5 Things: The ins and outs of Congressional
BETHESDA, Md. – When following the U.S. Open on screen, whether digitally or visually, here are Five Things to look for about how the course is playing. As strong of a playing surface as Congressional presents, there are some areas that will really test a player’s ability to adjust.
1.) 10th-tee blues: The toughest shot this week will be the opening tee shot on the 10th tee, the 218-yard par-3 across water to a green that is pretty shallow from back to front. With split times and players going off the first and 10th holes, every player will face this daunting opening swing once this week. But pity the morning players who have to face it before their bodies are likely to be fully tuned. We’ll try to track the statistical difference here, but watch for a shot differential between those who play it first and those who play it as their 10th hole.
2.) Toast: If the edges of greens look as though they’ve been through a toaster, the discoloration is real. Something’s going on with these putting surfaces, whose bentgrass surfaces are only 2 years old after yet another rebuild. Maybe it’s the heat stress from a week ago. It doesn’t help that there’s shade on some of these greens; turns out that a central part of the course has been designated as a forest preserve by county authorities, so “tree management” is difficult.
An effort to get these greens rolling at speeds of 13-14 on the Stimpmeter has further beaten them into near submission. They’ll get through the Open, but some of them – especially the ninth, 12th, 13th and 16th greens – appear to be gasping for life.
3.) Edge of doom: If the first day’s hole locations are an indication, expect the USGA to favor pin placements on the edge. Thursday’s pin sheet shows only one flag in the middle of the green – on the uphill, 233-yard, par-3 second hole. Everything else is close to the edge, though equally balanced right and left. Every other hole location is within single-digit yards from the edge, with eight of the greens presenting hole locations five aces or less to the edge. It will take discipline to play for the centers of greens and avoid the temptation of playing too close to nearby falloffs.
4.) Divot city: The fairways are in good shape, but on a few holes where everybody drives it or lays up, the ball seems to pocket and will leave a badly pockmarked field of divots. Even when sand-filled, they can make for trouble on the approach shots. Watch for this on the par-5 ninth hole, 636 yards long, where golfers play their second shot to a point above the ravine, 120-130 out from the green. It’ll also happen on the par-4 17th hole, 436 yards, where players will all lay up with a fairway metal or long iron to a concave part of the fairway 150-160 yards from the green.
5.) Buried lies: Players hate them because they eliminate crisp bunker play and make you feel like you’re flailing out of the sand, but this week the bunkers are fluffy. This won’t be as big of a problem on fairway bunkers snagging drives, but greenside, where approach shots come in on a high trajectory, the bunkers are going to be a problem. The sand particles are round, not sharp and angular. They’ve been fluffed up by hand raking. And there’s an awful lot of sand in there. That means the occasional buried lie or fried egg and a subsequent loss of control on recovery shots.