A Viewer’s Notebook: Guide to Round 2 at U.S. Open

Erin Hills-US Open-4th hole David Cannon/Getty Images

A Viewer’s Notebook: Guide to Round 2 at U.S. Open

PGA Tour

A Viewer’s Notebook: Guide to Round 2 at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. – After record-setting scoring the first round, the U.S. Golf Association is holding firm – or at least letting the ground firm up – when it comes to second round setup. Nothing too dramatic by way of response to a record 44 rounds under par on opening day. Here’s what to look for from the comforts of home:

  • 1. Still long but not longest: The par-72 layout will play 7,839 yards Friday, six yards less than round one’s U.S. Open record length. There’s no reason to worry much about length as an obstacle to scoring. Average drive Thursday was 294 yards, with 98 out of 156 players averaging 300+ yards off the tee, led by amateur Cameron Champ, who averaged 349 yards on the two measured holes on his way to a very impressive 2-under 70.
  • 2. Faster: As variously measured in terms of moisture levels and physical firmness, the greens are drying out and getting a little harder. Thursday, the green speeds started out at 12.5 to 13 on the Stimpmeter and lost 6-7 inches of speed during the day. Friday, they’re half-a-foot faster, roughly 12.8-13.5 before they lose some speed.
  • 3. Firmer: It takes the course a day and half to dry out from an inch of rain, so the hope here is the forecast for potential showers Saturday doesn’t pan out. The greens are still softer – more receptive – than the USGA wants. There’s nothing they can do but wait out and hope for more wind and less humidity. They can also double cut and roll the greens morning and afternoon, which helps somewhat as well. In any case, the greens will be firmer and less receptive to holding irons shots than Thursday. The ball will bounce more and roll more, which should produce scores maybe a half-shot higher average than Thursday’s 73.385.
  • 4. Some tricky hole locations: No wonder PGA Tour pros hate the USGA for its setups. On Tour, pros rarely face a 5-foot putt that breaks from outside the hole. PGA Tour specifications virtually mandate that the hole not be cut on a slope of more than 1.5 degrees. Sorry for the technical stuff here, but it’s all a matter of physics and topography. The USGA doesn’t shy away from setting the hole on slopes of 2-3 percent. It depends on the greens, of course. Last year at Oakmont, with greens rolling at 15 on the Stimpmeter, they had some hole cut on slopes of 3.5 percent. The slopes are less severe here, but still there are some cool spots that will force players to aim outside the hole from as close as 5 feet. For the first hole, a par 5 measuring 597 yards, there’s a front-right hole location that sits on a slope of 3 percent that will be hard to hold when approached from the on ramp. At the fifth hole, a 498-yard par 4, the hole is cut just behind a front bunker and sits on a down slope of 3.1 percent; should be hard to hold when played downwind, as the hole does Friday.
  • 5. Long 18th: Hard to believe that Thursday’s 18th hole, measuring 632 yards through minefields at the first-, second- and third-shot landing areas, played to an average score of 4.641, making it the easiest hole on the layout. Friday, it’s been stretched to 675 yards, which means players, even downwind, probably won’t be able to fly it over the fairway bunkers on the right as they did Thursday and reach the downhill kick point on the hole, achieving an average of 318 yards off the tee. It’s hard to imagine that from 632 yards, three dozen players were on, over or immediately around the green in two shots. If they start reaching the green in two Friday like they did Thursday, golf officials will be forced to admit what the rest of already know; the golf ball and that distances that pros hit it are out of control.
  • 6. No drivable par-4 Friday: Thursday, nearly everybody had a go at the green from the tee on the par-4 second hole, 330 yards in round one. (though only Rory McIlroy got there). Now it’s been stretched to 360 yards, making it out of reach from the tee because the carry to the kick point over the right fairway bunker is 287 – 20 feet uphill, into the prevailing wind. Forget it. The drive (or layup tee shot) will be played out to the left of the little hawthorn tree stuck into the hillside that’s used as an aiming point.
  • 7. They’ll finish in daylight: The good news is that average pace of play was 5 hours 13 minutes. Sounds like a lot, but consider that the course is an 8-9 mile walk. Pace of play was not slowed down dramatically as feared by searches for lost golf balls. That means they’ll finish in time today.
  • 8. Sleeper hole: Thursday, the big surprise was how hard the par-3 sixth hole was. The issue wasn’t its 252 yards, but the hole location, on an inaccessible slope. So the hole played the hardest out there, averaging 3.385. Today’s hole location is marginally more forgiving, a bit to the left, though the tee, 249 yards away, is actually at a more difficult angle. Friday, the par-4 fourth hole is likely to be extremely demanding. Thursday it played third-hardest out there, to an average score of 4.263. That’s likely to go up, since the hole location is back right, close to a run-up off behind that spills downward into steep fescue and a wetland. They won’t reach the swamp, but a lot of players will overshoot the narrow right ledge of green in use Friday. With the hole playing 456 yards Friday into the prevailing wind, there’s good reason to monitor this hole as the most demanding on the course in round two.

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