BROOKLINE, Mass. — There are words being used this week at The Country Club that aren’t often heard at a U.S. Open.
The site of one of the great fairy tale stories in golf history has been described in almost fairy tale fashion by golfers as they prepare for the season’s third major. Speaking with players all week, the fairways have been described as “generous”, the rough bordering the fairways explained as “playable”, and the course length apparently “not as much of a factor” as at past U.S. Opens.
All in all, the world’s best golfers are saying the golf course is, cover your ears, fair.
The top dogs at the United States Golf Association, the folks putting on this championship, are equally in love with The Country Club. As one of the founding clubs of the USGA, there is plenty of history here, none of it bigger than Francis Ouimet’s victory as an amateur at the 1913 U.S. Open. On Wednesday, John Bodenhamer, the man in charge of course setup, went shot-by-shot describing some of the highlights of the 20-year-old local amateur Ouimet’s victory more than 100 years ago.
“Francis Ouimet said in playing this golf course well, it takes a lot of knowing,” Bodenhamer said. “So those that have done their homework, some came in early months ago, last week, I think it’ll pay dividends as they play The Country Club.”
There’s undoubtedly a romance to this year’s U.S. Open returning to this small but significant site nestled in a leafy Boston suburb. One thing you can be certain of, if the players love it, and the USGA loves it, something’s got to give. And plenty can change at a U.S. Open between Wednesday and Thursday.
“There are lots of last-minute tweaks and changes because I think what we do is all dependent on the weather,” Bodenhamer said. “We have a strategy. We have a plan.”
Well, the weather has been perfect all week and the forecast looks good, so the USGA should have the entire toolbox at its disposal. After a few questionable experiments of creativity under the watch of former USGA boss Mike Davis at courses such as Chambers Bay and Erin Hill, the U.S. Open seems to have gotten back to its roots with both courses and setups. Historically, U.S. Opens have been defined by tight fairways, punishing rough, and blazing fast greens.
Bodenhamer described this week as a “throwback U.S. Open” but it’s worth noting that the fairways here aren’t that tight, and the rough isn’t as nasty as last week’s at St. George’s in Toronto. So that leaves the greens.
“I wouldn’t say they’re the narrowest fairways we’ve played on a U.S. Open, but second shots into the green are going to be important,” defending champion Jon Rahm said. “The rough around the greens is about as healthy as I’ve seen in a while.”
Rahm points out that while we might not see players forced to punch out from thick fairway rough like in past U.S. Opens, the USGA seems to have saved the nastiest rough for just around the Country Club’s tiny greens. Meaning, if you miss the fairways from the tee, you will be able to get a club on your approach shot, but good luck hitting the green. And if you miss these green, good luck getting up and down.
“The greens are definitely the big defence. Rough is a given at U.S. Opens but there’s lots of slopes in the greens and you’ve got to know where to miss it,” Canadian Nick Taylor said on Wednesday. “I haven’t really played in any of the U.S. Opens that have gotten out of control, but with the greens as slopey as they are, obviously if you put dicey pins with fast greens it could get a little unfair. But the course seems right where they want it to be. Holes five through nine you’ll have some chances but you’ll be happy with a lot of pars on the back nine.”
At just over 7,200 yards, and with players able to advance their ball fairly easily from the fairway rough, The Country Club isn’t going to scare players with its length. It’s going to be a delicate balance all week for the USGA with so much of the course’s defence riding on the green complexes.
“I hope they’ve learned their lessons from the past,” Taylor said of the USGA.
That’s the question that will be answered over the next four days.
“This golf course, it’s as close to perfect as what we could want for a U.S. Open,” Bodenhamer said.