Breaking Down Pinehurst #2

By | June 10, 2014

My friend and I are partners in a golf pool.  Here is his breakdown of this weeks US Open course, Pinehurst #2.  He has played the course many times including the new design.

Sandy waste areas with the “love” grass

Weather/Conditions:

1. If it is dry, the ball will run out on the fairways and accuracy off the tee will matter greatly as anyone choosing a bad line will drive it through the short grass and into the waste areas. This will also make it more difficult to hold greens but the players will be attacking with shorter clubs. Under these conditions, the course will require more solid play through the bag and around the greens. I think these conditions favor guys that can move it off the tee but can also scramble. This scenario favors traditional US Open style players. (think about how guys like Ernie, Goosen, Ogilvy, Glover and Rory won – long high shots, soft irons into the greens, solid scrambling and no big numbers; Furyk, Pavin and McDowell-style wins could also work here but that means guys are hitting GIRs all week with four irons.)
2. If it is wet, the ball will not run through the fairway but an already long course will play much longer. Greens will be more slower and more receptive to shots but players will be forced to fly the ball into the greens and they will be forced to do so with much longer clubs. If the course plays too long, the USGA may shift tees forward to make it more playable. No way to know what to expect. These conditions favor bombers and reduce the field of potential winners to probably no more than 5 guys (Rory, DJ, Bubba, Phil, Scott). These conditions also bring in wildcards like Cabrera, Bradley, Westwood and Woodland.

Driving:

1. The course is set up to be long – over 7,500-yards from the tips. Generally speaking, you can spray the ball off the tee. There is only one water hazard (#16 and not really in play) and there is OB on the first five holes but there is no reason for a professional to ever see those stakes. If you miss the fairway, you are in a waste area that is dotted with wire grass bushes (AKA love grass). These guys can play from the waste because it is hard-packed sand and they can work the ball and spin the ball out of there. They’d prefer to play from that over the pine straw under the trees but, if they end up behind, next to or under the love grass, there is a guaranteed penalty in play. There is a lot more luck involved in this open than in others where you knew you were looking at 4” rough. Now you may have a shot and you may not. There will be few (if any) situations where the player will have to make a decision – punch out or play for the green will be obvious all the time.
2. The fairways will be tight and the ball sits perfectly when in the middle. Also, the fairways are mostly flat. There are no sidehills like we saw last year at Merion. Guys in the fairway should have good looks at greens and they should hit them.

Iron Play:

1. #2 is a second shot golf course (in the style of Augusta). With a decent drive, you can see, and play to every green on the course. There is only one semi-obstructed shot which is the approach to #13. Since they have a pin sheet, distances are not an issue and they will be able to see the flag.
2. There is no rough (or what is there is minimally troublesome Bermuda grass or pine straw). Because of this, guys with flat swings like Kuchar are not at their typical Open disadvantage. Ogilvy was great at Winged Foot because he is really steep and able to dig it out of 6” rye grass. That is not a necessary skill here. What matters is the ability to stop it on the green with spin and all these guys can do that.
3. Also important is the ability to control your spin. Too much action will take the ball off every green on the course and Donald Ross was sure to design the greens such that anything spinning away from the hole goes REALLY far from the hole and tends to leave you in a horrific spot. This is super important with both short irons that fly in and longer ones that might bounce into the green.
4. When playing this course, think GIR. Think middle of the green. Do not, under any circumstances go flag hunting. I don’t care who you are, the short side of a #2 green is a formula for disaster. I have seen good players make 10 from the short side. Pros being pros might only make 8. John Daly was pin high in two on the wrong side on #8 and made something like a 11. #2 is more punishing than Augusta when you are around the greens.
5. GIR are also important because the greens are small. They are actually rather large but significant portions will repel the ball so the effective landing area for approaches and chips is tight. Guys that have had success at places like Pebble and guys with high GIR numbers have a real advantage so long as they play to the middle.

Scrambling:

1. The traps can be very deep but they are also very fair. The big problem with traps will come when someone hits a drive or layup that rolls through its intended line and into a trap 40 yards from the green. Really exciting sh*t can happen from there. Otherwise, the greenside traps are benign. The pin placements will matter.
2. Chipping around the green is how Payne Stewart won the US Open. He was creative enough to play a mix of high and low shots to flags depending upon where they were. No one shot works for everything and you definitely need imagination if you are to get it close. The greens are not severe and they are not undulating. The key to good chipping is landing it on your spot and having it react as planned. The trade for everyone is the safety of being sure to get it on versus the risk of trying to get it close to a flag near an edge. #2 will separate the men from the boys – this is where guys like Phil, Luke Donald, Ernie Els and maybe Ian Poulter will gain some separation from the field. Rory and Sergio (if they are on their game) have the creativity and shots to also separate from the field.

Putting:

1. Once you are on the green, everything is straightforward. Each green is a turtleshell that falls off around the edges but the green centers generally have a predominant tilt. Except for #12 (which confused Tiger the first time he played it), #13 (split by a ridge) and #7 (two tiers and a nasty peanut shape with narrow profile), the breaks are obvious and not severe like an Oakmont.
2. Speed control will matter only because pins will be tight to false edges and players cannot be too aggressive. That said however, putting from the middle should never be a tough two-putt for a professional. Also, the greens will be running 11-12 because of their design. I think USGA realized back in 1999 that they couldn’t stimp at 13 because guys might make 15s going back and forth across holes. Average putters will not be as exposed in this Open as they might be in others. This gives ball strikers a real chance (Westwood, DJ, Scott).

The USGA:

1. The USGA has made some stupid changes to the course. First, they took #5 (one of the 5 best par fours in the world) and stretched it to a par five. This allowed them to make #4 into a par four. This is a bad trade because as a par four, the fifth hole forced players to hit a long iron off a severe hook lie (the only such place on the course) into a miserable green guarded by a miserable trap. The extra few yards make this an easier hole because many guys (with the prevailing wind) will play it as a three-shot hole and come in with a wedge.
2. The USGA has also added a tee box to #6 that stretches it to as much as 250-yards. This is just retarded. The green at #6 is plenty difficult on its own and I have spun several 5- and 6-irons off and into the front left trap. Forcing these guys to come in with a wood is a dumb attempt to recreate the third hole from Merion last year (another hole that really didn’t need more distance). This one, unlike Merion, is no more than a bogey if they miss the green short, left or right. The real move is to leave the tees where they are (probably 215-225 from the tips) or even move them up and push the flag back. Over is D-E-A-D.
3. I think the statement this year is that water is bad. We have to be environmentally conscious and that means less water and brown edges. If that is the move, we are looking at firm and fast. The question is whether or not Mother Nature chooses to sh*t on Mike Davis. Mike may choose to sh*t back on her because as I saw in February the place drains like nothing you could ever imagine. Even with the rain, the place might dry out. 5” of snow was gone in 48 hours. If I had to pick, I’d bet on dry.

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