Think we have just another tournament week on the PGA Tour? Not so. All the best players in the world are assembled for the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina, but there are a lot of good players who didn’t make it. For the 156 slots in the Open, the USGA received a record 10,127 applications from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 75 other countries. And of all of them, only the low 60 players and ties will make the cut and have a chance to win. If the winner isn’t determined on Sunday, there will be an 18 hole playoff on Monday.
The course is going to play as a par 70 at 7,562 yards, and it will be very difficult. The design geniuses of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore completed a restoration of the original Donald Ross design as it looked back in the 1930s. That design had a lot of sandy areas that will play as waste bunkers, so the players will have to be sure that they determine for sure whether they are in one of them where they can ground their clubs or a bunker where they can’t.
Crenshaw was very excited and quite reverent about the strategic implications the players are now faced with:
“Pinehurst No. 2 was a particular pet of [Mr. Ross]. It’s still astounding to me to go back and look and see that there were not grass greens here at Pinehurst No. 2 until about 1935. And during that transformation, when Mr. Ross knew that he could put Bermuda on the greens and over seed it with ryegrass.”
“Then he started to redo the greens and the contours, not only on the greens, but off the greens, which delighted him to no end. It had to, because, at least in our opinion, what’s on the greens and what is off the greens is so much a part of the golf course.”
“I still think that the movements and the undulations and the hollows and the swales off of these greens are some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. So, so natural and not man-made, but they’re so much a part of the integral play of the golf course.”
“Every person here this week is going to have to deal with what’s off the greens here. Because as a player, I don’t know how many times I’ve hit what seemingly was a good iron shot, that starts slipping off a little bit this way and it just eases off the green and you have to sort of steel yourself and say, ‘Well, golly, I hit that ball pretty well, but now I’ve got this shot that I have four or five different options as to how to play it up to the hole.’ That is Pinehurst.”
“But part of the reward about playing Pinehurst goes right back to the tee. In an effort to do what we did in restoration, we concentrated not only what is on the fairway, but what was off the fairway…but, yes, we widened the fairways here and there to give people more strategic options going into these greens.”
“The actual lines, the fairway lines that were represented when we started were held over from the 1999 and 2005 Opens, which, to our minds, were a little bit straight. They were a little bit straight on the sides. The architectural features out on the course, there’s beautiful bunkers, there’s humps and undulations that we tried to get edges of the fairways out to those focal points, let’s say.”
“So the course is more vibrant, no question, when you look at it. It’s more visual. We did lift some hazards, bunkers up, here and there. So what you can see is a little bit more vibrant. But it’s largely the same golf course. It’s not — we didn’t demonstrably change the actual framework of the course. It’s a different presentation, but playing Pinehurst is very, very much the same.”
Ben went on to talk about what a stern test this was going to be and unlike most U.S. Open courses where the fairways are lined with deep, penal rough. This will be a combination of the sandy areas plus a rough that is more wild natural grasses that requires knowledge to know what kind of shot to attempt.
In any event, this will be the backstory around the pageant of players who have come to give it their very best in hopes that their very best will be enough.