Quick Look at the U.S. Open

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club preview

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – This will be an old-school U.S. Open. There’s no other way to put it. After all, we’re at the site of the United States’ second national championship and on a course that was one of the USGA’s five founding clubs.

They’ve been playing golf at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club since 1891. This is the only course to host a U.S. Open in three separate centuries.

We’re at a traditional site and the fairways are lined by the tournament’s trademark thick rough. Ballstriking is always important at a U.S. Open, and this week will be no exception, but Shinnecock Hills also puts high demands on a player’s short game.

The three modern U.S. Opens at Shinnecock Hills were all won with memorable performances around the greens.

Raymond Floyd, winner of the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, was so good around the greens that he wrote a book on the subject. It paid off in the first round’s difficult conditions.

“I hit five greens in regulation and shot a 75 that could have been 85,” Floyd told Golf Digest. He went on to win by two shots over Chip Beck and Lanny Wadkins. "I won the tournament on Thursday. I played terrible, had no feel and somehow survived."

Corey Pavin was known as the Gritty Little Bruin because of his small frame and deft wedge game that allowed him to compete against players who outdrove him by half a football field. He hit less than half the greens at Shinnecock Hills (35 of 72) but beat Greg Norman by two shots in 1995.

Retief Goosen scrambled magnificently after the greens baked out in the final round here in 2004. He hit just six greens Sunday but one-putted 12 times in his final-round 71. After hitting 14 greens in the first round, he hit just 28 over the final 54 holes.

That trend could continue this week thanks to the expanded areas of short grass installed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The enlarged fairways will command a lot of the attention this week, but short grass surrounds almost all of the greens, exposing the contours that architect William Flynn installed around the putting surfaces.

Even though Shinnecock Hills’ greens were expanded before this year’s U.S. Open, they play smaller than their square footage indicates because the edges of those putting surfaces are steep slopes that repel approach shots. Players who miss those greens will have to chip, or putt, back up those slopes to save par.

“Your short game, your touch, has got to be on point,” said defending champion Brooks Koepka. Jason Day wouldn’t be surprised if a short-game specialist was holding the trophy Sunday, he said.

This setup could help the man who most needs a win this week. Phil Mickelson needs a U.S. Open victory to complete the career Grand Slam. He’s finished fourth and second in two previous U.S. Opens here.

Mickelson said the short grass around the greens would be a “huge factor” this week because of the delicate touch needed to execute chips and pitches from short grass. Short grass also increases a player’s options and reduces their reliance on luck.

“If you do miss a green, … (the ball) will stay where touch will be a factor,” Mickelson said. “I love how that has been brought into it, rather than the hack out of the rough, hope it comes out okay factor.”

THREE PLAYERS TO PONDER

Phil Mickelson: He still needs the U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam. He contended in the previous two U.S. Opens at Shinnecock Hills before being undone by a double-bogey on one of the closing holes.

Dustin Johnson: The 2016 U.S. Open champion is coming off an impressive victory at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He’s second in the FedExCup.

Justin Thomas: The FedExCup leader came close at last year’s U.S. Open, shooting a third-round 63 to get within a shot of the lead. A final-round 75 dropped him into ninth place but taught him valuable lessons that paid off at the PGA Championship and FedExCup.

THE FLYOVER

Shinnecock Hills’ finishing hole is 485 yards after being lengthened 35 yards since 2004. The new tee creates more of a blind tee shot. The prevailing breeze blows right-to-left, while the fairway slopes from left-to-right. A drive into the right side of the fairway gives a better angle for the approach shot and better view of the green.

WEATHER CHECK

Temperatures will be ideal, with the high temperature not forecast to creep above 80 degrees. Wednesday afternoon thunderstorms are the only precipitation predicted for the week. Wind is the course’s biggest defense and it is scheduled to blow at least 10 mph all four days. Thursday is forecast to be the breeziest day, with winds forecast to blow 14 mph. Click here to keep track of Shinnecock Hills’ weather throughout the week.

SOUND CHECK

I finally feel like I'm playing a U.S. Open that I'm used to seeing growing up, where a couple under par is a good score.
- Patrick Reed

You can't get away with one ball flight all the time. You kind of have to maneuver it around off different slopes and winds. It just requires more of an artistic approach.
- Jordan Spieth, on Shinnecock Hills

BY THE NUMBERS

19: Number of amateurs in the field, the most since 1962. Notable names include the world’s top-ranked amateur, Doug Ghim, and No. 3 Braden Thornberry. Ghim was runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Amateur and low amateur at the Masters. Thornberry won last year’s NCAA Championship and is coming off a T26 finish at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic.

10: Number of holes that were lengthened for this year’s U.S. Open. The course will play 7,445 yards, about 500 yards longer than in 2004.

35: The winners of all three modern U.S. Opens at Shinnecock Hills were all 35 or older. Raymond Floyd (43) was the oldest winner in U.S. Open history when he won here in 1986; that record was broken by 45-year-old Hale Irwin four years later.

5: Number of players in this year’s field who also played in the 1995 and 2004 U.S. Opens at Shinnecock: Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods. Mickelson and Woods were exempt into the field. Els received a special exemption. Stricker went through sectional qualifying in Memphis. Perry won last year’s U.S. Senior Open.

SCATTERSHOTS

Patrick Reed is the only man with a chance to win the Grand Slam this year. He also has been almost unbeatable in the past two majors. Reed preceded his Masters victory with a T2 at the PGA Championship. It was his first top-10 in a major. “Winning the last major, it definitely gives me that self-belief (and) comfort level that whatever comes down Sunday, if we have a chance to win the golf tournament, I’ve done it before.” Reed is seventh in this season’s FedExCup standings.

Jason Day is staying on his recreational vehicle, within walking distance of the course. Tiger Woods is using his yacht for lodging this week. Anything to avoid the infamous traffic leading into Shinnecock Hills this week. The course is located on a skinny spit of land on Long Island’s east side. Only one road leads into Shinnecock from the east, which leads to long back-ups. It’s taken some a couple hours for some to travel the last few miles to the course. The traffic is so bad that Woods said he wouldn’t be surprised if it caused a player to miss his tee time. “There are a few guys … who have said it's taken them from the hotel 2 1/2 to 3 hours,” Woods said. “You get a little traffic, you get maybe a little fender bender, it's not inconceivable someone could miss their time.” Rory McIlroy said he’s staying just three minutes from the course. “I don't know if we were very smart or very lucky,” he said. “One of the two.”