Will we see a more sensible US Open set-up at Shinnecock?
There were several compelling storylines heading into the Masters but one that nobody saw coming was that perennial outsider Patrick Reed slipping into the Green Jacket.
Outsider, that is, in a social sense – because not many observers would doubt Reed’s ball-striking or competitive zeal.
There will be no career grand slam for Rory McIlroy then this year. Which means we are contractually obliged to move on to the US Open and Phil Mickelson’s annual attempt to complete his trophy cabinet.
After a bright start at Augusta, Lefty’s Masters chances evaporated in the second round. He looked shell-shocked afterwards, which says as much about how highly he rated his chances as it does about the mess he made of the 9th that day in running up a calamitous seven.
Last time out at Shinnecock Hills, Mickelson was prominent throughout the week. He eventually finished behind only Retief Goosen as the South African won his second US Open title in 2004. Rarely in recent years has he approached this major in such form and, as we know, he is the most dangerous of golfers to discount.
Much the same can be said of Tiger Woods, exactly 10 years on from his most recent major success, at Torrey Pines.
While the 42-year-old’s form in the early part of the year has been hugely encouraging, it is a sobering thought that this could be his last US Open.
The USGA’s champions earn a 10-year exemption and with a current world ranking of 80, there is much work still to do before he can start planning his schedule around the majors, as he used to do for so long.
A footnote is that he finished a lowly – by his extraordinary standards – 17th at Shinnecock 14 years ago.
If not the two old timers, then, who is most likely to emerge in New York state?
Well, the idea that US Opens are dominated by steady, accurate players is now a shibboleth.
The last three champions, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, are hardly known for their driving accuracy – or their conservative play from the tee for that matter.
In recent years, the USGA have vacillated between their most venerable venues and brand-new designs hosting their first majors. If we go back to 2013, when Justin Rose won at Merion (yes, that is now five years ago) and the year after at Pinehurst, there appears to be a theme – but then came Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, with Oakmont in between.
Now we return to Shinnecock Hills, on Long Island. This is as traditional as it gets in America, claiming to be the ‘oldest formally organised golf club’ in the country.
It will be considerably longer than it was in 2004 at over 7,400 yards but length is unlikely to be the most decisive factor.
Expect Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, to oversee a fast and firm set-up.
Davis appears to be obsessed with the notion that US Open venues should be turned into approximations of links courses.
Shinnecock Hills’ normally wide-open expanses of fairways have been turned into corridors between fields of fescue, while little collars around the bunkers will prevent a repeat of last time, when players were routinely putting off greens and into sand.
It would be a travesty if anything like that was allowed to happen again. Shinnecock Hills, designed in its current form by William Flynn in the 1930s, is among the best courses in the world of golf, let alone America.
Surely the USGA are wiser now – but then again, after Koepka finished at a staggering 16-under a year ago, anything is possible should the governing body be in a vengeful frame of mind.