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US Open test

Formidable but fair: This is exactly what we want from a US Open test

It rewards and punishes without fear or favour. Pinehurst No. 2 could be the best US Open venue we’ve seen in years

 

The excuses started early. The clock had barely ticked into the afternoon of the opening practice day before Wyndham Clark declared Pinehurst No. 2’s greens to be “already borderline”.

Shinnecock Hills here we come.

But the days of USGA savagery in the single-minded pursuit of even par seem to be tempered, and Pinehurst could be the perfect evolution. A course that brutalises but rewards too.

It certainly feels as far away from the stereotypical US Open test as you could imagine – wide fairways but almost no rough.

Replacing that traditional threat are sandy waste areas where the bounce of the ball determines whether you’ve got a clean lie or no shot at all – whether you can go for the green or have to take a bitter pill.

“What’s all in there is what Donald Ross called ‘the perfect rough’,” said USGA chief championship officer John Bodenhamer in the governing body’s pre-tournament press conference.

“Why? Because when a player hits a shot into those sandy natural areas, it’s a walk up that fairway of a bit of anxiety, a bit of emotion, because they don’t know what they’re going to get.

“The randomness of that, it’s not just five-inch green lush rough. It can be something gnarly, wire grass, or it can be a perfect sandy lie.

“I think you’re going to see some players walk to their golf ball and be unhappy, and others are going to be thrilled that they can spin their ball off of those tight sandy areas. We think that is pretty cool, and we think that is exactly what Donald Ross intended.”

That’s certainly what we’ve seen from the opening day.

US Open test

US Open test: ‘Staying very disciplined is important’

Then there are those green complexes, severely sloped in some, others like upturned bowl. They repel any shot that doesn’t find the right spot.

“It’s tough out here,” said Sam Bennett after kicking off his US Open campaign with a first round 69. “First you’ve got to put it in the fairway and then a good shot might be 40 feet away.

“Then I was just playing conservatively into the greens and then trying to grab my two-putt. I know how much par has value this week. Bogeys aren’t going to hurt, either. My goal is no double chips and no three-putts, and I did both of those today, which is solid.”

We’re here for it. Pinehurst No. 2 hasn’t cut deep yet like an Oakmont. Leader Patrick Cantlay and Ludvig Aberg in particular, showed what’s possible when you negotiate Ross’s North Carolina masterpiece in the correct fashion.

“I think staying very disciplined is important,” said Aberg. “There’s a lot of pins you don’t really think about going for. So me and Joe, my caddie, we have a lot of good conversations about certain areas that you try to hit it on.

“It’s difficult to be very, very precise with the numbers and those things. But try to get a gauge on where to hit it, where to miss it, make sure that we stay disciplined towards things.”

Of course, you can find detractors. You could argue Ross never designed the greens with these kind of modern speeds in mind, or for the ball to run off as quickly as it does if it takes a slightly firm bounce.

While it is difficult, though, it’s far from impossible as Tiger Woods, even on the back of a four-over-par 74, explained: “The greens are right where they want ’em. A lot of the pins were right up on the crest of the green.

“If you dumped the ball in the middle of the green, it was into the grain and then downgrain. That’s how the golf course is going to be set up.

“We know that going in here. Just a matter of putting the ball in correct spots and just making a bunch of pars and occasionally a birdie here and there. It can be done.”

It’s a fine balance, of course. Spreading water on the opening day brings the risk that – as we saw on Shinnecock Saturday in 2018 – these greens could easily become farcical without strict monitoring. They’re already running between 13 and 14.

And there’s always the thought the USGA have yet to show their full hand and could turn the screw if scoring gets lower than they’d wish.

But right now, Pinehurst No. 2 is exactly as where should be. Play well and birdies can follow. Fail to do that and prepare to suffer on the scorecard.

It’s formidable, but still fair. This is exactly what we want from a US Open test.

Main picture courtesy of the USGA

Now have your say

What have you made of Pinehurst No. 2 so far? Are you enjoying the US Open test it is providing? Why not let me know your thoughts with a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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