PINEHURST, N.C. – There was one major flaw hanging over the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
The fairways were too wide.
U.S. Opens historically have been a test of driving accuracy. More than all other golf tournaments, they carry a well-earned reputation for narrow fairways and diabolical rough.
In U.S. Opens past, players were rewarded for driving the ball in the fairway and penalized for driving it off the fairway. The formula was pretty simple: Accuracy off the tee was a major predictor of success in the championship.
Not this time.
Pinehurst No. 2 had mammoth fairways. The rough was replaced by sand and wiregrass and other native plants. Competitors encountered few obstacles off the tee. With driver or 3-wood in their hands, they must have felt like it was the Indianapolis 500 — pedal to the metal for all four days.
Let’s take a close look at Fowler, who tied for second in the U.S. Open and won $789,330.
A total of 67 players made the 36-hole cut. At the end of four rounds, Rickie Fowler beat only 4 of them in driving accuracy. He drove it all over the place, yet he still tied for 10th in greens in regulation.
Fowler hit 59 percent of the fairways. Brendon De Jonge, who led the driving accuracy category, hit 88 percent of the fairways. Yet Fowler hit more greens.
Two observations: Perhaps De Jonge needs to work on his iron game; perhaps Fowler should write a thank-you letter to the U.S. Golf Association for eliminating the ball-catcher rough of previous U.S. Opens.
This was the kinder, gentler U.S. Open. At least from the tee. No wonder the USGA showed no hesitation in announcing a total U.S. Open yardage of 7,562 with a par of 70.
DeJonge hit all 14 fairways in the first round (disregarding the par 3s). Looking at all four days, the 67 players who made the cut accumulated 22 separate rounds in which they hit either 13 or 14 fairways.
The figures from the U.S. Women’s open were similar. Rikako Morita led the way by hitting 89 percent of the fairways. Among 71 women who made the 36-hole cut, there were 21 separate rounds in which players hit 13 or 14 fairways.
There was no relationship between fairways hit and success in the Women’s Open. Neither Michelle Wie, who won, nor Lexi Thompson, who tied for seventh, finished among the top 45 in driving accuracy.
Please, wake us up from this bad dream.
Today’s drivers and golf balls already produce straighter tee shots than ever before, but Pinehurst No. 2 displayed the added bonus of fairways wider than the Mississippi River. Well, it seemed that way.
Sure, Pinehurst was Pinehurst — the turtle-back greens were tough, and the USGA drove up the scores with some hole locations that were treacherous if not unfair.
Said Matt Kuchar, not known as a complainer: “You go out for the practice rounds, and you kind of guess where you think pins will be, and you kind of say, ‘Well, that’s too severe, they won’t put it there,’ and sure enough that’s where the pin is. There were several that I thought, ‘Man, it’s just mean, mean, what they’ve done.’ “
Hole locations aside, the course and its mega-fairways favored an aggressive style. The newly created natural areas, which replaced the traditional Bermuda rough at Pinehurst, offered little resistance.
Both winners, Martin Kaymer and Wie, are bombers. Kaymer was 7th in driving distance (average of 305.5 yards), while Wie was 10th (average of 258.9 yards).
Both played brilliant golf and deserved to win, but we should be worried that future U.S. Opens at Pinehurst can be dominated by power at the expense of driving accuracy and thoughtful strategy.
To discount fairways hit is to create a flaw in any U.S. Open.