Everyone is intrigued and some are appalled by Robert Trent Jones Jr’s major design — that is, Chambers Bay — in University Place, Washington, which is about an hour south of Seattle. The course is a relative unknown or absolute unknown to just about everyone, with the exception of the U.S. Amateur being played here in 2010, but since then, it’s had time to grow in and mature, so it’s not really the same track.
Chambers Bay is different, interesting, unique, long, brown, hilly — or “inventive,” as Jordan Spieth dubbed.
NO ONE KNOWS WHAT TO EXPECT.
“It’s different,” said Jason Day. “Just going over it looking at the changes of elevation, the way they can kind of trick this course out, it’s pretty interesting. Just thinking about it, it’s obviously not a traditional U.S. Open golf course with regards to that, but with regards to the setup I think they can definitely make it tough or as easy as they’d like to. I know that the conditions of the course are pretty steady right now and I believe they’re going to maybe quicken the greens up a little bit.
“But it’s surprising to me when you’re playing in the morning compared to the afternoon, how quick and firm the greens are in the afternoon and how the pace in the morning is a lot slower, the firmness of the greens are a lot slower, even on the fairways, as well. So it’s a totally different golf course from when you’re playing in the morning to the afternoon. But overall, this is kind of one of those golf courses, when I first arrived, I was driving down the driveway, it caught my eye in a way that I really was going to enjoy this week, regardless of how I played just because I was going to enjoy the challenge of this course because it’s just one of those courses that just got me excited. And it’s very rare to see that because I guess we play kind of similar golf courses out here, especially on the stateside of things. But it’s interesting. I’m excited about it, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Now, that’s the right attitude to have — unlike that, of say, Charl Schwartzel, perhaps.
As Spieth wisely said, “If you are going to talk negative about a place, you’re almost throwing yourself out to begin with, because golf is a mental game. Plus, the U.S. Open is about as challenging mentally as any tournament in the world. So you have to go in positively. You have to go in with enough confidence to get yourself into contention.”
So, you can basically cross off half the field already. But, to be fair, I think there were so many negative reviews about the course prior to this week that players who hadn’t seen it were expecting the very worse. Now that they’re here, it’s perhaps not as much of a “disaster” or “farce” — as Ian Poulter tweeted in April — as they had thought or heard.
As Tiger Woods said, it depends on the set-up. Speaking of Woods, he was out on the course early with Dustin Johnson and Jason Day. From reports I heard from fellow media members, his short game didn’t look too great.
I caught up with his caddie, Joe LaCava, afterwards while Woods was practicing his putting.
“It’s a beast,” said LaCava. “I keep telling people the same thing. You play like the 4th hole and it’s all uphill and you think, well, at least it’s over with now, but then you have to hike it all the way up to the next tee. That’s the killer part. Even Tiger was saying, ‘Does it seem like every hole is uphill or is it just me?’ It’s just a beast.”
LaCava added that it feels longer than the 7.5 miles it’s supposed to be.
“It feels longer than that, and it’s going to be slow, so it’s probably going to feel even longer,” he said. “Probably the toughest I’ve ever walked since the International (at Castle Pines).”
What TV or in pictures can’t do justice are the drastic elevation changes (which is why it’s not a “links” course — not to mention there’s hardly ever any wind).
LaCava is staying in a house with four other caddies, Jim MacKay (Phil Mickelson), John Wood (Hunter Mahan), Lance Bennett (Matt Kuchar), Mark Chaney and Joe Skovron (Rickie Fowler). He said they do their own work, but they also will trade notes.
“We all talk about it here and there, but we all do our own thing,” said LaCava. “Every once in a while, we’ll say, ‘Did you carry the bunker on 4? What did you hit off 10?'”
So, what kind of player does the course suit?
“You have to hit it pretty far,” he said. “You’ve gotta bomb it. There are some long carries out there, so I think the longer hitters will do well out here — and you have to hit it high.”
That’s pretty much been the consensus from everyone I spoke with.
I walked nine holes (the front side) with Matt Every — which is always interesting — and he played with Tim O’Neal and Mark Silvers. From what I saw, boy, the course sure is playing difficult, especially around the greens, and it’s certainly different than when I played it last summer. First of all, it’s a lot browner and way firmer, obviously.
What I learned: Bombers will definitely have an advantage, but length always is a bonus. However, they’ll have shorter irons into the firm, undulating greens with crazy run-offs. “Imagination” around the greens is a must, or at least hitting really tight shots with your wedges is very important. The fairways are wide, but they’re not as generous as they appear in some cases, especially since the course is playing so firm.
Oh, here’s something interesting: You can’t tell where the green starts and the fairway ends. Usually, you figure it out by where the sprinklers are located around the greens, but this week, the USGA has delineated it with little white dots. See below:
Some random, “different” facts regarding the setup of the course:
–Nos. 1 and 18 will alternate between playing as a par-4 and a par-5. What does that mean? One day, if no. 1 is a par-4, then no. 18 will play as a par-5, and vice versa.
–There are two teeing grounds on the par-3 no. 9, which are two completely different holes. The usual tee is about 227 yards, and perched nearly 100 feet above the green and plays about 30 yards downhill. An alternate, lower tee has been put in to yield variety in setup options for the U.S. Open. From the alternate tee below (which is located down and to the right of the other tee), it plays about 235 yards and uphill 10 yards.