Wednesday, June 11

The New Old Look of Pinehurst No. 2

The 13th hole at Pinehurst No. 2. (©USGA/John Mummert)
WHEN PEOPLE TUNE IN TO THE first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday, many might look at Pinehurst No. 2 and say, "Fire the superintendent and put some water on that course. It's brown, for gosh sakes." But they would be misguided.

The crispy brown look around the edges (and in some cases in the fairways) is, in fact, an intended characteristic of the restored No. 2. It may look strange on television, but it's part of the effect, a rustic golf landscape that harkens back to the mid 20th century.

Now that I've walked a portion of the course, I can tell you that it's interesting and attractive in a way that can't be appreciated through a television screen.

I made the hike from the media center to the practice area, where I caught a glimpse of Stewart Cink lofting wedges at a red flag and spied Sergio Garica working on those delicate little pitches that will be crucial this week on No. 2's bedeviling greens. Then I walked a few holes to see what No. 2 looks like up close.

I've never seen a U.S. Open course like this one. It resembles a links course, but with no rough, instead featuring native areas (wire grass, sand and other vegetation) that act as "rough." In his media conference, asked about the course, Rory McIlroy said, "I think it looks fantastic."

I agree.

I walked the 14th hole, a 473-yard par 4, watching Geoff Ogilvy, Joe Ogilvie and Kenny Perry. From the fairway, a puff of dust kicked up when one of the players hit his second shot. A puff of dust! That was interesting. It must have been the sand underneath, and perhaps also because the ball sat in a brownish portion of the fairway. There is green on these bermuda fairways, too, but they are not lush. Without any considerable rain this week, the fairways will play firm and fast.

McIlroy said long hitters will have an advantage because of No. 2's length. Regarding approach shots, the 2011 champion said, "Anything in the middle of the green is a good shot."

It's the U.S. Open and it's Pinehurst, with those treacherous undulating putting surfaces, which means players will be hitting fewer greens with their approach shots, maybe 10 or 11 a round if things go well. So the short game will likely be the beginning and end of many players' hopes this week.

(It seemed that every time I looked up at the giant TV screen in the media center Phil Mickelson was practicing his chipping.)

I watched Perry, Ogilvy and Ogilvie tee off at the par-3 202-yard 15th hole. One man left his tee shot short, which I learned may be an intentional strategy for some of the holes. Don't go long, mentioned Rory. Better to leave approaches short of the greens. From there, pars are still difficult but more likely than over the back.

I walked by the 16th tee, a monster par 4 of 528 yards that bends left. How is Jim Furyk going to reach that hole in two? I thought. A drive and a wood or hybrid, I suppose. The 13th isn't long, but it has an elevated sloping green that will be difficult to judge and putt.

I walked back to the media center.

Don't be fooled by what you see on television. Pinehurst, with its green and brown hues, is in perfect condition for the U.S. Open. By and large, the players like what they see in front of them, a unique Open setup that will severely test their abilities and patience.

No comments: