The Max Faulkner story from 1951 is usually highlighted by his play on the 16th—now the 18th—and the miraculous he played from up against a barbed wire boundary fence. That is now gone and a small, grassy berm sits in its place with OB stakes atop.
There is probably no game which affords a greater scope than golf for all possible forms of nervousness, not only for sheer terror but for every conceivable foolish fancy which can impair the properly concentrated frame of mind. BERNARD DARWIN
As we await the USGA’s annual news conference here at Pebble Beach, Brendan Porath’s lengthy Q&A with new course setup supervisor John Bodenhamer is a pretty revealing look at the lengths he is taking to ensure they hear all points of view.
Check it out, but this was interesting as it relates to Mike Davis, who is still involved but no longer in charge. No shortage of opinions have been sought!
We try to follow what the architect intended. I think it’s really fun to be around that with Mike. I’ve learned a lot.
As far as different, I don’t know — I think Pebble Beach will always be what Pebble Beach has been for the U.S. Open. I mean, why would we do anything different when we’ve had Nicklaus, Watson, Kite, Woods, and McDowell win, and in dramatic fashion every time. Why would we change the recipe? We’re not going to. Now look, there are a few new putting greens here, some new teeing areas, you know it’s little bit different golf course than it was in 2010 and the weather is going to be different probably and all of that. There are some differences.
The one thing that I would say that I have tried to infuse, and Mike and our team are fully supportive, is to be a little more informed with how we’re going into this U.S. Open. What I mean by that is we have Jason Gore on our staff [Gore was announced as the USGA’s first Player Relations Director in March]. A player that has won 11 times at the professional level, seven times on Tour. And he’s informing our process from a setup standpoint.
Nick Price, we’re involving Nick in what we’re doing here at Pebble Beach. Nick will be here this week. We also brought in a guy that I’ve known for a long time — a guy by the name of Casey Boyns. He’s a 37-year caddie here at Pebble Beach and a two-time California amateur champion and probably won 20 other major amateur events around California and the country. I’ve known him a long time, played golf with him years ago. He’s won two California amateurs at Pebble Beach, when he won in the 80s and 90s. But he caddies 250 to 300 times a year here and he’s done it for 37 years. There is nobody who knows this golf course better than him. We brought him out and went around the golf course with him. We showed him our plan. He knows how these greens behave in certain types of weather. He knows what the four new putting greens are behaving like. He knows what the wind will do certain times of the year. It’s fascinating and we’ve brought him in and that’s a little bit new for us.
I got out for a bit to throw golf balls around, check out the rough and assess it for Golfweek.
The course is in a great spot heading to the event and more than able to handle the surprising heat we’ve experienced Sunday and Monday.
Last year’s U.S. Amateur winner, Viktor Hovland, visited the media center and compared the setup to last summer’s event he won over Devon Bling.
VIKTOR HOVLAND: Yeah, definitely generally the rough is a lot thicker than it was last year, and a lot of the fairways are narrower. So, for example, on 4, the fairway is right of that bunker; that used to be in the middle of the fairway. And, for example, on 11, that one is basically cut in half. And there's one other one. For example, 8 is moved all the way over on the right side, where you used to have the world to the left.
But as of right now, the greens are pretty soft and on the slower side. At the Am they were fairly firm and fast. But I'm assuming they're going to become that way later in the week. So not too worried about that.
Q. More along those lines, how about things like the rough, and also can you take anything from that experience and bring it into this, or does this feel like a completely different world?
VIKTOR HOVLAND: I mean, a lot of things are different. Obviously the atmosphere and the tournament is different. But it's still the same course and you still have somewhat of the same lines off of the tees. The greens still do the same way, they still break the same ways. And I think just a couple of things here and there. Oh, yeah, I missed it in the left bunker, but that wasn't too bad in, for example, that spot that you kind of learn.
Golf.com’s Pat Ralph talked to the USGA’s John Bodenhamer about the setup he’s overseeing this year. This sums up the changes since 2010:
Both 14 and 17 were really restored to more of what the architect originally intended for it to do. So those four greens 9, 13, 14 and 17, are different and we think that the restoration of those is a great improvement. A new teeing area that was added a few years ago on number nine adds about 21 yards for that par 4 when played from the very back. The only other thing, really, that’s different is that a little bit of the fairway on number 11 has been rerouted from the right-back to the left, where it originally was. And at 14, we had a runoff left of the green that’s no longer there which is all rough again. So it’s really going back to what the U.S. Open has always been at Pebble Beach.
I chuckled reading Tiger’s post-third round remarks at the Memorial longing for the old style U.S. Open setups, and criticizing the shifting of tees for variety.
It’s funny how quickly the players have forgotten how much they loathed the Meeks years and high-rough, high-luck setups with little in the way of intelligence required.
From Dylan Dethier’s Golf.com report from Dublin:
“There was a time there where it was a brutal test, and then it became kind of a tricky decision you had to make, trying to bring in more options off the tees or into the greens. The Open has changed. I thought it was just narrow fairways, hit it in the fairway or hack out, move on. Now there’s chipping areas around the greens. There’s less rough. Graduated rough. They’ve tried to make The Open different and strategically different.
“I just like it when there’s high rough and narrow fairways, and go get it, boys.”
Woods singled out Chambers Bay and Torrey Pines as places he did not like the moving of tees from round to round.
It’s tough, it’s dense but there are spots where you might catch a break. In this Golfweek video, I explain some of the elements players will find off the tee and around Bethpage Black’s greens for the 2019 PGA Championship:
Let’s face it, cautious golf at The Players can be a bit of a snooze, and while I’m all for firm and fast most of the time, the design here lends itself better to aerial golf, encouraging aggressive play and penalizing the overzealous. With the March date’s different winds and softer ground, it seems like we will see more drivers, more risk taking and a little more fun to the proceedings.
My story for Golfweek on this and the possible dent this may put in the hopes of plodders.
Plus, Brooks Koepka added this today:
I think you're definitely going to have to have a few more drivers in hand. Going back to your question, I think it was, I hit driver, 6-iron into 7 yesterday. And I've hit 3-iron and 9-iron off that hole. So you can't hit 5- and 4-iron out of this rough and you can't play it the way you used to. You've got to be more aggressive. With it being soft it kind of widens the fairways a little bit, the ball isn't going to roll as much, so I think it definitely plays into the longer hitters' hands and you can definitely have driver out quite a bit more.
As a side note, as much as I love the chance for recoveries from the rough, this pine straw right on the 16th fairway edge looks even better…
Even though we’ve seen this movie before: eliminating fairway at the Old Course to mask regulatory ineptitude, the retirement of Chief Inspector Peter Dawson seemingly put an end to that madness.
Turns out, his replacement has signed off on an enhanced rough harvesting effort to combat the surge in driving distances at the home of strategic golf, the Old Course.
Who knew there was any more rough to grow or fairway to eliminate at the Road?
While most understand the Road hole’s strategy and the visual and angle issues caused by bailing out left off the 17th tee, the R&A has begun adding more rough to “enhance” strategy by offering hack-out rough.
From John Huggan’s Golf World report after Martin Slumbers’ day with reporters this week.
“We will be looking at the course setup and there is some rough beginning to grow that will ensure the strategic nature of the Old Course remains. The importance of making sure you play the strategy properly will be enhanced. But if we get no weather, no wind and plenty of rain, we all know the links course is at the mercy of these great players. The Old Course is no different.”
Specifically, Slumbers indicated that the rough left of the 17th fairway on the iconic Road Hole will be enhanced in order to force players to the right, closer to the out-of-bounds. The grass on the bank left of the 14th fairway and right of the fifth will also be allowed to grow longer than ever before.
Also do not discount how much gorse has been allowed to remain to “defend” the course, on top of tee boxes on the neighboring courses, something Old Tom Morris worked to rid the place of and which was instrumental in the course’s increase in strategy and enjoyment.
But it’s the notion of taking a shot away from a player, or disallowing a ball to run to a disadvantageous location at the Old Course, that speaks to a special level of absurdity. Particularly given Slumbers’s suggestion that the growing effort has already begun, meaning everyday golfers will have to suffer more for one week every five to six years.
What a bleak and cynical vision for the most important and cherished links, and all so that a few people can avoid doing their job as regulators.
With this week’s rains Pebble Beach can’t get much softer, so watching Sunday’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am finale won’t yield much insight into what we’ll see for June’s U.S. Open.
One major correction, according to Golf World’s Dave Shedloski after discussing the setup with USGA officials on site this week, is the 11th fairway’s shrinkage at least allowing those who hit the fairway to have the best angle of approach.
One exception is the fairway at No. 11, an uphill par 4 of 390 yards leading to a shallow green that slopes severely from back to front. Hall says the fairway has been shifted to the left, leaving an easier approach, especially for players who take on the hole with driver. “The fairway direction before left a difficult second shot. You weren’t really rewarded for being in the fairway,” Hall said.
In 2010 the USGA attempted to bring trouble down the right into play but it left players in the left rough with a better angle of approach with their approaches. Given today’s bomb-and-gouge approach and the possibility of driving the ball closer to the green, it all may not matter.
New tees at 9 and 13 will also likely be used after getting an initiation at the 2018 U.S. Amateur.
Paul Azinger brought up this question when discussing the 2018 Ryder Cup with the Morning Drive crew, noting that he was the first American captain in the modern era to influence setup. He said it’s been more of a European tradition to meddle and suggested that Captain Thomas Bjorn exploited the U.S. strength. But the most interesting point: Azinger now agrees with Jack Nicklaus’ view that Captain’s shouldn’t have control over the setup.
While a sportsmanship element certainly seems undermined by course setup gamesmanship, and the 2018 Le Golf National presentation was just plain silly, I think the event is more interesting when the home team attempts to shape the course to their strengths. The move can easily backfire. But since the Ryder Cup seems determined to avoid genuinely captivating match play architecture with strong risk-reward holes, course setup ploys add intrigue.
After his Safeway Open second round Phil Mickelson made clear he’s going to play less in 2018-19.
Reason one, as reported by PGATour.com’s Cameron Morfit, centers around fatigue and managing his energy levels as a 48-year-old.
Then there was layer two of his views, expressed after experiencing light rough in Napa following the excess of Le Golf National where silly wedge-out, injury-inducing nonsense was harvested successfully to mess with Team USA. Kevin Casey at Golfweek with the quotes:
“It’s a unique situation in that the way the Europeans did a great thing, they did the opposite of what we do when we have the Ryder Cup here. The fairways were 14 to 16 yards wide. Ben Hogan, who is the greatest ball-striker of all time, had a five percent margin of error. So if you hit the ball 300 yards, which we all hit it more than that, you need to have a 30-yard fairway to be able to hit it.”
Let’s put the breaks on here for a minute. I don’t recall many 14 to 16 yard wide areas in the main landing areas, or anything under 20 yards. I paced off about 10 landing areas and the Europeans generally gave one are of width, though they also engaged in chintzy (perfectly kosher) tactics of rolling an area like the left side of the first fairway to reduce a swatch of 30 yards to effectively playing 25.
Here’s where Mickelson and Team USA do deserve some credit: the setup was structured so that an extremely errant drive—except down across the 7th hole OB as Patrick Reed found out—could find the spectator areas.
They very easily could have taken tee shots on multiple holes at the chalets and spectator areas well off play, taken a free drop on the hardpan, and shown up the European setup. Thankfully, they did not in the interest of sportsmanship and given the horrible injury suffered by a spectator.
The second point by Mickelson is a gift. For those who have explained how distance gains are a burden on golf courses, he effective explains how more width is needed to accommodate drives over 300 yards. More width means more acreage for turf, more acreage means more cost.
As for his scheduling around high rough, this does not bode well for a Torrey Pines start to the 2019 season given that it has some of the highest on the PGA Tour:
“And I’m 48. I’m not going to play tournaments with rough like that anymore. It’s a waste of my time. I’m going to play courses that are playable and that I can play aggressive, attacking, make a lot of birdies, (the) style of golf I like to play.”
He certainly is wise to schedule that way.
The course setup for Le Golf National is distinctly retro.
As in, the loathsome injury-thick rough of the 70s, 80s and 90s that no one misses. Yes, the landing areas are generous enough at their widest spots—35 yards—but many of the holes feature water down one side, hack-out rough on the other side. The Forecaddie with details and photos.
Philosophically, I’m not sure how intentional the effect is to offset the Americans’ distance advantage off the tee, but like most, have my doubts. The strategy could backfire for Europe with players like Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, who thrive off hitting driver.
As a spectacle, the rough off the fairways is trimmed enough that we should see some strategic dilemmas, but any more than 10 yards off the fairway will force automatic layups and take away some of risk-reward intrigue posed by Le Golf National’s plethora of water hazards.
The reviews are in and they are not strong for the USGA's handling of Shinnecock Hills.
My take for Golfweek comes with doses of empathy, as Mike Davis, Jeff Hall and friends are trying to maintain the difficult U.S. Open challenge in a game out of balance due to equipment advances. To do so, the edge-pushing in a modern green speed world via tough hole locations will continue to make classic courses too prone to disasters like Saturday.
I also have great admiration for the effort of the grounds crew who had the place in superb condition and positioned perfectly heading into the week. As with 2004, the fatal decisions for this setup were not theirs to make.
The Live From guys weren't as empathetic but it's hard to argue against their points in light of what happened.
Still, the problem remains the pre-tournament guarantees juxtaposed against what ended up happening. Reconciling the inability to have learned from mistakes will likely haunt the USGA for the next eight years.
Just a reminder of what was said and promoted pre-2018...
The USGA actually touted the lessons learned in this video piece.
Matt Ginella's piece on the maintenance team and tools at the USGA's disposal.
And here is what was said at May's media day by Mike Davis:
"And so I would just say that it was 14 years ago, it was a different time, it was different people, and we as an organization, we learned from it. When you set up a U.S. Open it is golf's ultimate test, it's probably set up closer to the edge than any other event in golf and I think that the difference then versus now is there was a lot more, we have a lot more technology, a lot more data in our hands.
"And frankly, ladies and gentlemen, what really happened then was just a lack of water. There just wasn't enough water put in and the plant, essentially the grass itself kind of went dormant, there wasn't enough friction on the greens.
"And now days we have got everything from firmness meters, we have got moisture meters in the greens, we have got -- obviously we can tell how fast a green is running. The meteorology is better, so we not only know where the wind are coming from but the velocities. And, frankly, there's better communication between the USGA and the grounds staff.”
In hindsight, the tools and those manning them worked. The weather forecast was not taken seriously enough by the USGA, just as was the case in 2004. There was a decision this time around not to add water as the day progressed that will haunt this regime just as it has with past setup teams. (It should be noted PJ Boatwright and David Eger's setups in 1986 and 1995 did not experience any issues. Greens were also slower and the equipment was not overwhelming the game.)
It seems the USGA needs to understand most want a satisfying championship, even if it means a compromise of the principle to not interfere with conditions as play progresses. (Thank you all for voting on the topic of adding water. With nearly 900 votes in now, 59% say add water mid-round if need be, 41% said no.)
Who would argue with a midday misting in this case had it been done in the name of protecting the health of the greens post-tournament? And we are talking about a very small amount to have kept those hole locations functional.
With two straight Opens tainted by a lack of water and a golf course that so easily spills over the edge as a dry, warm day progresses, what is there to be done?
Without any distance regulation or willingness to accept lower scores as a result of turning away from suggestions distances advances were de-skilling the game, the USGA must not let classic seaside courses have green speeds over 10.5. They must let the courses be scored upon, though a case could be made slower greens would not lead to lower scores. Having given the Heisman to distance regulation for years while pushing green speeds and hole locations to maintain the ultimate test, the organization has positioned itself into a corner.
One thing we do know: no classic course should every be forced to add length or soften greens going forward. Especially a masterpiece like Shinnecock Hills.
I eavesdropped on Saturday setup and came away just astounded at the difficulty of Shinnecock Hills under tournament conditions. The difference in speed and firmness from a week ago is pretty profound, with more dryness and difficult days ahead.
So if you're wondering how you'd handle this monster of a course, you'll enjoy Eamon Lynch's premise of asking players what a 4.3 Index like USGA CEO Mike Davis would shoot on the course he's preparing with Jeff Hall.
Davis's answer might be the best:
“90 plus,” he shot back with the good humor of a man who knows this course is designed to test the best, not the rest. “Assuming I did not run out of balls.”
As I write for Golfweek.com, the USGA setup team has deviated from their original plans more than they can ever recall to accommodate potentially high winds during Thursday's 2018 U.S. Open first round.
Winds will be mostly out of the west, making some very long holes shorter, but also difficult to hold uphill second shots to greens like the 9th and 10th.
The Wednesday rains also should favor morning players who will get to the course before the afternoon bakes out Shinnecock Hills. Though the forecast suggests a good steady breeze all day. Peak gusts are expected around 2-3 pm.
We discussed on Live From The U.S. Open today.
Check out Guy Yocom's Golf Digest feature on how we are arriving at Shinnecock Hills with a restored golf course, narrowed in response to Erin Hills and the importance for the USGA to get this right.
The piece in print or online is accompanied by some incredible Dom Furore images and some very rich details on the evolution of Shinnecock since 2004 when it last hosted the U.S. Open.
Most fascinating to learn was Ray Floyd's role in suggesting the course was too wide after watching the proceedings at Erin HIls.
"I said, 'Mike, we need to have a chat,' " recalls Floyd, at age 75 retired but still an influential voice."I asked him, 'Were you happy with the [fairway widths] at Erin Hills? I don't think you were.' Mike told me he absolutely was not. I said, 'Well, it's going to be on steroids at Shinnecock, because it doesn't move and flow as much. You've got it dead wide, and we've had three really good U.S. Opens here with it tight and narrow.' "
The alert from Floyd, combined with conversations Davis had with smart people in golf, must have set off internal alarms. His reaction, expressed in action more than words, was almost immediate. Within weeks, the USGA undertook dramatic alterations to Shinnecock Hills.
Of course historians will recall that the last time Shinnecock hosted, the USGA was coming off a record-scoring U.S. Open. Let's hope the re-narrowing is as far as things go. As Yocum details in a number of way, it does seem very unlikely the course will ever be allowed to spill over the top this time.
I can't say I agree with Rory McIlroy's assessment of recent U.S. Open course setups, but as Dan Kilbridge notes for Golfweek, the 2011 champion chimed in following a strong third round at Muirfield Village.
“I think the USGA thinks that we’re better than we actually are, if that makes sense,” McIlroy said. “I think they overthink it. I think that, and I don’t want to single out (USGA Executive Director) Mike Davis here, I think it’s a collective thought process. We were talking about this yesterday. They sort of, I don’t think it should be as much of an exact science to set up golf courses as it is. I mean, get the fairways sort of firm, grow the rough, put the pins in some tough locations, but fair, and let us go play.”
Ah if it were only that simple!
I certainly understand the player reaction to the Davis era of more variety and different questions being asked. Most have made the golf better to play and watch, with a few hiccups.
But it's most intriguing to read McIlroy's example of overthinking setup, which may be a case of him overthinking just how much the USGA controls Mother Nature.
“It’s been a very reactionary few years to what happened at Chambers Bay,” McIlroy said. “I think they felt Chambers Bay was – Erin Hills was going to be similar to Chambers Bay. So they soaked it and made it really wide and all of a sudden 16 under par wins again and they’re like, um, what just happened? So I think they have to take previous results out of their head and just say, ‘Okay, let’s set up this golf course as best we can and just let the guys go play.'”
At 252 yards for this year's U.S. Open, this uphill, typically downwind long par-3 is one of the more subtly artful and not-so-subtly difficult one-shotters around.
In 1986, P.J. Boatwright noted the small approach added to players land the ball short of the green, 226 yards away:
A very strong a par-3, uphill to a green that is appropriately large. Normally, we isolate greens on par-3 holes with rough. In this case, because the hole is so long, we left a strip of fairway in front of the green so that players can bounce the ball onto the green. This is only fair because the hole is likely to play downwind.
The aerial showing the entire fairway drenched in rough! Fairway was installed by 1995:
The flyover today:
David Dusek reports from U.S. Open media day at Shinnecock Hills and the USGA made the first effort to put behind them the course setup boondoggle from the last Open.
Somewhere Tom Meeks and Walter Driver aren't liking these comments from current Executive Director Mike Davis, but the truth can be painful:
“It’s been 14 years, and it’s a different time, with different people,” Davis said. “When you set up a U.S. Open, it is golf’s ultimate test and is probably set up closer to the edge than any other event in golf. The difference between then and now is that we have a lot more technology and a lot more data. And frankly, what basically happened then was a lack of water.”
This probably won't bring great comfort to Phil Mickelson, who lost by two with a double at the virtually unplayable 7th hole.
“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”
Newsday's Mark Herrmann has the definitive account of Shinnecock Hills' last-minute narrowing.
Given USGA CEO Mike Davis's public concerns about the role distance plays in being able to present courses as the architects intended, the admission that last fall's narrowing of this year's U.S. Open course at least does not come with any aggravating spin. This was a reaction to Erin Hills, where the freedom to hit driver lead to incredible driving distances and low scoring.
Still, the expense to keep Shinnecock Hills relevant speaks to a very different version of the game.
“They did it almost overnight,” said Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA. “As someone at the club said, it was like a military exercise. When all is said and done, it looks tremendous. It fits your eye because these are the appropriate grasses.”
Herrmann notes that landing areas will still "be wider than they were for the previous three Opens in the modern era — in 1986, 1995 and 2004 — but slimmer than they had been after the club’s recent restoration project."
Three contractors were employed and the fairway grass taken out is resting comfortably at a New Jersey sod farm should the Shinnecock Hills members want it back.
“Some of the fairways had gone to 60 yards wide. It was great fun to play,” Davis said, adding that the average width had been 26 yards in 2004. “What we’ve done is come back and say, ‘You know what? You’re going to have to tighten it up some because accuracy is part of the test.’ ”
As absurd as all of this is to theoretically protect "accuracy", the real issue remains huge distance gains passing by the governing bodies. If the professional game were in balance, the width could be tolerated thanks to the green complexes serving as the defense. Angles would matter. A form of accuracy would be rewarded. Just not this year at Shinnecock. Again.
Preparing to host the Wells Fargo Championship, last year's PGA Championship host underwent yet more design modifications on top of modifications made to the previous modifications.
The good news: Quail Hollow's green speeds and rough are more subdued this week thanks to a ryegrass overseed and elimination of some teeing grounds from consideration.
The one tee someone said was better suited to a lemonade stand is not available according to club chairman/host/lead tinkerer/comedian Johnny Harris. From Rex Hoggard's GolfChannel.com report:
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked in the video of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
True to his word, on Tuesday as players made their way around the course to prepare for this week’s event, there was an actual lemonade stand perched on the back of the fourth tee box.
George Savaricas reports for Golf Central on player reaction.