Bill Fields listens to all sides in the Oakland Hills course setup debate and draws his own conclusion, but in the process he notes a few things that require consideration.
This first item doesn't shock me so much as put into perspective how much more refined and sophisticated the USGA's approach to course setup has become in just the last three years.
The collegians in the 2002 Amateur tore up the South course in qualifying, averaging 71.5 strokes. Bill Haas, an All-American at Wake Forest at the time, drove it so far on the 462-yard 18th hole that he had a 9-iron to the green in his qualifying round, which he hit to four feet and made the birdie putt to be the medalist at five-under 135. Haas shot a front-nine 28 in his quarterfinal match, and Oakland Hills members and USGA officials--who said they had set up the course as a U.S. Open and believed 12- to 15-under would have won--were aghast. "It's very frustrating," Tom Meeks, then the USGA senior director of rules and competitions, told Golf World amid the birdie barrage. "All we can do is narrow the fairways and add fairway bunkers."Yikes.
I'm not sure I buy this from Rees Jones, but either way, it speaks to the absurdity of 25-yard wide landing areas on a course with such fascinating and strategic green complexes.
"What Oakland Hills is doing, because the green complexes are so challenging, is putting the driver in their hands because they have to get as close to the green [as they can] to access the hole location," Jones said. "They know if they lay up off the tee and they have a 40-foot putt, there is a good chance they are going to three-putt. It's putting a little more pressure on them off the tee. The fairways are probably averaging 25 or 26 yards wide. For the Ryder Cup [in 2004], they averaged 32 yards wide. They're trying to reward accuracy and take away the bombers' advantage."Rewarding accuracy or the ability to hit it the straightest down an imaginary center line? There is a huge difference.
Fields quotes Kerry Haigh on the subject of the course baking out in the sunny, dry conditions:
"The greens were 11½ to 12 [on the Stimpmeter] in the morning. They were actually slower than they were in the  Ryder Cup. The winds and the dry air are what [affected them]. We syringed the greens and put a little bit [of water] on, and the aim was to make the course play similar both days, as it always is. You don't want to go too far the other way [watering the greens]. It's always a bit of a dicey game. Once everyone has had a morning and afternoon tee time, you can make an adjustment, which is more reasonable and fair than between Thursday and Friday."
Haigh has received many compliments during his tenure about how fair his setups are, but last week the critiques were not all so friendly. "You try and do what you think is right, and sometimes it doesn't always work out," he said Sunday evening. "It's not through lack of trying or the aim of how you wanted it to play. Mother Nature usually has an effect on that."Here's what I'm still struggling with: something is wrong when a golf course goes over the edge in somewhat dry, somewhat warm breezes with healthy turf. It usually means the green speeds were too fast for the contours before the weather changed, and also likely means the fairway widths were too narrow for any wind at all.
Thankfully though, the rains came and as Fields concludes:
It sure was more fun to watch Harrington and Garcia stuff their tee shots tight on No. 17 Sunday than to see Vijay Singh putt his ball off the ninth green Friday afternoon. Tour pros can be crybabies from time to time when it comes to how they earn their living, but once in a while their tears are justified.