Pinehurst No. 2 is anything but perfect for the U.S. Open, at least in the traditional sense of major championships in America.
The US Open will NOT be played this year at one of those perfectly maintained “stadium courses” where the entire leaderboard is under par. This is a real TEST of golf. Sort of an inland version of those “links” courses that dot both sides of the Atlantic plus Peeble Beach on the West Coast.
Shortly after Pinehurst No. 2 was awarded its third U.S. Open in 15 years — the most for any golf course in more than a century — the USGA signed off on a project to restore the course to its natural look, with sandy areas of wiregrass bushes and natural vegetation where there once was gnarly rough. A U.S. Open without rough? That sounds as strange as a British Open without pot bunkers.
The USGA calls it “undergrowth”, Pinehurst Resort officials refer to it as “natural vegetation,” others call it weeds. The project required more than 35 acres of turf being removed, and only 450 of the 1,150 sprinkler heads remain.
Golf is getting used to not having Tiger Woods around. He hasn’t played in three months and already missed the Masters for the first time in his career. The notion of Phil Mickelson winning a U.S. Open at Pinehurst — any U.S. Open, for that matter — is more than enough to fill the void. However, seeing him at The Memorial last week, I think he is going after a tie with Sam Snead as a great “also ran” in US Open history.
Justin Rose is the defending champion, the latest player to have a chance to join Curtis Strange as the only back-to-back U.S. Open champions in the last 60 years. Bubba Watson, the Masters champion and No. 3 player in the world, is the only player capable of the calendar Grand Slam. The story lines haven’t changed much this year. Pinehurst, however, is still the main attraction for this U.S. Open.
The edges of the bunkers are ragged. The turf is uneven just off some of the greens, with patches of no grass. Instead of verdant fairways from tee-to-green, the fairways are a blend of green, yellow and brown.
The past two U.S. Open champons finished over par — Webb Simpson at Olympic Club, Justin Rose at Merion, both at 1-over. A third straight U.S. Open champion over par would be the longest streak in nearly 60 years.