Hello from Congressional! I can’t believe it’s been a year since Pebble Beach (and my first major). I feel so grown up! — actually, not really, but I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve learned since then (you know, like, don’t accidentally wander into the Player’s Lounge looking for the ladies’ room…). Anyway, since I kicked off the day at Ken Venturi’s presser, it was going to be a hard act to beat. Oh, by the way, as I walked into the interview room, I spotted this sign (bottom left), which made me chuckle.
I wandered to the range to look for Andres Gonzales, hoping to walk nine holes with him. I had the opportunity to follow Jason Day, Tim Clark and Michael Sim at the Open at St. Andrews during their practice round, and it might have been the most fascinating and informative three hours of the week, especially since it was my first time covering a true links course. It didn’t take long for me to find this ‘stache.
Yep, the one and only Andres Gonzales, who is infamous for his constant tweets to Tiger. Thing is, Andres would rather be known for his golf. Does he think Tiger will tweet him back? “Yeah, when I win,” he’ll say.
On Monday afternoon, Dres and his caddie Kenny Ebalo were signed up to play at 12:51 with Angel Cabrera, Sunghoon Kang, and Beau Hossler, who is 16, the youngest competitor in the field. Adam Scott’s longtime veteran caddie Tony Navarro is now on Angel’s bag. During one of the first few holes, Andres, making small talk, asked Tony how long he’d been with Angel. “Two weeks if I make it to Sunday,” he deadpanned.
Here’s an official scorecard for the 111th US Open:
The foursome started on the 218-yard, par-3 No. 10 — a very cool hole over a pond. When the US Open was last held at Congressional in ’97, the 10th was the 18th. Just about every green slopes from back to front, which means balls coming up short will find the water. Andres and Angel both hit six-iron.
When we saw 11 fairway, Kenny joked that it was much wider than he expected. I concurred. He paced it — 34 yards wide — probably one of the most generous at Congressional.
As Andres was setting up to his approach shot, I was standing facing him. Without looking up, he said, “Hey Steph, I’m playing in the US Open.” I smiled. Before I had a chance to respond, Dres pulls the club back and knocks it on the green.
“It’s Monday and look how many people are out here,” said Andres, chuckling. “I love people.”
Andres walked ahead of the rest of the group to the 12th tee. From 11 green, the walkway when you get to 12 starts where the fairway begins, but the tees are up the hill about 50 yards back.
“I thought this was going to be a pretty short par-4 and then I just kept walking,” cracked Andres.
The 12th is a 471 yard par-4, a slight dogleg left. The line off the tee is the center of the driver. Tony said to Angel, “I like driver, a little hurt off the left, about 10 o’clock.”
“You get all three of those?” asked Kenny, jokingly, after I snapped the photo. Too much information (personally, it would just confuse me — I guess that’s why it’s the caddies’ job to figure it all out, though!).
Andres pushed his drive about five yards into the right rough. Cabrera, who was safely in the fairway, walked over to examine Andres’ lie, and shook his head, grunting, “Ha!”
“Hey, get away from my ball,” quipped Andres, giving Cabrera a playful nudge.
When I saw Andres was playing with Cabrera, I was pumped because Navarro was on his bag, and as one of the most respected, knowledgeable caddies, I could pick his brain a bit. I asked Tony about the changes since the ’97 US Open. Tony raved about Mike Davis and his setup strategy.
“(Mike) Davis gives you a little room to play with. It used to be deep rough all around the greens [and along the fairways, it’s not graduated]– see how it’s shaved there,” said Navarro, gesturing to the area around 12 green.
“But the main difference is the length. The former (setup guys) knew what they were doing, but Davis is very sharp.”
Behind the 12th green, there’s a collection area. Simple tip: if the pin is in the front, don’t be long.
On No. 13 the players hit some practice greenside bunker shots. The sand is really, really deep.
On No. 14, you can’t see the landing area from the tee. “See where the fairway line comes up right there, by the left bunker?” Navarro, gestured, to Beau. Very nice of the veteran caddie to give the kid a hand. Beau just turned 16 in March and on the Friday before the Sectional qualifier at Oakmont, he got his driver’s license. No big deal. Get your driver’s license and then qualify for the US Open. That’s pretty standard!
And the standard bearers taking a load off — Jimmy and Jamie, I think.
The 14th fairway is really narrow. After some deliberation, Andres and Kenny decided to hit 3-wood off the tee for the tournament.
There’s trouble right and left. Sunghoon Kang was in the left rough and tried to punch it out. The ball went four feet.
I was interviewing Beau and his caddie/godfather on No. 15, so I kind of missed it, but I think it was just another long par-4. Oh, wait, here’s a video of Angel teeing off:
The par-5 16th is a dogleg left — the line is about three yards inside the right hand of the bunker. Angel pulled his drive left of the fairway bunker near a tree on a slope — almost the last place you want to drive it. Andres said, “No good.” Angel replied, “Na-ah.”
And here’s Andres piping a drive, which he may have pulled into the left bunker, but still, what a legend!
The 16th green has sparked some controversy, and I could see why immediately. Actually, it reminded me of the 14th at Pebble Beach last year. Remember that par-5 that gave guys nightmares after making 8s and 9s? Yep.
You can’t fly the ball to about 10 yards in front and let it roll up because of the huge false front, but if you land it a yard ahead or past the slope, then the ball will bounce up to the putting surface.
Around the green, the grass is shaved, so if you hit it offline, the ball will roll down to the pine straw. There’s also a large collection area behind the green, leaving you with a tough, very fast chip back up.
Tony said the area around the green is a lot more shaved than it was in ’97 and doesn’t remember the pine straw coming into play. There was also more rough behind the green in the past. Watch out potentially for some big numbers on 16, especially as the course becomes firmer and faster as the week progresses.
The course was a bit soft today, but obviously it was only Monday. No doubt it’ll be rock hard by Thursday and then by Sunday, I don’t even know if there’s a word to describe it — well, unless it rains. Thunderstorms are in the forecast for Thursday and Friday, so we’ll see…
On No. 17 Angel was in the deep left rough, but hit a beautiful shot out of it to about 10 feet of the pin. His coach said, “Very few people can do that.”
Angel quipped, “Yeah, me and you.”
As for 17 green…well, that deserves a post of its own, but here’s a preview. Let’s just say, I don’t expect we’ll be seeing very many close-ups on the telecast.
The course is stressed from the heat and there’s not a lot of grass in some areas, like near the 17th green, which is dried out and diseased. Let’s just say some of us were a little confused.
18 was another one of those holes where you start heading toward the tee box and you just keep going and going until you run into the fence (they lengthened this tee).
But the par-4 523-yard 18th is by far my favorite hole (I haven’t seen the front yet). Ken Venturi called it, “One of the premier finishing holes in all of golf.”
In my humble opinion, it truly is. It’s downhill and definitely doesn’t play 523 yards. The USGA will move the tees up a few of the days, too. Andres and Angel hit driver and then seven-iron into the green. By the end of the week when it dries out more, they’ll have 9-irons or pitching wedges in their hands.
On Sunday the tees will probably be moved all the way up and the flag will be in one of the two back left pin positions.
Alright, it’s late and I have a 5:30am wake-up call. Stay tuned for much more tomorrow!