In 2015, the U.S. Open golf course will be the big news. The peculiarities and unknowns of Chambers Bay makes handicapping this field a little tricky, but with some reverse logic we can arrive with a solid pick to win.
We know the course is links style with a single tree standing out on the entire property. It’s long, with four par-4 holes measuring over 500 yards, and the greens are huge. There’s no shortage of consternation in anticipation of the USGA setting up a carnival ride, at least that’s what you hear from pros like Ian Poulter on social media. I think it’s in the USGA’s best interest to set up as fair a test as possible because they took a good amount of criticism for the non-traditional setup at Pinehurst last year. Folks want long, narrow, and slick for the U.S. Open and they’re not going to get it for the second year in a row, so expect the setup to be tough but reasonable.
Let’s look at the contenders. World #1, Rory McIlroy is the betting favorite at 7:1 but is coming in with zero mojo and off two missed cuts in Europe. When Rory is on his game, he is the best player in the world, no doubt. But why is he slumping now? Over the years, he’s had two recurring problems when he under-achieves: 1) Poor practice habits. 2) Distractions from a love interest. #2 appears to be in play and I don’t like Rory this week because of it. Jordan Spieth is next at 8:1 and I love his competitive “anywhere on any course” attitude. He oozes winning and I would bet the house that he finishes ahead of McIlroy this week. The rest of the field is way back. Mickelson, Fowler, Rose, and Dustin Johnson are all at 18:1. Chambers Bay is unique and will require an inordinate amount of imagination and patience to play well and Phil has the most of those attributes. Over the years, he’s learned to be patient despite his gambler mentality, but when you picture him and his imagination, you envision high flopping lob shots to impossible pins, not the low running ground game that Chambers Bay will require. For this reason, I’m feeling good about the defending champion, Martin Kaymer. Chambers Bay is cutting the fringes to almost the same heights as the putting surfaces. You may see guys putting from 50 yards off the green and Kaymer loves the putter from the fringe and essentially won at Pinehurst with that play. He’s an excellent dark horse pick at 40:1. Lastly, watch our rabble-rouser, Poulter. He’s playing well on the American tour and the venue suits his hit it anywhere-work the chipping and putting. If he comes in with a good attitude about the golf course, he could do some damage.
While I’d love to see Phil close the deal on the career slam, he’s got two main obstacles: his age and Jordan Spieth is in the field. So your 2015 U.S. Open picks:
It’s the middle of winter and we all have cabin fever. Wouldn’t it be great to tee it up tomorrow at a tropical golf destination? Lately, I’ve been getting quite a few inquiries on how to book the best golf trips at the lowest cost. Getting bang for the buck when you travel is a great source of satisfaction, but remember the most important element in a golf trip is the golf. A great hotel, delicious food, and wonderful entertainment are fine, but if the golf is substandard, that’s what you’ll remember.
Course Reviews: To get the best golf, start your travel planning reading websites focused on course reviews. Skip the sites like Golf Digest where you’ll get lists of great courses and glossy marketing material (yeah, we all know Pebble Beach and Whistling Straights are great venues), and focus on personal experiences because you want a straight call on the good and bad. You want to find the hidden nuggets of value, the starters and course marshals who took the extra steps to make you feel special, the details about conditions that stood out or didn’t meet expectations, and the ups and downs of customer service from your reservation agent to the pro shop staff. Here’s some top sites to get you started:
2 Play the Tips has reviews from world famous golf courses across the country.
OneBeardedGolfer has got you covered on Kentucky and other courses in the southeast USA.
Golf Is Mental has great information on Alberta, British Columbia, and visiting the western USA.
Finally, Vet4golfing51 sprinkles his interesting playing insights in with information on his journey to play 100 courses in the western Pennsylvania region. There are many others.
Conditions: Once you decide where you want to play, seek out information on course conditions for the period of time you’re going to play, not necessarily the latest conditions. Pay close attention to reports of when courses will schedule aeration. We hit Pinehurst #2 the day after an emergency aeration. Nothing is worse than traveling to a world class venue only to find you are putting on bumps and top dressing. Hit up a site like Golf Insider for Myrtle Beach. They have thousands of personal visit reviews for hundreds of area courses. Then go to Trip Advisor and look at reviews that can be sorted on the time of year you’re traveling. Getting a good cross-section of opinion yields the best experiences.
Lodging: Next, look for a good package that couples lodging, golf, and maybe some food. In June, my travel group has a package lined up in Myrtle Beach with seven nights lodging, six rounds of golf, carts, free range balls, lunch, and complimentary daily replays for under $600. If you don’t want to couple resort lodging with golf, look to book a hotel separate to save money. We traveled and played the RTJ Trail in Alabama staying at Hampton Inns across the state and had a great and inexpensive experience.
Peak Discounts: Lastly, if you’re traveling in high season and don’t want to pay those exorbitant prices, don’t worry; there are tools that can help. I am traveling next month to Myrtle Beach during peak tourist time and didn’t feel like paying $150 for a round. I used a tool at Golf Insider that allows you to plug in your desired dollar range and date, and searches the entire Grand Strand for a match. Got one for $60 and I’m ready to go!
You can get overwhelmed with information and will save time and money reaching out to an individual who’s traveled ahead of you to your destination. Often times you’ll pick up local knowledge about good venues and ones to avoid, and most folks are very happy to help. I know I am. Good luck!
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?
I absolutely love this time of year. Today is G-minus 30 days from the annual pilgrimage to Myrtle Beach and it’s time to start counting. Maybe it’s the aha moment I discovered today with my golf swing, or maybe it’s the five sustained days of 80 degree temperatures we’ve got lined up, or maybe it’s the prospects of total immersion in the game I love (playing 216 holes the same week as the U.S. Open is contested at Pinehurst.) Either way, the anticipation and lead-up to this trip is almost as good as the real thing.
The 2014 MB lineup (36/day weather permitting).
June 9: Lion’ Paw
June 10: Panther’s Run
June 11: Tiger’s Eye
June 12: Leopard’s Chase
June 13: True Blue
June 14: Surf Club
The best thing about playing Ocean Ridge Plantation (Four Big Cats) is an abundance of replay targets. Often, you have the opportunity to play a different course in the morning and afternoon, and I’ll bet we come home with at least three rounds on Tiger’s Eye, which is one of my top five plays on the Grand Strand.
The best thing about playing True Blue is that it’s one of the finest public golf courses in the United States. Everything about this Mike Strantz design is great. We added it to the line-up and removed Tidewater after learning that the latter had lost their greens due to a fertilizing double bogey by the greenskeeper. I’ll have three new course reviews coming for Lion’s Paw, Panther’s Run, and Surf Club. Anyone with an early season report on course conditions for these six, please pass them along.
As readers of this space know, I’ve been in an early season ball striking slump. It’s hard for the serious player not to let a slump affect the rest of his life, but we try (and usually fail), you know what I mean. So today was huge. I recalled Vet4golfing51‘s advice to review the fundamentals during my ball striking slump last year. Darned if it wasn’t my grip again, and I validated with some swings on my patio driving range mat and then again with some PW shots off turf. The fix feels great and it’s funny how the rest of your mood improves when you have better prospects with your golf game 🙂
I hope your season is off to a great start. Mine is certainly looking up!
I met my new friend from PowerBilt on a recent Labor Day golf trip to Pinehurst. After dinner one night, we moseyed over to the Golf Augusta Pro Shop in Southern Pines so I could hunt for some used clubs for my wife and kids to use in the backyard driving range. Long story short: Mr. TourBilt made his way into my bag for a measly $5.00 and was in play the next day on Pinehurst #8. I have never played with a hybrid before but after knocking it stiff on a couple of 200-yard shots a new friendship was born!
This couldn’t come at a better time because the hybrid replaces my Sonartec 5WD which I hadn’t hit in the last four rounds. Fear of the ugly pull hook had crept into my head exposing the hole in my game from 200-210 yards. No doubt the pull hook was fully due to operator error, but once that gets in your head it’s hard to clear. My $5.00 gem may not be the permanent solution, but for now, let’s go play!
Playing your best golf on new courses has always been a challenge. Unfamiliar surroundings and lack of local knowledge can wreak havoc on your confidence, but there are several strategies I’d like to share to counter this.
Don’t try to perfect your swing before going on a golf trip. Lots of players attempt to work out all the flaws in hopes of having a ball striking nirvana experience. Don’t try: it’s not going to happen. This will have the opposite effect because you’ll be running with too many mechanical thoughts. It’s hard enough on a familiar course to play mechanically and on a strange track you’ll need to fully focus on where to hit the ball, not how to swing.
Do your homework by logging onto the course’s website and noting as much information about course characteristics as possible. Pay specific attention to the type of grass and the structure of the greens. You’ll gain valuable information to allow you to tailor your short game practice to suit course conditions. On my recent trip to Pinehurst, I knew I’d be playing to small elevated greens with significant drop-offs on all sides. Clearly this would require short shots with elevation and spin so I practiced nothing but pitches and lobs with my sand wedge leading up to the trip. In three rounds, I hit all my green side shots with the sand wedge except for one. It’s also a good idea once you arrive to practice at their short game facility to get more comfortable.
Do whatever it takes to keep the ball in play. It’s tough enough at your home course overcoming wayward tee shots early in your round but it’s even more important on a strange course because resort courses are often loaded with hazards not present off the tee on your average municipal course. “Hit the shot you know you can hit, not the shot you think you should be able to hit,” and you’ll give yourself a much better chance to score. Keep it in the fairway even if you need to tee off with a fairway wood, hybrid, or long iron. As you become more relaxed your confidence will grow and allow you to start hitting driver without hesitation.
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.
11 days and counting until Pinehurst! The good news is that last weekend I practiced twice at Bear Trap Dunes in Delaware and felt real good. The second day’s practice included full swing and short game and was extremely productive. One more pre-trip tune up round scheduled for this weekend and I should be set. Hopefully Hurricane Irene will hold off long enough to get in my work on Saturday.
The line-up for Pinehurst:
Saturday, 9/3 – #8
Sunday, 9/4 – #4
Monday, 9/5 – Bucket list round on #2, yeah baby!
If anyone has any playing tips for any of the three courses, send ’em my way, thanks!
Just booked a trip over Labor Day weekend to play Pinehurst #2 along with rounds on #4 and #8 – can’t wait! #2 is on my bucket list, and as with any golf vacation I will try to peak my game for the effort. When I travel annually to Myrtle Beach, I’m pretty familiar with what types of greens I’ll be putting and what type of short shots will be required but I’ve never been to Pinehurst and am looking for advice and or playing tips for any of the courses so please send your comments!
Of course, detailed course reviews and an evaluation of the entire Pinehurst travel operation are coming so stay tuned!
Conversation about course reviews, travel, instruction,and opinion. Please join in!