No. 2's fab four will define U.S. Open
Posted June 11, 2014
Pinehurst, N.C. — As the United States Golf Association brings its national championship back to the Sandhills, they do so to a revamped No. 2 course here at Pinehurst.
Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and his design partner Bill Coore have restored this Donald Ross masterpiece to more closely resemble the famed architect's original intent. There is no rough. None.
Yes, this is still a U.S. Open, but as USGA. Executive Director Mike Davis said, they will have just two mower heights – fairway and green. The rough has been replaced by waste bunkers dotted with native grasses that will either give the best players in the world a chance to play great shots from off the fairway, or leave them *!%@*^ing mad.
In all, Crenshaw and Coore have dusted off the Mona Lisa, uncovering hole after hole after hole of a legendary work of art that will reveal the best player over the course of 72 – maybe even 90 – holes. Here are four holes that will go a long way to deciding the champ.
Note: I'm far from an accomplished player, in fact, I stink. But I have played the course three times since the redesign (thanks to the ACC, the USGA and Pinehurst Resort for allowing that to happen), and I've been in just about all the places that lead to big numbers. In that regard, I think I can lend at least a little perspective on certain pitfalls.
Hole 2: Par 4, 507 yards
It isn't often that the second hole on any golf course ends up playing as the most difficult in relation to par, but that's exactly what happened in 2005. Then Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw went and built another tee, tucked in behind the trees, short and to the right of No. 1 green, just to the right of a fairway bunker that only comes into play when I'm allowed on the course with my clubs. In any case, the new tee added about 40 yards to the hole, so it isn't going to play any easier.
The reason why this hole is so difficult? The green is diabolical and borderline non-existent. If the course is playing firm and fast, the pros that keep the ball down the left side of the fairway will be able to approach the green with a mid-iron. However, if the pin is on the right side of this green – which is the only place I've seen it in three tours – any approach that isn't left of the hole, quite possibly significantly left of the hole, will NOT stay on the green. See if you can get a friend to give you a dollar for every time a player putts from off the right side of the green. You'll retire on Monday.
Hole 5: Par 5, 576 yards
Nine years ago, and six before then, this was a long, brutally difficult par 4. Then they carved out a hole in the trees some 100 yards behind the old tee, stuck two blocks of wood on the ground and called it a par 5. The USGA gets a lot of criticism for messing with par when they change par 5 holes into arduous par 4s. And in fact, there are four holes that will play to a par of 4 that stretch out to longer than 500 yards (2, 4, 8 and 16).
However, in the case of the 5th, they realized that the green was ill-equipped to receive long iron approaches – even less so when those shots are coming from downhill, side hill lies – and they went in the opposite direction. For that they are to be commended. This is going to be a birdie opportunity, if there really are any at a U.S. Open, for the players.
Ready to win another wager from your buddies in the 19th hole? You take the score for all players who lay up with their second shot and give them all the big boppers who go for the green in two. I promise you that you'll get into their pockets. You simply can't hold this green with any club you'd use to reach the green unless you hit the flag, or about a 10 x 10 spot in the middle right of the green with 24,000 rpm of spin and a ball coated with airplane glue. Then, when they miss the green, good luck chipping. We'll see balls chipped and putted off the green on the regular.
The smart play is to leave about 70 yards from the right half of the fairway for a third shot and then hope you don't pull the approach left which could end up as much as 25 feet below the green. Fun hole. There'll be plenty of birdies and just as many "others."
Hole 9: Par 3, 191 yards
The most beautiful of the short holes on the course, thanks to the way the green sits atop a small hill. The hole isn't necessarily that far up the hill, but it gives off that appearance. However, the reason for it's inclusion on this list is that when the pin is on the right side of this green, the hole-in-one is very much in play. So, that's exciting.
So is putting on this green. There are really two different greens on this hole. The left side, which sits a few feet higher and a bit further back is relatively flat – maybe the flattest on the entire course – and there's a little bit of room back there.
But whatever you do, don't go long because bogey is a good score if that happens. On the right side is almost a double black diamond from back to front and from the middle of the green to the right edge, so this is a ton of fun to watch. Not nearly as much to play. This will play the easiest of the par 3s.
Hole 15: Par 3, 202 yards
Death. Taxes. Bogeys on this hole.
The tournament hasn't even started and I'm laughing already. I'm not sure how you hit a club 202 yards and have it stop on this green. I'm not even convinced there is a green on this hole. Heck, I played it from about fifty yards further up, hit a short iron straight up in the air and it still didn't hold the green. I think if the guys hit a really high hook into the right side, about 10 feet left of the bunker that guards the right, there's a chance to hold the green there.
The problem is that the green looks benign. What's the opposite of benign? That's this green. Balls to the left side will likely keep running off the green. The bunker on the right hand side is very tight to the putting surface and it's waaaaaaay too easy to chip the ball across the green and into that bunker, which is deep and dastardly. If you're sadistic at all, camp out here. You'll feel better about your own game by lunch.
There are four holes to keep your eye on this week. But in all honesty, you could easily substitute any other four holes, such as the 3rd hole, the short par 4, that will likely play at least once with a forward tee daring the players to go for this green with a driver. Or the 617-yard, par-5 10th, which depending on the conditions will actually be reachable for many of the players and will likely yield an eagle or two before nightfall on Sunday.
Or, maybe the par-4 13th, with the most uphill approach on the course and the only hole where long is better than short.
Every hole out here on No. 2 is a singular, spectacular event. A thrill ride, over the humps and mounds that frame the course and symbolize the ups and downs that are customary in the U.S. Open. In the immortal words of Clubber Lang when asked for his prediction for the upcoming fight with Rocky Balboa, his simple answer was "pain."
Mental anguish will be the order of the day, though I think 2-under par will walk away with the trophy on Father's Day.