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Achenbach: Pinehurst No. 2's Width A “Bad Dream”


It's been a while since we've read a column hoping for the good ole days of narrow, rough-lined fairways, but Jim Achenbach's lamenting of the dreadful "too wide" fairways and lack of accuracy needed to win at Pinehurst could be a prize winner! Especially since a total of four players finished under par over two weeks hitting to "mammoth" fairways.

Pinehurst No. 2 had mammoth fairways. The rough was replaced by sand and wiregrass and other native plants. Competitors encountered few obstacles off the tee. With driver or 3-wood in their hands, they must have felt like it was the Indianapolis 500 -- pedal to the metal for all four days.

I didn't see much pedal to the metal golf, did you?

There was no relationship between fairways hit and success in the Women's Open. Neither Michelle Wie, who won, nor Lexi Thompson, who tied for seventh, finished among the top 45 in driving accuracy.

Please, wake us up from this bad dream.

Of course Jim makes the mistake of confusing hitting the ball down an imaginary center line with “thoughtful strategy.”

Both played brilliant golf and deserved to win, but we should be worried that future U.S. Opens at Pinehurst can be dominated by power at the expense of driving accuracy and thoughtful strategy.

So the two winners, arguably the best in the game right now, played "brilliant golf and deserved to win," yet this is a bad dream? I'm so confused!

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Reader Comments (47)

I guess he couldn't explain the difference between straight driving and accurate driving.
06.26.2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike Clayton
Also Pinehurst was the worst fan experience I have ever seen at any tourney. The USGA had the ropes so far removed from the players you couldn't really see and feel what the players were doing.
06.26.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRay Rap
Like most hackers, Jim Achenbach thinks that hitting the ball straight is the ultimate test of golf. There is reason why weekend golfers think this, because it is so hard for them to do. But when you are a top 100 player trying to play a top course under tournament conditions hitting straight is the least of your problems. Unfortunately the USGA is run by amateurs so for years yet, just as in the past, they will set up courses under the assumption that hitting it straight is how to the best way to find the US Open champion.
06.26.2014 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
Wait till he gets a load of Chambers Bay next year.
06.26.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDpd901
Mr. Achenbach frightens me. Ignorance always frightens me, but when it has a podium and an audience, and impacts this wonderful game, it really really frightens me,
06.26.2014 | Unregistered CommenterPasaplayer
An unsuccessful and easily debunked attempt to find a controversial angle for the tournament. From the Skip Bayless school of sports journalism (though poorly applied here).
06.26.2014 | Unregistered CommenterKevin part deux
I happen to agree with Achenbach, a low-handicap player who has been close to the game professionally for at least 45 years. He may be too staunchly encamped on the other side of the argument, but he knows the game very well, and he is not a stubborn thinker. Pete Dye feels the driver should be forced into a player's hands 14 times a round and if you can't control that club, have a nice day. These guys (and myself) don't agree that the consequence of blowing a drive 50 yards off line should merely be a 40-foot putt instead of a 15-foot putt. The penalty for wretched driving should be more severe than that--a wedge from rough to a pet distance, and then extraordinary play to save a par. (I give you Payne Stewart in '99). Straight driving is the essence of golf on courses with penal architecture, which is the most common type of course we saw in championship golf in America for many years.

Who do I blame for the movement to remove all tall grass from championship sites? Seve Ballesteros. Europeans to this day seethe that he was emasculated and could not flaunt his genius on truly penal, lush setups. His U.S. Open record was very poor and his performance in the PGA, even worse. at Oakmont in 1983, he used a 1-iron all the way round and finished fourth. For all that talent, strength, imagination and hand-eye coordination, he could not learn to return the clubface to square. Lee Trevino pointed this out very publicly in all the years. If you think Mickelson is crooked, let's just say Seve never would have reached the 18th tee with a shot to win. This made him an incomplete, though thrilling, player. People like birdie-from-the-car-park architecture--a flip wedge from a perfect lie after hitting it 70 yards off line and almost falling down. It has been deemed to be more interesting to watch, more challenging to the intellect, saves water, etc. Its one way to do it, but I liked the premium on driving accuracy better. anyway, Seve sparked that movement, which stalled in America for many years because players--not fans, who were awed by it--complained.

Rough and the emphasis on straight driving gave us the Monster at Oakland Hills in '51, the Massacre at Winged Foot in '84, Watson's chip-in at Pebble in '82, Trevino at Merion in '71 and many others that would not have necessarily been more interesting if a drier, faster, scalped setup had occurred. In all of these cases, the best player won. They were distinctive, and the players for sure knew what they were getting. Merion was awful because of the tightness of the fairways and course's length. It's still a fine way to conduct a national championship, and I don't blame Achenbach for mourning it's passing.
06.26.2014 | Unregistered CommenterGmail
No. 2 was an eyesore and apparently a dusty and difficult course for the Patrons™ to watch. I agree with Jim Achenbach that the playability, with the random cabbages and dirt replacing rough, was not right for pro tournament play.

Not sure which was a worse TV viewing experience: the bad TV coverage of the over-hyped Augusta or this US Open.

Chambers Bay should be a nice test next year and Congressional is awesome this week. Boo ya
Geoff, the USGA data on cost of rough that you posted yourself is a good enough argument to debunk this silliness.

The penalty for driving it in the rough was within one 10th of a stroke for all three Opens at Pinehurst.

The 2014 and 1999 Opens were 17 hundredths of a sroke apart.

Enough said.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered Commenterkenoneputt
Better watch your thoughts, Geoff. You might get chucked into a FEMA camp . . .
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterSmitty
Looks like somebody's editor wanted a scorching hot take and this guy delivered a flaming strike...right down the middle!
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDsl
Achenbach makes terrible arguments to support his case. However, there is room in golf for lots of different course setups to determine a major champion. No rough all the time would become just as boring as high rough as the time has been. The beauty of golf is the same course can play vastly different depending on setup and weather, while most other sports are competed on consistent surfaces.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterNo Longer
Thinking clearly is not Achenback's best asset
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterGolfFan
A flaming strike right down the middle that was parked in the upper deck beyond the left field wall.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
@ Gmail. Your theory is both far-fetched and wrong. If anything PJ Boatwright might have set up the Ballesteros era courses with even more deep rough, especially around the greens, to lessen the chance of Seve winning.

Terrible record @ USO? Let's see - he finished 3, 4th and 5th. The T-5 @ Oakland Hills is misleading as he was just 2 strokes behind the winner Andy North. One of those strokes was lost on Saturday when a drunk fan shouted "Go Tigers" as Seve took the putter back for a 3' par putt @ 18. I know because I was there. At Olympic in '87 only winner Scott Simpson and runner-up Tom Watson took less strokes than Seve.

So on courses set up in a way that minimized his genius and maximized his weakness I wouldn't say he had a terrible record. As for "never" hitting it in the sweetspot of the club - you are simply wrong and guilty of woeful exaggeration.

Those 2 Masters victories featured some wayward shots yes, but plenty of ones hit perfectly. Before he came undone in 1986 he had already had 2 gimme eagles (#8 and #13) - both the result of perfect long irons. At Lytham in 1988 he hit some poor shots but he also hit plenty perfectly flush - especially during his final round 65 which featured lots of great shots and only a bit of scrambling. That was the round where playing head to head with the better ball-striker's Price and Faldo he beat Price by 2 and Faldo by at least 5.

I would bet if he had played the Pinehurst set up from '99 or '05, much less this years, during his prime, he might have easily won one or both.

I'll close with two opinions from folks who know much more about championship caliber golf than either of us, Sam Snead and Dan Jenkins.

Sam picked his 10 best players of all time in 1984. On the list was Seve - and Sam specifically pointed to the Oakmont performance as proof of Seve's greatness. To come that close to winning an open on a course unfriendly to his game while giving away 20 yards or more by playing 1-iron? - if Hogan did it folks would have been raving about his ability and strategy.

Jenkins in his game story on the '88 Open @ Lytham mentioned the plaque for Bobby Jones on Lytham's 17th which commemorates a great recovery shot, goes on to say that if they put plaques on the course for all of Seve's great shots it would render the course unplayable. He specifically mentions several shots including laser-like long irons.

Seve's record in the US Open is much better than the casually informed understand and the idea that 25 years after his prime an Open set up was influenced by kvetching from disgruntled Europeans is flat out wrong.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterTed Ray's Pipe
Gmail, Massacre at Winged Foot was 1974. In addition, 50 yards off line drew Kaymer an unplayable lie. 10 to 20 was advancible and stats showed it was almost the exact same as previous rough.

I applaud the USGA for their presentation and agree with several posters that variety is great. We probably don't want this yearly. In addition, Chambers Bay is going to make Pinehurst look like Palm Springs...unless it rains.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
"Jenkins in his game story on the '88 Open @ Lytham mentioned the plaque for Bobby Jones on Lytham's 17th which commemorates a great recovery shot, goes on to say that if they put plaques on the course for all of Seve's great shots it would render the course unplayable"

Aye--good stuff Ted
06.27.2014 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
"There was no relationship between fairways hit and success in the Women's Open. Neither Michelle Wie, who won, nor Lexi Thompson, who tied for seventh, finished among the top 45 in driving accuracy."

Hang on Geoff, isn't that illustrating his point? Namely that the fairways were so wide, that there was no premium on driving accuracy?

On a more normal set-up, those who drove it poorly would be penalized. The fact that Michelle Wie didn't even finish top 45 in driving accuracy is exactly the point he's making.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDonald Luke
He has the corner on ignorance.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Spachler
The US Open is suppose to identify the best golfer in the field which I believe they did. Also, great golfers have a way of adjusting to the conditions present , which again Kaymer did. Can you imagine the views and thoughts going thru the players mind from the tee box NOT seeing luck rough flanking the fairway. Had to be unnerving.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRay Rap
hmm, up until a couple of years ago, Augusta National was one massive fairway with some greens and trees. It basically still is despite the "secondary fuzz", or whatever we are supposed to call it, was introduced.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterAbu Dhabi Golfer
Love Geoff's commentary.

Hard to believe Achenbach works for the same magazine as Brad Klein.
Their views and columns couldn't be more diff. (IMHO)
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBlue Canyon
wonder what Brad Klein thinks of this piece.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRose
I'm curious as to why everyone must love the current iteration of Pinehurst #2. Is there no room for objection? I feel like the more reasonable voices are the ones that say, yeah it was neat but maybe this wouldn't be neat if it was every Open course down the line....

Kind of like the president of Royal Melbourne wanting to deport me from Oz when I dared mention the conditions were right on the edge of being silly at the World Cup. No room for dissent.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Fritsch
If I had to choose between a Pinehurst setup and Merion I would pick Pinehurst. The main distinction being that the "fairways" at Merion didn't reflect the design on many holes but were moved by the USGA to protect par. Pinehurst and Merion both emphasized the 2nd shot. People mistake the term rough for long grass when it really means ground that is not prepared to offer the consistent ball reaction to a proper strike of the club. Rough is meant to produce doubt in the players mind about how the ball will react when struck. In that sense Pinehurst had plenty of it. Part of identifying the "best player" is the task of reading a lie in unprepared ground to pull off a shot. That skill is both a reflection of talent and experience. That is why Tiger, Phil and Seve can still compete from off the fairway and why I watch players like them and am amazed.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered Commentermunihack

Spot on. GroupThink 101.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Somebody doesn't know the difference between a north/south game and an east/west game. Kaymer played the former; Achenbach plays the latter. Then, we had a TV commentator say that Mikko Ilonen couldn't win the Irish Open if he continued to leave his driver in the bag. Mikko did and kept the ball in play and hacked up while Rory & Co tried to cut corners and boom the ball over trees....and, failed ignominiously, of course.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Morris
+2 "if they put plaques on the course for all of Seve's great shots it would render the course unplayable"

Who can remember Augusta when it was basically "wall-to-wall" fairway cut? The greens were the course's defense then, as they are now. Now they have a 'peach fuzz" first cut, and second cut, (moderate "rough" if we can use that term loosely without Jones or Roberts rolling over in their graves), and additional plantings of trees for gosh sakes? Who determines what is the "perfect" set up? I am not sure that person yet exists.

+1 "variety is great. We probably don't want this yearly. In addition, Chambers Bay is going to make Pinehurst look like Palm Springs...unless it rains."

+1 "there is room in golf for lots of different course setups to determine a major champion"
Well said, Ted Ray's pipe. Great insights and info. Seve was a true great and his wildness in his prime has been exaggerated. And I think any architect, including Dye, who wants to force a player to play driver on every non par 3 hole sounds thick headed. I'd like to see the context of the quote before jumping to conclusions on what Mr. Dye was saying.

Mr. Achenbach's comments are incredibly ignorant.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBert Stammps

Only someone from Eastern Ontario could manage to get deported FROM Australia. Way to represent!
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterTighthead
Brad & tlavin,

What many people are objecting to is Achenbach's conclusion:

"Both played brilliant golf and deserved to win, but we should be worried that future U.S. Opens at Pinehurst can be dominated by power at the expense of driving accuracy and thoughtful strategy.

To discount fairways hit is to create a flaw in any U.S. Open."

First, he complains about future Opens AT PINEHURST, not just anywhere. Then, he asserts that "thoughtful strategy" was somehow absent, which was contradicted by the facts and by the opinions of virtually everyone who competed. Third, he asserts that "discounting" Fairways Hit diminishes an Open championship, yet he acknowledged that both Kaymer and Wie "played brilliant golf and deserved to win." Everything about his article seems half-baked.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered Commenter3foot1
@ Bert Stammps Dye almost always inserts a 'shortish, risk / reward par 4' into his designs giving the player options from the tee. I have worked with Pete on numerous projects and believe his designs to offer plentiful fairways (albeit deceiving) and wonder risk / reward holes that do not necessitate driver. We always felt Pete was the master at creating angles, advantageous and non-advantageous, on almost all of his golf holes.
Uh, Pro From Dover ... Roberts ain't in a grave. The Green Jackets scattered his ashes around somewhere they won't tell us. Golf on.
Width for the sake of width is silly.

Attempting to gain the best angle into the green by playing to a side of the fairway seemed impossible with the browning of the edges.
Balls just rolled into the native. What's the point?
06.27.2014 | Unregistered Commenterredneck
Nice post Ted Ray's Pipe!!

@ Brad Fritsch, there is room for objecting views, lots of it. I 'personally' don't think everyone needs to love Pinehurst, or any other US Open venue, nor is that ever going to happen, where everyone is in agreement on something that is so subjective. My problem with a piece like this, and I think it's a product of the journalistic times, is that it seems a contradictory piece or argument must completely dismiss or trash the idea or venue. (in this case Pinehurst # 2) To take something as nuanced as this years Open venue, setup, playability, and all the thinking and envelope pushing that went into it, and dismiss it as a 'bad dream' lamenting for the loss of the boring straight lines of deep rough of yesteryear, does a dis-service to those who set it up. It also shows, with all due respect to him, that the author is not especially knowledgeable about the finer points of the game, it's history and the different philosophies about how the game should be played. One can make a very strong argument that the strategies involved in approaching the green from different angles, but from the same turf goes back much further than the idea of having penalizing rough marking the edges of a fairway. What that is to say is: history shows, having massively wide fairways, where the emphasis is on where you approach the green from, is a much older idea than deep, lush penalizing rough. That is only one part of the argument, but to dismiss the thinking that went into this years US Open in such a wholesale way, is to miss the point by such a wide margin, it basically renders the authors' argument worthless.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent
@ Professor Tait Get a grip man - figure of speech. BTW, everyone knows where Robert's ashes are scattered. And it wasn't on a putting green low in potash.
Oh, my God ... The Pro from Dover! I'm so sorry! Bananas are are a great source of potassium, too, dear!
Achenbach is applauded for, once again, taking a contrary view. I agree with him to a great degree. USGA seems to be peeking at public, even media, opinion, even in its course set-up, all to be loved. In the end, they identified two of the world's best, fortuitous perhaps. That's their secondary goal. Primary is "ku-ching".
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterByronN

And there is no corner on ignorance....that is why the ball and the hole are round.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
Two playing partners today attended the US Open at Pinehurst this year, both agreed NFW they'd go back to another Open there...too much pain.

One of 'em gave the best description I've heard so far, verbatim...

..."stand in a shower and then immediately roll around on the infield of a baseball diamond, that's how dirty we were"...

...I kid you not.
06.27.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDTF

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