Golf, rock: the old-fashioned US Open at the Country Club

BROOKLINE, Mass. (AP) — The 2022 US Open certainly wasn’t overdone.

Some might say its length – a modest 7,254 meters – is more reasonable than in the recent past. No one will argue that some of the holes on the classic Country Club layout are downright short.

The USGA staged its premier event – golf’s toughest test – on an old-fashioned course built on small property, the type of layout that is becoming increasingly obsolete in large-scale golf. It has a driveable par-4, an accessible par-5, and will also feature a par-3 that could play within 100 yards.

After a week of talk about the future of the sport and defections from the LIV Tour breakaway, the real golf begins Thursday on a course that will remind some of the old days.

“Really cool style of golf,” said top-ranked Scottie Scheffler, hoping to add a US Open title to the green jacket he won at the Masters earlier this year.

Scheffler and 155 others will be forced to reflect on a course filled with blind tee shots. On practice rounds, players would find their lines by looking at the flags in the distance and the fescue-covered rocks perched on the hills just ahead.

It has two holes, the third and fourth, which essentially share the same fairway, with shots going in opposite directions.

There are big doglegs – the famous 17th hole (Think of Francis Ouimet and the 1999 Ryder Cup celebration) is just 375 yards but has a massive crook in the middle guarded by a line of trees to the left and four bunkers jutting into the left side of the fairway. One of them, “The Vardon Bunker”, essentially cost Harry Vardon the US Open in the streak against Ouimet in 1913.

It’s a steep New England-style golf course, the tastes of which have largely been left behind in professional golf, as equipment and athleticism force everything to expand.

Bringing the US Open back to the Country Club for the first time since 1988 marks a huge leap of faith for an organization that has often staked the reputation of its biggest event on the winner’s relationship with parity. But a look at recent history shows that an oversized course is no guarantee of lower numbers.

The four rounds at Erin Hills have all measured over 7,700 yards and are the four longest course layouts in US Open history. Brooks Koepka won that title with a score of 16 under par.

The 2012 winner at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Webb Simpson, came in at a modest 1 on a course listed at a modest 7,170 yards. Some suspected the course layout there had been affected by the previous year, when Rory McIlroy ripped for 7,574 yards to Congress and won with a club record 268.

But the Country Club’s comeback was really sparked in 2013. Justin Rose won with a score of 1 at Merion, an old-school course on a small property outside of Philadelphia. The layout was not 7,000 yards.

“There were just too many hurdles to overcome,” USGA championships manager John Bodenhamer said of the prospect of returning to the Country Club. “But… 2013 changed our perspective.

Some of the drama this week will include the par-3 11th hole, which measures 131 scorecard yards but could be down to double digits for part of this tournament. It’s a distinction that has long been reserved for golf’s most scenic hole, the seventh at Pebble Beach with its green jutting out into the Pacific. It’s possible here due to the heavy bunkering to the front and left, a 10-foot drop from the back into gnarled brush, and a downhill tee shot to a green that slopes down to the front.

The par-four fifth hole is 310 yards. It is uphill but well within reach of the tee and heavily bunkered.

Part of what will give the Country Club some bite are the greens. They are strongly inclined – from the back to the front or to the sides. In total, putting surfaces average only about 4,400 square feet per green, the second-smallest complex of greens, behind Pebble Beach, in championship golf.

The eighth par-5 is accessible at 557 meters. The ninth par-4 measures 427 meters but it is very downhill.

“What you will see on this golf course is an ebb and flow like nowhere else,” promises Bodenhamer.

Once players hit the 12th, they think they’re looking at a typical US Open test, although even in this area there are iron shots on some tees, especially the 17th.

“Love it, mate,” said Cam Smith, the Australian who is ranked sixth in the world. “Probably my favorite US Open venue I’ve been to.”

The next four days will determine whether the USGA agrees.


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