Thank God, it’s finally Wednesday evening the first tee ball will be struck in less than 12 hours. I don’t know about you, but I’m fatigued with all the pre-tourney hype and all the unknowns of this unprecedented U.S. Open at Chambers Bay — long hitters will have an advantage, but wait, they may not; good iron players will play well or maybe not; great lag putters will perform well or perhaps not; and so on and so forth. You get the point.
Either way, I spoke with a bunch of players about their thoughts on the course. I also walked with Matt Every, Billy Horschel, Charley Hoffman and Steve Marino in their practice round on the back nine Wednesday afternoon (which took three friggin’ hours because the group ahead of them ).
Here’s what I’ve learned the past couple of days, along with some interesting tidbits. Read on, my friends.
For the most part, the players seem to like Chambers Bay — or at least that’s what some are trying to trick themselves into thinking. When I asked one player, who I’m sure would prefer to remain unnamed, what he thought about the course, he replied, “Is this Stephanie, my friend that’s asking, or Stephanie, the reporter?” I went with the former since I wanted to hear the truth. He wasn’t a fan and said the greens were terrible — and he’s not the only one — and thought that they need to blow up a few holes, like the 7th.
Other players were much more positive.
“I do like the golf course, it’s a lot of fun to play,” said Jimmy Walker. “You have to hit really good shots, especially to get to some of the pins. A lot of the spots you kind of just want to shoot away from, and pars are going to be pretty good.
“(You need to) try to take advantage of the couple par-5s you get to play and you’re going to have some wedges in some of the par-4s and you’ll have to take advantage of them. But it’s tough, it’s a tough track.”
The always-effusive Dustin Johnson said: “Yeah, (I like the course), I think it’s really good.”
Added Morgan Hoffmann, who made it to the quarterfinals in the 2010 U.S. Amateur: “I love the course. You have to be creative and there are so many shots you can play. There’s not just like one shot from any position. There are a million ways to get it close. It’s different. There’s no comparison to any course.”
Kevin Kisner also likes Chambers Bay, but like many other players, he thinks how Mike Davis sets it up will be key.
“It’s pretty cool to play. You never know what they’re going to do with the set up. It’s going to be interesting what tees we play and where they put the pins — that’s going to determine the whole thing because there are so many options on set up. So many different tees we can play. If they put pins from certain tees, it’s going to be impossible. If they’re smart about it, it’s going to be fun.”
As I mentioned, some believe bombers have an advantage, while others have debunked it, saying it doesn’t matter because conditions are so firm that a wedge and 8-iron are both rolling out similar distances.
Johnson, one of the longest hitters on tour, thinks it suits his game.
“It depends where they put the tees — whether I have some advantage on some holes or not,” said Johnson, who has two top-10s at this major championship. “There are some lines that I can take if the tees are back that some guys can’t.
“Fairways are fairly wide, but they don’t play that wide just because of the slope in them and how firm it is. Where it’s tricky is the second shot and controlling your distance — there’s a lot of slopes you can use, but sometimes you don’t want to use them, it just all depends. You’re going to have to do everything pretty well this week.
“It’s definitely going to help. There’s not really any holes where you really gotta lay back. Maybe no. 2 — everyone has to hit it to a certain spot, so that’s one of the only holes where you have to lay back, but with the other holes, you can mostly hit driver if you want.”
Another big-hitter Jimmy Walker added: “Yeah, (I think it will help. Uou can get it down there and have some shorter clubs in, but it’s still tough to try and access some of these locations with short irons. you have to be so precise with where you land it because the greens are firm and it’s still tough, so it doesn’t matter if you’re hitting a 60-degree (wedge) or an 8-iron — it’s still hard. I think you can carry some of the bunkers a little bit better and that sort of thing but I don’t know, we’ll see.”
WE JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN.
The fairways are certainly wider than the traditional U.S. Open set-up, but don’t be fooled, you can’t exactly spray it off the tee, either.
“They’re firm,” said Kisner. “So if it’s going the wrong way, it’s going to run into the junk. You have to be on your points in curving the ball the right way and running the slopes.”
What’s the most important component of the game or challenge that players will have to overcome at Chambers Bay?
“Putting,” said Johnson. “You’re going to have to putt well here. You’re going to have a lot of long putts. Your speed is going to have to be really good, because you’re definitely going to have some long putts. Even when you miss the greens, it kind of rolls down and a lot of times it’s tough to chip because you don’t have much of an option, so you have to putt it from a long ways away. So as long as your speed is really good, I think you’ll have a good week.”
(By the way, this is about as effusive as DJ gets. He withdrew last week due to illness, but says he’s “100% healthy” this week. He’s also one of my picks.)
Jamie Lovemark, who is playing in his first major, thinks strong iron players will have an advantage.
“I think good iron play this week is going to be huge,” he said. “Really putting the ball where you want it.”
However, some players are concerned with the condition of the greens.
“The greens are terrible,” said Kisner. “You have no idea what it’s going to do…Most the time when you play a U.S. Open, a four-footer is going to be a gimme because the greens are perfect, but out here, I don’t think that’s going to be the case this week.
“If you hit a good putt, it’s probably going to go in inside of four feet. Who knows, you can probably hit a bad putt and some of them are going to go in. I don’t think you’re going to see people walking putts in from 10 feet. I think I’ll be like, ‘Please go in, please go in, oh my God, please go in, dang it!'”
Added Matt Every: “I think you need to get good bounces on 5-footers to do well.”
The most important component to having a good week remains true to a traditional U.S. Open, though.
“I think the mentality is going to be the same in terms of having to grind out pars, having to be patient, having to handle the adversity that’s going to happen out there in 72 holes of golf,” said Rose, who has been in the Seattle area since last Tuesday.
“So those are the types of things that I’m looking at trying to be good at this week. As long as I play well that should manifest itself in a pretty good chance to win. Then it’s all about coming down the stretch on Sunday. It’s never easy, but if you’ve done it before, at least you have some positives on which to draw.”
“Patience” was mentioned by almost every player I spoke with.
“Staying patient,” said Lovemark when asked what the biggest challenge would be this week. “You’re going to get some weird bounces, some weird lies in the fescue and the bunkers and some really really hard putts. Just like any Open, you’re going to make bogeys and you just gotta keep going.”
Added Walker: “I think keeping your patience. The guy who keeps his wits together the whole week because you’re going to get some bad breaks, so you gotta keep you’re head right all week.”
Hoffmann echoed the same thought.
“just staying patient because you’re going to have bad breaks no matter what, no matter how good of a shot you hit,” he said. “It’s important to just forget about it and accept it and move on.”
Kisner had an interesting moniker for the U.S. Open.
“It’s the CAI tournament — commit, accept, ignore. Just pick your shot — if you hit it solid, just walk up there. You can’t see your ball, so you don’t know where it ends up.”
Mike Davis spoke about a “firmness meter” that the USGA is using this week to monitor the type of bounce approach shots will take.
“We wanted a way to essentially simulate what happens when the ball hits a green,” he said. “And if you think about it this way, we’ve all played golf where it’s soft greens after rain. And you get a big ball mark, may go down half an inch. There’s times out here this week where it doesn’t even make a ball mark, you can’t see an indentation because they’re firm. So what we’ve done, and this goes back, we’ve been using this for, I’d say, 10 to 12 years, is we’d go around to different parts of the green, we’d do it in the morning, we’d do it in the evening, and in this case once the competition begins.
We simulate, it’s basically dropping a — almost — well, I need our engineers up here to explain it. But it is basically measuring the coefficient of restitution, how much bounceback you get. And that really correlates with what happens when the ball lands. It doesn’t take into case is it going to be downhill when it hits it or uphill or downwind or into the wind. But it really gives us along with moisture readings in the green, an idea of is this green going to receive a good shot but not be overly soft where, again, they’re throwing darts, if you will. So it’s a great tool. Setting up a golf course truly is part science and it’s part art, I guess, if you want to say this. And this is a huge help for us. We’re really measuring the bounce.”
While I was walking the back nine, I saw two guys with a device on the 16th green that resembled what I thought a “firmness meter” would look like, so I approached them and asked if it was. Indeed, they were measuring the firmness.
“Yep, we’re getting things dialed in,” said the official. “They’re pretty firm — too firm right now.”
He said they needed to get the greens to the way the were in the morning when they were “perfect.” Expect a lot of watering overnight.
After walking the back nine, I popped by the range to see if anyone was still around, and guess who was one of the five players left in the practice area? Tiger Woods. He showed up late afternoon and hit the range. At around 6pm, he was hitting pitches, and then moved on to rolling putts from about 30 yards from the green.
Finally, here are some pictures I took Wednesday afternoon.
The course is undoubtedly stunning and I can’t wait to see how it looks on TV — oh, and of course, how it plays in the first round. Fingers crossed that we see a tough yet fair test of golf with spectacular shots and a strong leaderboard with fan favorites.