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By Ron Green Jr. of Global Golf Post
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is a beautiful thing and it is exactly what the U.S. Open needs.
To borrow Rory McIlroy’s term, let’s hope the USGA doesn’t overthink this U.S. Open and instead allows Shinnecock – Shinny to the locals – to be its demanding, captivating and magnificent self.
No tricks. No manipulation. Just golf.
In a sense, stand back and let it happen.
“I don’t think it should be as much of an exact science to set up golf course as it is,” McIlroy says. “I mean get the fairways sort of firm, grow the rough, put the pins in some tough locations, but fair, and go let us play.”
It’s really that simple, especially at Shinnecock.
It doesn’t matter what happened at Chambers Bay three years ago or what happened last year at Erin Hills when it felt at times as if the players were taking batting practice in an enormous field.
For all of its deliberate tendencies, the USGA was willing to step out of the U.S. Open box and if it proved anything, it’s that the next 10 national championship sites – a lineup that includes places like Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, Pinehurst No. 2 and Oakmont – couldn’t fit the U.S. Open better if they were draped in navy blue blazers. Give the USGA credit for trying something different. Give it more credit for getting back to basics.
Starting with Shinnecock Hills, which some will argue is as pure a test of golf as any in this country, this is where the U.S. Open needs to rediscover its mojo. And if you can’t find your mojo in the Hamptons in June – admittedly, it will give you your platinum card a workout – it may be gone for good.
For a century, the U.S. Open has been built on a single notion – be the toughest total test players face all year. That’s why Oakmont two years ago felt like a U.S. Open.
The U.S. Open isn’t supposed to be pretty, though Shinnecock is as photogenic as a sunset. It’s intended to be unrelenting and unforgiving, not the kind of golf anyone wants to watch or play every week but for one week a year – U.S. Open week – it should be that way.
Everyone can have fun next week at the Travelers Championship. The U.S. Open should be like carrying an anvil through the desert.
“I always thought the U.S. Open, because I’m traditional, I always thought the U.S. Open was the narrowest fairways, highest rough, hardest greens, fastest greens. It was the ultimate test of every club in your bag. I’m not for making it like every other golf tournament,” says Jack Nicklaus, who knows a thing or two about major championships.
Brooks Koepka is a fine U.S. Open champion but he shot 16-under par last year at Erin Hills, matching McIlroy’s record under-par total at the 2011 U.S. Open at waterlogged Congressional. That sounds like the winning score at the Sony Open.
Here’s what the great Jim Murray wrote about the U.S. Open:
“The U.S. Open is a not a tournament, it’s hoodoo. It’s Hamlet with 9-irons. A pox, not a play. A movie where everybody dies in the end.”
That may not work as a tagline in today’s social-media madness but Murray had a point.
I’m not suggesting 5-over par is a good winning score, though it worked for Geoff Ogilvy and Ángel Cabrera in consecutive years at Winged Foot and Oakmont in 2006 and 2007. If it gets dry and breezy at Shinnecock, birdies may be extinct. The weather is as much a part of the U.S. Open as double bogeys and five-and-a-half-hour rounds.
At Shinnecock, we’re offered the prospect of a classic U.S. Open. After playing a practice round at Shinnecock recently, Phil Mickelson called the setup “phenomenal.”
That’s due in part to the fairways being, on average, 41 yards wide, which is almost double the width of traditional U.S. Open fairways where the old joke was players had to walk single file to stay out of the rough. The trade-off for wider fairways is knee-deep fescue that is effectively a penalty.
“The fairways are very hittable and if you play well and hit good shots, we don’t have what we have had in the past where you hit a great drive but the fairways have been brought in so much that they bounce and deflect and go into the rough. Here if you hit a good shot, 100 percent of the time you will be in the fairway,” Mickelson said.
Are the fairways too wide? Or is this the new age?
“The U.S. Open’s evolved. It’s not the U.S. Open that I remember watching or growing up and even playing,” Tiger Woods said. “We all played from the same spots all four days, the fairways were narrow, rough was high, greens were hard and fast. It was very simple.
“They’re just a different animal now. The way that it’s set up now, we have to make more adjustments. And so I think that’s where you’re seeing some of the kids that are now playing it, that’s what they have grown up with playing, they have played, they hadn’t played our U.S. Open setups.”
The game is never going back to what it was and it doesn’t have to. Is it a better game today? In some ways yes, in other ways no.
As Woods said, the U.S. Open has evolved. It should remain true to the intention of being the toughest test in the game without being artificially difficult.
Returning to Shinnecock Hills is like an overdue trip back home.
Republished with permission from Global Golf Post.