2005: USGA aces Pinehurst

The 105th U.S. Open, contested over the famed Pinehurst No. 2, was the epitome of championship golf. This had to be a great relief to the U.S. Golf Association after the debacle last year at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

As Bradley S. Klein notes on Page 23, several subtle wrinkles were added to make Pinehurst, which is tough enough for even the above-average Joe, a worthy adversary for the world’s best golfers.

The primary cut of rough was raised to add elements of indecision and doubt to shots that otherwise would have been routine. High-tech mowing equipment enabled superintendent Paul Jett’s crew to grow secondary rough that swallowed errant shots. The USGA’s goal was to create rough that served up corporal, not capital, punishment. It succeeded: Players usually could advance the ball 100 yards or more, but not always in the desired direction.

Mowing heights in the run-off areas around greens also were increased slightly over those of 1999, when players invariably elected to putt from off the greens. Because the slopes weren’t shaved, contestants this year were more often compelled to consider the options of chipping or using fairway woods or utility clubs to bump the ball onto the putting surfaces.

No Sunday brown this year. Pinehurst’s greens were perfect, thanks to extraordinary weather and the fastidious attention paid by an army of resort staff and volunteer greenkeepers. Absent, too, was the moaning and carping of players. The course setup won universal praise; even the crusty areas – and there were lots of them – around the greens were accepted as minor nuisances.

Another successful innovation that was largely overlooked until Michael Campbell emerged as the winner was the implementation of international qualifying. Seven of the 11 players who got into the field via qualifiers in Japan and England made the cut, including Campbell. He acknowledged that had there not been a qualifying tournament in England, which the New Zealander now calls home, he would not have considered competing at Pinehurst.

The USGA said plans are in the works for U.S. Open local qualifying in Asia and Europe, which would further globalize America’s national championship.

The success of so many players from the international qualifiers makes the episode at last year’s first U.S. qualifier for the British Open all the more shameful.

Half of the field either withdrew or failed to show for the inaugural American session at Congressional Country Club. Twelve spots in the field at St. Andrews will be up for grabs when the Royal & Ancient Golf Club gives Americans a chance to redeem themselves June 27 at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J.

As for the U.S. Open, too bad it took the disaster at Shinnecock to grab the USGA’s attention and prompt reform.

When the organization sets its mind and applies its resources to the task at hand, nobody does it better. Anyone who saw the events unfold at Pinehurst can attest to that.

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