Chambers Bay: The course is the show

My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I can say that I cannot remember a U.S. Open where the golf course was a bigger show than the players or the event itself. Oh, there was 2004 at Shinnecock where they lost the green on the par-3 7th, but that was more an agronomy issue than a course design issue. Maybe 2010 at Whistling Straights with its uncountable bunkers hard by Lake Michigan. But this wild thing called Chambers Bay Golf Club has sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the room. Oh, perhaps last year’s offering at Merion, but there it was more about how the players were going to dominate an old short course. Winner, Justin Rose, never thought that:

My mindset was to try to stick as close to par as possible, being a USGA event or U.S. Open, anyway. There was talk earlier in the week at Merion about 10-, 12-under par being the winning score, and I kind of never bought into that. I kind of just stayed with my mindset of being patient and trying to churn out the pars and take your birdies when you can find them. But I think that’s going to be very similar this week.

He compares and contrasts the two courses:  

I don’t expect scoring to be extremely low, from what I’ve seen. I think there are going to be birdie chances out there. Like Merion, there’s going to be some drivable par-4s if the tees change, there’s going to be obviously some par 5s that you can reach. And there’s going to be the occasional pin that’s at the bottom of a feeder slope where you can take advantage.

So I think there are going to be birdie opportunities. It’s just about staying away from the big number. When I won the U.S. Open, I think I didn’t make a double bogey the whole week. If you can do things like that and not give away cheap shots, or cheap bogeys, that’s going to help come the end of the week.

Tiger agrees that it is pretty unique:

I think it’s its own thing. Before I even got here, it was said that you could roll the ball up on every hole, right? Well, we had — when I first came here, it was the Monday and Tuesday of Memorial and, yeah, you can run it up, but problem is it was raining and it was cold. I played off the back tee on every hole. It played almost 7,900. And I was hitting driver, 5-wood and driver, 3-wood to a couple of holes.

And it’s so different now. Now that it’s fast, those holes have turned into driver, 6-iron, 7-iron and 8-irons. And plus we’ve had two different winds, one has come out of the southwest and one out of the northwest. And it plays dramatically different. It’s just amazing how much it plays differently, with the different winds. It’s like a links course in that regard, for sure. It’s very different when the wind switches. The only thing it’s comparable to, anytime in The Open Championship is how fast these fairways are getting, and how much the ball is rolling out.

A couple of players in the field played the course when it was set up for the U.S. Amateur and everybody seems to be picking their brains for how Mike Davis, the USGA Executive Director, might be setting it up for the Open. Tiger tells a shocking story about Patrick Reed’s experience on the first hole:

Par is always a good number in major championships. We’re going to have opportunities to be aggressive here. We’re going to have opportunities to hit shots and go after certain holes, drive holes. We’re going to have that opportunity. But also we’re going to have the flip side, too, where it’s going to play brutally long, it’s going to play tough. And you’re going to have to make some serious lag putts out there and get them close. You’re going to have up over mounds and sometimes 70, 80 footers. And you’re going to have to try to lag it up there and you’re going to have to try to make short ones from probably eight foot and in.

The guys that I have — two guys that I know that I’ve talked to who played here in the Amateur, Patrick Reed and obviously Jordan, both said the same thing, it’s unlike any other golf course they’ve played where you’re firing away from flags to get the ball close or you hit a terrible golf shot and you’ve got a kick-in birdie. Patrick was telling me the funny part was playing No. 1, first hole of match play, he made a solid 9 and won the hole (laughter).

I think we’re going to see some higher numbers here. But then again we may not. It depends what Mike gives us. We don’t know. Let’s say he plays it hard every day and plays it all the way back, close to 7,900 yards. If he makes it 73, 74, 75, somewhere in that neighborhood, but what configuration is he going to do it in, we don’t know.

Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, has a more appreciative eye for the course, particularly as it foreshadows what the players might expect at the British Open next month:

It’s really a wonderful golf course. It’s playing and set up much like what we’re used to at a British Open. And I think this year is going to be very similar to St. Andrews. I find them to be very similar golf courses, set up very similarly, as well. So I think the guys that play well at St. Andrews will play well this year. And guys that play well this week should play well in another month at St. Andrews.

But this golf course allows for short game to save shots that may be less than perfect. It doesn’t force you to play perfect golf. There’s plenty of room to play and to recover from. And I feel like there’s a number of holes that you can capitalize and make birdies on and shoot a good number. I feel that it has characteristics of playability similar to Augusta, characteristics of St. Andrews that allow you to play and allow you to play it less than perfect. You don’t have to hit perfect golf shots here to be able to score and get around it.

Martin Kaymer commented in his interview about how he thought that Mickelson was one of the select members in the field who had the mental wherewithal to master Chambers Bay. Mickelson responded to a question about that and in the course of that, revealed some of the golf mastery principles that he uses under the gun:

So it’s just the ability to be able to recover on the golf course on the final day when things don’t go perfect, because it never does. You’re not going to play a final round where everything flows, you’re going to have moments of concern and moments of lapses that you have to be able to stop trying to fix those bad shots and focus on hitting good shots to recover and turn it around. And throughout the course of my career I’ve been able to do that for the most part.

But in doing so and in trying to play aggressive and win, I’ve certainly had my moments where I’ve given them up. But I think I’ve won a lot more for every one that I’ve given away.

You just gotta love Mickelson’s swashbuckling approach to the game. He gives new metaphorical meaning to the old phrase, “…or die trying.”

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