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Musings on Our National Championship

For the record, I loved the 2018 U.S. Open.  We got to see four days of great players taking on Shinnecock Hills – William Flynn’s brilliant design, Coore & Crenshaw’s thoughtful restoration, and Jon Jennings et al’s beautiful presentation.  No amount of setup snafu, quick rake nonsense, or bellyaching from various constituencies could dampen my enthusiasm.

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All photos by Jon Cavalier

The internet produced a variety of strong reactions to the Open at Shinnecock.  Some were well-reasoned and others were hyperbolic in the extreme.  Setting reactions aside, following are my musings on what we’ve learned, and where America’s governing body might go from here with our National Championship.

For some time now, the USGA has been doing a fair bit of tinkering and way too much micromanaging.  They are not the victims of happenstance or bad breaks.  They have placed themselves in an untenable situation by trying to:

  • appease players and manufacturers by not adequately regulating equipment technology,
  • appease traditional hard-liners who demand carnage,
  • appease casual fans who prefer birdies over bogeys, and
  • appease par devotees who want to see a certain number on the scoreboard.

Combine these factors with the unpredictability of Mother Nature and the game of golf itself, and you have a recipe for outcomes that are guaranteed to frustrate and disappoint.  Worse yet, the USGA’s insistence on pursuing this impossible balance to try and please everyone is distracting from what really matters – great players competing against each other on great playing fields.

As I watched Saturday’s action unfold, with the setup tipping over the edge, I ran a 24-hour Twitter poll to try and gauge how the carnage vs. playability balance was shaping up:

USOpen-Poll1.pngA day later, with the USGA arguably going too far in the direction of playability, I asked essentially the same question in a different way:

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Although the second poll was much quicker, I doubt that the results would have changed had I let it run for 24-hours instead of 2.  My conclusion?  We the audience don’t really even know what we want.  We are essentially impossible to please.  The USGA would be better served choosing a position, and sticking to their guns knowing that some players and fans will gripe no matter what.  With that approach, at least they will have maintained a discernible and authentic identity.


THE PATH AHEAD

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  It’s time to stop the insanity.

If I were King, I would create a U.S. Open rota, with architectural interest and history being the weightiest considerations.  I would not concern myself with charges of “elitism” in my rota selections.  This is one of the most elite competitions in the world.  Its venues can and should be elite as well.  Making the game more inclusive is an important mission of the USGA, but the U.S. Open is not the vehicle for that mission.

My proposed rota is:

  • Oakmont*
  • Shinnecock Hills*
  • Pebble Beach*
  • Pinehurst No. 2*
  • Winged Foot*
  • Merion
  • Olympic Club
  • The Country Club
  • Los Angeles CC
  • Cherry Hills
  • Inverness (based on Andrew Green’s recent tune-up)
  • Oakland Hills (contingent on Gil Hanse tune-up)
  • Olympia Fields (contingent on Keith Foster tune-up)

*host more frequently than others

This rota provides geographic and architectural diversity and allows fans to get to know great courses by watching different player cohorts play them over the decades.  Just because a course did not make my rota does not mean that I don’t want to see professional golf on that course.  I very much want to see future events held at Chambers Bay, Bethpage Black, Erin Hills, and others.  Let the PGA and PGA Tour cast a wider net with the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup that includes those great courses.

The rota being selected, my second act as King would be to simplify the rules for setup to a list of 3, and I would let the Golf Course Superintendent lead the preparation of the course for the tournament with consultation from the USGA that is not overbearing.

  1. Rough and/or native area that is nasty and penal, but only where the original architect intended for it to be.
  2. Very firm greens, but slow the putting surfaces down so that they stay alive and roll true.
  3. A mix of pin positions each day – some gettable, some next-to-impossible.

These setup rules would not be altered regardless of the weather.  If Mother Nature helps the players one year, so be it.  If Mother Nature crushes the players the next year, so be it.  As King, I would offer no apologies to anyone based on their perceptions of difficulty, or lack thereof.  You play in the National Championship, it is what it is.  Deal with it.  Because after all, that is the essence of the game itself, and as King, I would want my championship to pay homage to that essence.


THE ROTA IN PHOTOS

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Oakmont

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Shinnecock Hills

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Pebble Beach

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Pinehurst No. 2

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Winged Foot

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Merion

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Olympic Club

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The Country Club

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Los Angeles CC

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Cherry Hills

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Inverness

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Oakland Hills

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Olympia Fields

Now that I’ve shared my musings, I’m off to read what everyone else has concluded.  Feel free to share your thoughts here, email me, or comment on social media.  Already looking forward to Pebble…


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems Shinnecock Hills GC Photo Tour

JON CAVALIER’S LINKSGEMS 2018 U.S. OPEN PREVIEW

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

The rich tradition of championship golf at Shinnecock Hills continues this summer.  The collaboration between Superintendent Jon Jennings and Coore & Crenshaw has brought out every ounce of the brilliance of William Flynn’s Long Island masterpiece.  Shinny is ready to test the best.

Once again, Jon Cavalier has provided us with a hole-by-hole preview featuring his stellar photography and commentary.  My course doodle has been included for your reference, and additional resources are at the end for an even deeper dive.  Enjoy!

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SHINNECOCK HILLS GOLF CLUB

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(click on image mosaics to enlarge)

No. 1 – 399yds – Par-4

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A relatively easy dogleg right with an ample landing area to open, and certainly one of the better birdie opportunities on the course.  However, long is serious trouble – bogey or worse lurks behind this green.

No. 2 – 252yds – Par-3

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A new back tee installed for the 2018 Open stretches this monster uphill par-3 to over 250 yards to a green guarded by bunkers on both sides and a false front.  Make par here and you’ll gain on the field for sure.

No. 3 – 500yds – Par-4

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This par-4 has been lengthened via a new back tee and narrowed from the left side, bringing the bunkers on the right very much into play.  The open green slopes mostly back-to-front but abruptly falls away behind.

No. 4 – 475yds – Par-4

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“Pump House,” so named for the outbuildings the hole doglegs around, has seen its fairway tightened up.  Its real challenge is the undulating green, which features a false front and falls away on all sides.

No. 5 – 589yds – Par-5

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“Montauk” is the first three-shotter of the round, but rest assured, many will be going for this green in two despite the narrow fairway and the large bunker guarding the dogleg. Distance control is key, as once again, long is dead.

No. 6 – 491yds – Par-4

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“Pond” features the only water on the course, a retention pond unlikely to see a single ball this week, and a scruffy waste area right of the fairway that will.  The green is among the toughest at Shinny.

No. 7 – 189yds – Par-3

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This Redan, built in 1931 by William Flynn on the site of C.B. Macdonald’s original, is a hole as intimidating as it is beautiful.  Playing at a more oblique angle and with a smaller opening than most makes this tilted green incredibly difficult to hit, hold, chip to and putt.  Any misses to the right will be lucky to save bogey.  In 2004, Kevin Stadler putted from 2-feet into a bunker. Buckle up.

No. 8 – 439yds – Par-4

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“Lowlands” is likely the flattest hole at Shinny, and at “only” 439 yards, players will be looking for birdie here before the brutal 9-10-11 stretch.  Beware the green though, which is among the most undulating on the course.

No. 9 – 485yds – Par-4

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“Ben Nevis,” named for the highest mountain in the UK, is one of the world’s greatest uphill par-4s, and the start of the heart of this golf course.  A dogleg left at the clubhouse to a heaving fairway, and then up to a green seemingly perched on the edge of a cliff, mere paces from the steps leading in to Stanford White’s iconic shingle-style clubhouse.Par is a good score on this breathtaking hole.

No. 10 – 415yds – Par-4

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The aptly named “Westward Ho” plays to a fairway cut through a dune hiding a precipitous drop, a left turn and a green with 50 yards of false front.  Short is dead, long is deader; better be dialed in on distance.

No. 11 – 159yds – Par-3

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The 11th at Shinnecock has been called many things: Hill Head (its official name), the shortest par-5 in golf, and the best uphill par-3 in the world, among others.  What it has never been called, is easy.  The green sits atop a small dune ridge exposed to the wind and falls off to all sides.  Standing on the tee, the landing area looks impossibly small.  A hole that could determine the Open winner.

No. 12 – 469 – Par-4

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After surviving the crucible at 9-10-11, players will be looking for birdie at this downwind, downhill par-4.  Playing across Tuckahoe Road, the approach is slightly uphill to an open green.  Look for big drives here.

No. 13 – 374yds – Par-4

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“Road Side” once again changes direction and plays back over Tuckahoe Road toward the clubhouse.  The shortest non-par-3 on the course, the 13th is a prime candidate to be shortened to a drivable par-4.

No. 14 – 519yds – Par-4

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One of my favorite holes, “Thom’s Elbow” has been lengthened by a whopping 75 yards, turning this well-bunkered two-shotter into a monster that should require driver off the tee from the entire field.  The saddle-shaped green at the 14th is more receptive than most, and will direct balls from its flanks to the middle.  Shots hit too firmly will scoot through and will leave a difficult up-and-down.

No. 15 – 409yds – Par-4

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The 15th is one of the most beautiful holes in golf, its tee set high on the glacial moraine that serves as the backbone of this astonishing golf course.  Finding the fairway is critical, as the green is small, sloped and well-guarded by six terraced bunkers in front (one of the few greens fronted by bunkers at Shinnecock).  Simply put, this is just a breathtakingly beautiful golf hole.

No. 16 – 616yds – Par-5

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Shinnecock, the eponymous 16th, begins our home stretch.  The second of Shinny’s two par-5s, this hole has a new tee which adds 76 yards in length, but downwind, players can still have a go at this green.  As with so many holes at Shinnecock, the defenses of this hole are found around and on the green.  Five bunkers guard the layup zone and ten more guard the green.  Most players will happily take par here.

No. 17 – 180yds – Par-3

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A devilishly tricky one-shotter frequently buffeted by confounding crosswinds and featuring a pushed up green with no background to help with judging distance, the 17th may well determine this week’s winner.

No. 18 – 485yds – Par-4

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A new tee 35 yards back brings the bunker at the dogleg back into play, but Home is all about the approach and the wickedly sloped green, which will return anything indifferent 20 yards back into the fairway.

And there you have it – all 18 holes at one of America’s very best championship venues, an iconic piece of golden age architecture.  Hope you enjoyed the tour, and that you enjoy the 118th United States Open!

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Bonus Aerials

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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf