Nobody wins a U.S. Open unless they withstand a wave of challenges. At Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, par 70, 6,996 yards, those assaults can come in various forms, such as the first-round Nor’easter storm in 1986 that brought 30 mph winds, lashing rains and an average score of 77.94. For the 1995 U.S. Open, only the 537-yard, par-5 fifth hole played under par (average score: 4.724).
Forget about uniform bunkers. Shinnecock Hills is old fashioned, with the sand depth and particle size in each hazard slightly different and thus requiring adjustment (that’s why they play practice rounds). Reclaimed putting surfaces actually will bring adjacent bunkers more into play than before. The U.S. Golf Association also has delineated fairway contour lines, 25-28 yards wide at major landing areas, to make fairway bunkers more of a factor. Here’s a look at four holes that might prove pivotal to championship.
-No. 9, Par 4, 443 yards
“Ben Nevis,” (average score in 1995: 4.33).
This hole brushes up closer to the famed clubhouse than any at Shinnecock Hills and usually plays into a crosswind. The ideal drive targets the clubhouse’s second chimney, to a fairway that looks like it’s in motion. The second shot is steeply uphill from a fairway that slopes right to left, to the most sharply contoured putting surface on the course. Approaches played to the front will roll down; anything played from above the hole will need Super Glue to stay on.
-No. 114, Par 34, 158 yards
“Hill Head,” (average score in 1995: 3.19).
Tightly bunkered, uphill, to a plateau green that even with the restoration of a back-right shelf is still the smallest on the course. The reclaimed hole placements on the perimeter will bring the deep greenside bunkers even more into play than before. Shots hit long will find the steep slope behind the green and will be a challenge to get up-and-down.
-No. 14, Par 4, 443 yards
“Thom’s Elbow,” (average score in 1995: 4.20).
A snaky, uphill hole through a natural valley that recently has been cleared of trees to open up views and bring the wind more into play. The fairway has been swung left to allow balls that start down the right side to get hung up in 4-inch rough. The shift also brings into play two ominous fairway bunkers at 240 and 300 yards off the tee.
-No. 164, Par 54, 540 yards
“Shinnecock,” (average score in 1995: 5.123).
Usually unreachable in two, given the strong prevailing headwind. This is where Ray Floyd sealed his 1986 victory with a knock-down 8-iron for birdie and where Phil Mickelson fumbled his chances in ’95 when he missed the green wide right. Bunker complexes at the first and second landing areas are factors. A newly expanded right side of the green hangsprecipitously over bunkers and makes the approach shot an all-or-nothing affair. The hole has 20 bunkers, including 10 around the green.