Hello, golf fans! It’s US Open week and I know you’re excited. All of the PGA Tour’s best golfers will be in action. Picking on a winner will be a jolly green giant task even for the experts.
I tell you this not only because of all the high-level competition in the field but also due to the fact that the PGA is actually returning to the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York for the 126th US Open.
This will mark the 5th time the US Open is played at Shinnecock Hills. For lack of a better term, the 4th one was a hot mess.
It was 2004 when the United States Golf Association lost control of the course, the par 3 seventh hole in particular. The green was so dry, caddies were dropping balls and seeing them bounce over their heads.
When I saw this, it reminded me of my time in Air Force Basic Training when we had to make our beds so tight that you could bounce a quarter off of it.
Of course, we didn’t believe that was possible but through hard work and patience, we eventually succeeded in our efforts. Any golfer worth his weight in putters will echo that sentiment.
Do I still make my bed every day?
Do I bounce quarters off of it to ensure its firmness?
Haha, absolutely not but you can bet caddies and the golfers as well will be testing out those greens early and often in the hours leading up to Thursday’s tee times.
Shinnecock Hills is a rough course and in this case like most with me, the pun is absolutely intended.
Let’s jump in the DeLorean with Doc and fly way back in time to 1896 when the second annual US Open was played at Shinnecock Hills.
It was described by the experts of the time as the first golf course in America that actually felt like a golf course from the homeland in Scotland.
The first ever clubhouse was built on Shinnecock Hills by the Shinnecock Indians who also built the original 12-hole course designed by the Royal Montreal Club.
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island also is home to the first official ladies golf course as well.
Superstars like Tiger Woods have said the same thing about the course emphasizing the high rough and unpredictable winds. He said it always felt like a British Open.
It was a horrible situation where crews had to water the greens between every single group during the final round.
This course isn’t the Masters at Augusta National where the voice of Jim Nantz pulls at every last heart string you have.
Shinnecock Hills is rough.
Okay, I’m done with the puns. For now.
All joking aside, significant improvements are imperative for the USGA and the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
What Changes Need to be Made?
The USGA is charged with the highly difficult responsibility of making the course playable all the while preserving the heart and soul of what the US Open is all about.
What is that you ask?
It has to be difficult. Officials want the US Open to be the highest scoring golf course on the PGA. Just don’t make it too difficult and definitely don’t have a repeat of the nightmarish par 3 seventh green from 2004.
USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked what if anything can prevent another disaster from happening. His first response wasn’t a load of golf jargon regarding the technical aspects of the course itself.
Instead, he called a spade a spade and did not overcomplicate the problem unnecessarily. It was a water issue. The course didn’t need a complete overhaul. Other than the normal tweaking that goes on between US Opens, not too much problem solving needed to be done.
Mike mentioned there is so much more technology and available data now than in 2004 and that should help officials shore up any remaining issues regarding the overall playability of Shinnecock Hills.
This is the US Open that’s being played here, folks. With all due respect to Byron Nelson, this isn’t his classic and while Valero has good gas prices they don’t sponsor one of the most prestigious golf tournaments on the PGA Tour.
The leaderboard at a successful US Open should look something like this (-1, -1, E, E, and +1). While these are normally very high scores and also when you consider the best players in the world have been preparing for this all year long, golfers “should be doing better”.
Well, “should” is a bad word. That’s your random philosophical life hack for the day.
Back to the course.
The primary goal of the USGA repairing the problem at Shinnecock Hills is to make shots difficult, but possible.
With better weather forecasting alerting officials about wind and rain advisories, they are more well-equipped to make the necessary adjustments to the course before the problems arise in the middle of the round.
Officials also introduced moisture meters to use on each green. I believe that’s the most important thing they have done to fix the issues of non-playable holes.
While the tall rough lining the course hasn’t been manipulated any more than normal, the edges of some greens have been mowed down so that bad shots don’t turn into terrible ones.
As science and technology continue to progress at such a high rate, preventative measures become that much more important.
This is true in the biochemical and nutritional sciences that I’ve studied. Heck, wouldn’t you rather eat the correct foods so that you don’t get sick in the first place?
USGA officials are using the same principle with their preparation of the golf course. They are focused on preventative maintenance for this year’s US Open.
The keys to improving playability while maintaining a high level of difficulty at Shinnecock Hills are technology and preventative maintenance focusing on small subtle changes.
Officials don’t want any more performances like those of Rory McIlroy in 2011 at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD and Brooks Koepka’s performance at last year’s US Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
They are both tied for the US Open record of 16 under par from those performances.
To put that into perspective, in 2006 and 2007 the winners of each US Open shot +5!
The USGA would like finishing scores to be right around even par, but there is only so much control to be had. I don’t know if you’ve ever played, but this is golf after all.
It’s hard, and I know it’s just not me that feels that way.
Patience is key in this game, and this virtue will never be as important as it will be for golfers this weekend in Long Island.
Hopefully, the weather holds up. The winds will likely be the winds, but officials will be that much more prepared.
Even though the disaster on the 7th green happened at the last US Open at Shinnecock Hills, we have to remember that it was in 2004. In ’04 I was still flipping my phone to open it, and Bluetooth was, well, what’s Bluetooth?
Officials have had 14 years and loads of cash and resources to fix it. I have confidence they did.
No picks today from me, but here are some sleeper picks from one of my colleagues.