Will Open course play easy or tough?
Shinnecock Hills expected to provide a ‘marvelous test’
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — The U.S. Open wants to be the ultimate test in golf, and sometimes that leads to a series of trick questions.
One of them was 14 years ago at Shinnecock Hills.
A year after Jim Furyk tied the U.S. Open scoring record at Olympia Fields, the weekend of the 2004 U.S. Open was so bone dry and lightning fast that only three players broke par on the weekend, none on Sunday.
Fans having to move to the side because of a golf ball rolling toward them is not unusual, except when the player hit the shot with his putter from the green.
Tee shots that landed on the seventh green rolled off the putting surface and into a bunker.
One year after Rory McIlroy broke the U.S. Open scoring at Congressional, no one broke par at Olympic Club in 2012 when Webb Simpson won.
Moments like this lead to criticism that the USGA overreacts. Justin Rose sees it another way.
“When everything is in balance, it’s kind of boring,” he said.
“And I think in life, the closer you get to the edges, that’s where the excitement is. So I would say the USGA is not reactionary. It’s counterbalancing.
“So if you go too far one way, you’ve got to come back the other way. You don’t want to fall off the edge.”
That’s the question going into the 118th U.S. Open that starts Thursday.
Might the USGA lean toward going easy on players because of what happened the last time at Shinnecock Hills? Or will it make it tougher on them because of the record scoring last year at Erin Hills? Brooks Koepka tied the record to par at 16 under, and six other players finished at least 10 under.
“We’re confident this should be a marvelous test,” said Mike Davis, the chief executive of the USGA who has been in charge of setting up the courses for the U.S. Open since 2006.
Davis believes Shinnecock Hills is right where the USGA wants it, even with a light, steady rain on the final day of practice.
McIlroy is among those who likes what he sees. But it’s not a U.S. Open if players are not complaining, and it’s been a quiet three days ahead of competition.
The biggest question is whether the fairways are narrow enough.
They are tighter than last year at Erin Hills, for sure, and an average of 15 yards wider than in 2004.
“Honestly, I think they’ve got it right,” McIlroy said. “It presents guys with options off the tee. You have to make a decision basically on every tee box what you’re going to do.”
Rain is expected to yield to plenty of sun during the next four days, with the strongest wind on Thursday.
What makes a good championship inside the ropes?
The quality of the winner? Different players have won the past 15 U.S. Opens, the longest stretch of the four majors.
The margin? The last playoff was 10 years ago when Tiger Woods won at Torrey Pines. Three of the past four U.S. Opens have been decided by three shots or more.
Five players have a chance to replace Dustin Johnson at No. 1 in the world this week.