Opinions differ on Pinehurst's lack of typical Open rough

By Randall MellJune 8, 2014, 9:41 pm

From graduated rough to no rough at all.

Welcome to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where the championship’s evolution takes its most stunning turn yet under Mike Davis.

The restoration of the classic course to the natural design that Donald Ross intended may feel unnatural for a U.S. Open, but the USGA’s executive director sees all the elements important in keeping the championship true to its original mission still neatly in place.

While the idea of staging a U.S. Open without rough may seem like heresy to the old guard, Davis sees it differently.

Acknowledging the sandy waste areas that take the place of traditional rough could make scoring easier in this U.S. Open, Davis doesn’t see the setup as blasphemous. He sees the sacred challenges required to identify a true champion still in the rigorous test that will be offered.

“One of the things that everybody talks about is the U.S. Open being the hardest test in golf,” Davis said. “There's certainly some truth to that, relative to other events during the year. But, internally, when we talk about what we want it to be, you never hear us talk about wanting it to be the hardest test. That ends up almost being a byproduct.

“What we really want our national championships to be is an incredibly challenging test, where it challenges every aspect of the game, shot-making skills, your course-management skills, your ability to handle the pressure at certain times of the championship. We do it on some of this country's very best golf courses. So that's really what our championships are about, holding a challenging championship on some of the great courses in the country.”

But no rough at a U.S. Open? Really?

Somewhere in the cosmos beyond, Joseph Dey and P.J. Boatwright must have spit out their coffee when they got the news.

Dey and Boatwright served as USGA executive directors for five decades, their back-to-back reigns covering 1934 to 1980. Dey was in charge when Julius Boros survived the brutal combination of high winds and severe rough to win at the Country Club at Brookline with the highest U.S. Open winner’s score in the modern era (+9). Boatwright was in command for the Massacre at Winged Foot in 1974, when Hale Irwin (+7) emerged from the deep and penal rough as more sole survivor than winner.

No rough at a U.S. Open?

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Isn’t that like King Arthur without Excalibur?

Or Leeds Castle without its moat?

Or Goldfinger without Odd Job?

Not necessarily.

Whether it’s graduated rough, or no rough at all, Davis has found a way to put players in tough spots when they miss fairways. He has found ways to test smarts and resolve, as well as skill, whether a missed fairway leaves a player in deep rough, as it did last year at Merion, or in waste areas, like it will at Pinehurst No. 2.

In fact, Davis seems to most relish seeing how players fare in the toughest spot of all. He relishes putting them in their own heads. He does that with setups that force players to think their way out of trouble more often now, versus putting them in spots where the sole choice is chopping out of trouble with a wedge.

“He’s learned that rough is a very weak protector of scoring,” says two-time PGA Tour winner Paul Goydos. “The best way to protect a score is not to have conditions necessarily like that. The best way to protect scores is to make players make decisions, because we are inherently terrible at it.

“Everyone’s bad at making snap decisions. You get yourself in a bad position, and the thing that gets in your way more than anything else, at least for me as a Tour player, is my ego. That ego causes me to make decisions I shouldn’t make, to bite off more than I can chew.”

Davis will create setups that tempt players to go for a glory shot, which often makes them their own worst enemy.

“Golf is a game of temptation,” said Joe Ogilvie, winner of the ’07 U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. “If you give me an idea, put it in my mind that I can hit a shot, whether it’s borderline or not, the delta in my scores are going to be higher. In other words, the lowest score I shoot on a hole and the highest score are going to be pretty wide. But you give me 6-inch chop-out rough, I guarantee you I’m going to make a par or a bogey. I’m not going to make a double. It’s going to be less exciting.”

Goydos agrees.

“I’m a firm believer that chop-out rough takes decision making out of the process,” Goydos said. “Flier rough and chipping areas make you think. You get over there by the greens, and there’s no rough, you have options. I can putt from there, I can bump and run. All of a sudden, I have to make a decision on what shot I’m going to play, versus I’m going to open up a sand wedge and hit a bunker-type shot for every shot around the greens. It got to the point, quite frankly, where we got really good at that shot. Now, they’ve changed the game a little bit.”

The traditional U.S. Open setup philosophy was introduced in the ‘50s, when USGA president Richard Tufts steered a policy of consistently setting up the championship with firm-and-fast conditions, narrow fairways, penal rough and quick greens. Notably, Tufts was the owner of Pinehurst at the time.

Typically, a U.S. Open came to be set up with fairways 24- to 28-yards wide, framed by a band of interim rough 2 yards wide and then by deep, nasty rough, measuring 5 inches or deeper.

With graduated rough, there are 5 or 6 yards of intermediate rough between the small band of interim rough and the deep, nasty stuff.

“It’s based on the idea that the farther off line a guy hits it, the greater the penalty should be,” Davis said when he first unveiled the plan. “It’s always been my pet peeve that a guy who misses the first strip of rough by just a foot could have a worse lie than a guy who hits it out where the gallery has tramped the rough down.”


18th hole at Pinehurst No. 2

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Davis first proposed the concept of graduated rough about 10 years ago, when he worked under David Fay, the executive director he would eventually succeed. The concept had been batted around in varying forms within the USGA in the past. Back in the early ‘90s, former USGA president Sandy Tatum internally floated the idea of 18 different rough heights, with a different height for every hole. Seven-time PGA Tour winner Peter Jacobsen pushed Fay for a form of graduated rough before Davis made his formal proposal.

Geoff Ogilvy won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006, the first year the USGA used the graduated rough concept, back when Davis did course setup as the senior director of rules and competition.

Ogilvy liked it.

“Golf is much more interesting to play and watch when we’re making decisions,” Ogilvy said. “Really, there is a reason why Augusta is so interesting to watch, because it’s in guys’ heads the whole time. Hopefully, Pinehurst, in a different way, will have the same sort of mental test. It will be interesting watching guys make decisions, sometimes really poor ones, and sometimes really great ones.

“Golf is definitely more interesting when the recovery shot is part of the game.”

Not everyone likes the concept. NBC analyst Johnny Miller, winner of the ’73 U.S. Open, complained that Torrey Pines was set up like “an old Andy Williams layout, except with distance,” after the U.S. Open was played there in ’08. Ogilvy said Torrey Pines was actually his favorite U.S. Open setup.

At Merion last year, there was no graduated rough, with the relatively short course protected solely by deep chop-out rough. Miller wondered going there if the championship was losing its identity. Now with Pinehurst featuring no rough, Miller doesn’t seem certain what to expect year to year at a U.S. Open.

“There’s no guarantee what the setup is going to be,” Miller said.

Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee has his own concerns about how U.S. Open setups define the game.

“I think in the last decade or so, as we saw this graduated rough come into play, it's lessened the importance of driving,” Chamblee said.

While Chamblee said he loves Angel Cabrera’s swing and the way he plays, he didn’t like seeing a guy miss as many fairways as Cabrera did when he won the U.S. Open at Oakmont in ’07.

“That’s not exactly what I envision being the U.S. Open,” Chamblee said.

Chamblee believes the USGA could do a better job of directing how the game should be played with its setups. He would like to see control more rigorously demanded from tee to green.

“In my opinion, the USGA has sort of acquiesced, to some degree, to how inaccurate players are off the tee,” he said.

Chamblee, however, believes Pinehurst No. 2 is an exception to the rule, with its generous fairways and lack of rough. While Pinehurst No. 2 doesn’t demand players hit their drives down narrow fairway corridors, he believes it will severely punish poor drives. He sees the nature of Pinehurst No. 2’s turtle-back greens being such a big part of the equation there, even back from the tee boxes.

“The golf course is so well designed from a position standpoint,” Chamblee said. “You have to be in the fairway. You have to have the right angle to have any chance to hit these greens.”

Ogilvy sees that, too.

“Pinehurst has always been about position and angles,” Ogilvy said. “There are going to be situations where you are better off with a bad lie in the right angle than a good lie in a wrong angle, which is what golf at its best is. Augusta is like that, and Pinehurst should be similar. It looks kind of like it’s supposed to look.” 

With architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore finishing their restoration three years ago, Pinehurst No. 2 will feature fairways that sprawl wider than modern U.S. Opens have ever seen, framed by sandy waste areas, just the way Ross intended when he designed the course more than 100 years ago. It’s a stark contrast to the lush, wall-to-wall green grass look when Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999 and Michael Campbell won it there in ’05.

A ball that misses a fairway at Pinehurst now could end up in a nice sandy lie, or in a foot print in the sand. Or it could end up on pine straw, or trapped under a small wire grass sprig, or amid some weeds.

“We think you’re going to see some of the most spectacular recovery shots in U.S. Open history,” Coore said.

Jim Furyk, winner of the ’03 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, isn’t so sure.

“There is no skill in the escape, I don’t believe,” Furyk said. “You are either going to have a shot, with not that much skill, or you are going to be behind one of those clumps.

“I think, because of the way it plays, it’s going to take the aggressive play out of everyone’s hands, that’s the way I see it. That’s what I believe is going to happen, but I’ll wait to see it in tournament conditions and how those clumps look. 

With no U.S. Open being played in a setup quite like Pinehurst No. 2 now offers, nobody is sure what to expect. There’s a lot of guess work going into this championship.

“I anticipated sand and wiregrass outside of the fairways,” said Curtis Strange, the two-time U.S. Open winner and ESPN analyst. “It is that and much more. It is what they want to call undergrowth. I call it weeds. It is everything that you have seen in your worst kept lawn. It is dandelions growing up 12 to 15 inches. It's low‑growing weeds, and in some cases, it's actually difficult to find the golf ball.

“It looks a little different than I anticipated. It's a different type of rough, and a different type of penalty, but it's still going to be penal and still going to be playing tough if you miss the fairway. The fairways are a little bit wider than normal U.S. Open standards, but they're going to be firm, and they slope. So they're still going to be tough to hit. I think it's going to be a hell of a test.”[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"664311","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","height":"270","style":"float: right; border: 2px solid black;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"340"}}]]

While Davis wasn’t behind the restoration decision, he whole heartedly endorsed it. The restoration plays into his hands as the man who still sets up the U.S. Open. There will be an element of luck for balls running off fairways, but that only heightens the mind game a Davis setup offers.

Davis doesn’t just like to put players in tough spots in their heads off fairways. He likes to get them thinking twice about their decisions on tee boxes. He does that with variable tee boxes, where he will dramatically move up a tee, completely changing the nature of a par 4 or par 5.

We saw the dramatic effect that can have at the 16th tee at the Olympic Club at the 2012 U.S. Open. Furyk stepped to the tee box on Sunday of that tournament practically scratching his head. It was a 670-yard par 5 on the scorecard, but Davis moved the tees way up for the final round.

“The tee was 100 yards up,” Furyk said at the time. “I know the USGA gives us a memo saying that they play from multiple tees, but there's no way to prepare for 100 yards . . . I was unprepared and didn't know exactly where to hit the ball off the tee.”

Furyk decided to try to draw a 3-wood around the trees of that right-to-left dogleg. Instead, he snap-hooked his tee shot into the trees. He made bogey and ended up losing the U.S. Open to Webb Simpson by two shots.

That’s one of the defining moments in the Davis’ era of U.S. Open setups.

With Pinehurst calling for so many decisions from the tee boxes, rough and around the greens, it’s possible we will get more than one more defining moment in Davis setup at Pinehurst No. 2.

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.

After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”

By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”

But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”

But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

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Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson


9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari


5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick


5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello