with six holes to play. In fact, he needed to make a 12-foot putt on the 72d hole just to get into a 36-hole Monday playoff with Al Espinosa.
In a bow to history, Davis has indicated he will use the same Sunday hole location this year as the USGA did in 1929. Thats more than a nice touch.
Meanwhile, Winged Foot ranks eighth on Golf Digests 100 Greatest Golf Courses. But it may very well be the most American golf course of them all.
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