The 2014 U.S. Open is setting up to play out as one of the most intriguing majors in recent memory. Will the back-to-back line up with the Women’s Open have an impact? You bet it will, as will the course redesign by Coors and Crenshaw in 2010. Picking a winner this early requires some deep analysis. Let’s go out on a limb and make a prognostication without seeing results from The Memorial, because I’m gearing up for my own U.S. Open (Myrtle Beach trip) and can’t take the time next weekend. So here’s your early winning pick – call your bookie now to get the best odds 🙂
When I traveled in 2011 and played Pinehurst #2, along with gathering data for the course review, I was trying to evaluate how this storied venue would stack up for the Open after the redesign. What immediately struck me was how wide open it was off the tee. I had mentally prepared to be hitting a lot of 3WDs but ended up with driver on every par 4 and 5. We were playing if from the same yardage as the women will play the following week, but noticed that our tee shots were landing with ample room in the fairways and there was literally no rough. The natural waste areas were mostly sand but were not played as a hazard (unless you were in a bunker within the waste areas). I thought the way they had these laid out was awkward and it would be difficult to determine how to play if your ball was on the edge of a bunker. Expect an abundance of USGA officials traveling with each group to speed along ruling inquiries, but the main takeaway is that unlike most U.S. Open venues, the rough will not be the penal impediment it usually is.
Pinehurst’s crowned greens will be the course’s main defense, BUT they won’t be able to shave them down and dry them out almost to the point of burning them because of the Women’s Open immediately following. So with small reasonably well watered greens, expect some diabolical pin placements and a premium on chipping, missing the greens on the correct side, and solid bunker play; but not a fairways and greens affair.
This sets up perfectly for Matt Kuchar who will win the tournament.
Kuchar is not the greatest driver of the ball but has a wonderful short game, is getting in contention with every major, is from the southeast, and just feels like the right pick. I’m giving him a pass on the missed cut at Colonial.
Justin Rose is the defending champion and his golf swing looks great. He’s over his shoulder injury and actually seems rather bulked up (have you noticed too?) and I’m wondering if he’s been collaborating with Tiger The Gym Rat Woods, considering they both work with Sean Foley. Normally, I’d take Rose to repeat in a ball striking competition, but his short game is not strong enough. His form is good for a top 10, though.
Coming in a close second again is the hottest golf property on the planet, Jordan Spieth. He is getting so close, is so mentally mature and tough, that it’s just a matter of time; just not this time.
So that brings us to Phil Mickelson, who would be the perfect pick for the way this course sets up. Phil is without a top 10 this year and despite finishing second at Pinehurst to Payne Stewart back in 1999, Lefty will remain a sentimental pick.
So what about Rory McIlroy and Woz-gate? Good timing or bad? I say bad and a missed cut.
So there you have it with Koooch finally getting his first major. You like this pick or someone else?
Just returned from an excellent trip to Pinehurst Resort for three days of golf at one of America’s premier destinations. Here’s a link to the trip photo and video album. Played the #8 course on Saturday, #4 on Sunday, and finished out on the storied #2 course on Labor Day.
Pinehurst sells a variety of all inclusive deals with various lodging and playing options. We played on a three-day, two-night package and stayed at the Manor Inn which was the least expensive choice for lodging but was more than adequate for our needs. The Manor is an older building with clean rooms, nice comfortable beds, mahogany desks and wardrobes, modern bathrooms, and high speed internet access. Manor is very convenient to the rest of the resort as free shuttle buses can be summoned from any resort property and will take you anywhere.
The Carolina Hotel, pictured above, is the center of Pinehurst operations and is the largest of the lodging options. We enjoyed our three course dinners and morning breakfast buffets (all included) at the Carolina in their formal dining room. The food was delicious and the service impeccable. The staff at the Manor and Carolina were friendly and helpful and exuded class and plenty of old Southern charm.
Upon arrival, you are assigned a bag tag with your tee times and course numbers for your entire stay. You leave your golf bag at the main club and every day the staff has your clubs loaded on a cart at the course you are scheduled to play. Courses 1-5 play out of the main clubhouse and 6-8 are off-site. The main clubhouse is a tremendous facility with two pro shops managing play (#2 has it’s own). A huge grass driving range and extensive putting green are available along with several practice chipping and pitching areas. The practice facilities are simply the best I’ve ever played at. Inside the main clubhouse along the long corridor from the entrance to the locker rooms are displays detailing the wonderful history of Pinehurst and the various championships, trophies, and tributes to the winners.
Payne Stewart, 1999 US Open Champion
The original 1907 Donald Ross design has been altered considerably by Coors and Crenshaw in 2010. Gone is most of the rough, replaced by natural looking waste areas containing sand, grasses, and pine straw. The par-3 17th pictured above, features this to the right. In some instances, bunkers have been placed within the waste areas blurring the line between hazard and waste area. My group was wondering how a ball on the edge of a bunker within a sandy waste area should be played. On a pre-round tour of the course, I thought I’d be playing several 3-woods off the tees for position since the waste areas extend the length of most par 4 and 5 holes, but surprisingly I found ample landing area in the fairways and hit driver on all holes. Making clean contact from the various lies in the waste areas was difficult and we also noted that after playing the first few holes with the same waste area look, subsequent holes were fairly indistinguishable from the previous. At the end of the round, no single hole stood out for its features or magnificence.
Our biggest disappointment was learning that the greens had been aerated and top dressed four days before our round. This was supposedly a surprise to everyone including the pro shop staff, as the greens superintendent had judged that the Bent grass greens were under tremendous stress from the summer heat and needed to be saved. I was highly suspicious of this reasoning until I learned that they aerated one day before a major member guest tournament. Maybe it was true? Either way, our round was played on bumpy sandy greens and we payed the full $175 surcharge. Elsewhere the course was in excellent shape with the Bermuda fairways and tees quite immaculate, and good quality sand in the bunkers. I found the lack of formal elevated tee boxes and the all-sand cart paths interesting, as an obvious attempt had been made to preserve the most natural of looks to the land. Also the closeness of several greens to teeing areas made me wonder how the 2014 US Open and Woman’s US Open participants would manage the proximity to other groups and the associated distractions. Finally, in contrast with the other Pinehurst courses, there were no indicators for pin positions and guessing yardages was difficult since the only markings were on the sprinkler heads. The course requests that you keep carts on the paths at all times and there are no distance indicators on the paths. The other seven courses employ the Red, White, Yellow flags to indicate positioning but the #2 pins are all white with the #2 logo emblazoned and unless you take a caddy or are equipped with a range finder, you’ll end up guessing the yardage and lugging a handful of clubs from cart to ball.
For the record, I played the white tees at 6,307 yards and carded an 82 and was left with the impression that #2 was an impressive layout but was a bit over-hyped.
The Tom Fazio 2000 rework of #4 produced a stunning must-play. The course was the best conditioned of our three with the greens rolling smooth and true, although not very fast, and the tees and fairways in excellent shape. Fazio has framed several tee shots with clusters of pot bunkers, most notably on the edges of dogleg par 4s and 5s. Additional pots are cleverly placed green side to defend against wayward approaches. I found myself hitting 3-wood off several tees for pot bunker avoidance which turned out to be a good strategy. You have to think your way around this course and can score by avoiding the trouble.
Each hole is unique and memorable. They do a great job on hole #4 which is a beautiful downhill par-3 that requires a forced carry over water, and reuse the same lake on #13 to present a sweeping dogleg left par-5 that is the consummate risk-reward adventure. The fun continues on the par-3, 14th which features the same lake all the way down the left. A few of the holes have significant elevation changes that adds to the uniqueness of the track.
Inevitably, you will visit some of the 140+ pot bunkers so bring your sand game but if you can avoid the majority, you’ll do well. We played from the blue tees at 6,658 yards and I shot a five-over 77. #4 was clearly our favorite play on this trip.
Number 8 plays off it’s own clubhouse and is another Tom Fazio design and was built to commemorate the Pinehurst centennial year of 1996. The layout of this course was varied and very enjoyable however conditioning was an issue. The greens had obviously been stressed by summer heat and had significant brown patches. Some of the collars were completely killed and were being actively worked on. The Bermuda grass tees and fairways were in excellent shape, as they were across all courses. After the sum of our experiences on the three courses, we thought the resort may want to resurface all putting surfaces with Bermuda to better manage the heat.
The key to playing #8 is placement off the tee. you MUST hit the fairway or are left with awkward lies in very penal Bermuda rough. Once in the second cut, either off the fairway or green side, the ball sat down and was very difficult to extract with clean contact. Despite the ragged conditions on the greens, I managed to have a good day putting as the surface of the practice putting green mirrored that of the course and left me very comfortable with the speed.
#8 has its own driving range which was beautiful but was only half opened and got very crowded during the morning warm-up with some folks waiting a few minutes for a spot. Double teeing was the culprit and I’d like to see the course avoid that practice. There was an excellent short game area that included several mowed approaches and a good size bunker. A second smaller putting green was located next to the first tee which was convenient.
We left thinking that if conditions were better, #8 would be a great play. That being said, we had a very fun day and I carded a six-over 78 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,698 yards.
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