Strange on Pinehurst's charm, favorites at U.S. Open

Curtis Strange is a part of ESPN's broadcasting crew on the grounds at Pinehurst No. 2 for the 2014 U.S. Open.
Curtis Strange is a part of ESPN's broadcasting crew on the grounds at Pinehurst No. 2 for the 2014 U.S. Open. ( Courtesy of ESPN )

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. – Curtis Strange didn't win one of his back-to-back U.S. Open titles at Pinehurst No. 2, but his affection for the venue was obvious a mere 30 seconds into an exclusive one-on-one interview with Golfweek last week.

"It's my all-time favorite," said Strange, 59, a World Golf Hall of Fame member who won U.S. Open titles in 1988 and '89. "I played it last week. It's interesting. Every hole has its own character. Nothing looks the same. It's a wonderful layout."

Strange, a member of ESPN's television crew that will bring live coverage from North Carolina starting Thursday, is a fan of Pinehurst's old-school look and feel – a year after being disappointed by the setup at Merion, the 2013 U.S. Open venue.

"You need to defend a course by making the player drive it in the fairway and an iron into the green," Strange said. "Not be trickery or questionable hole locations. Or moving fairways like Merion did last year. It loses the integrity of the hole from the designer.

"Merion is such a great golf course, but they moved some of the landing positions (off the tee) into the rough. People don't understand that you can defend the golf course by doing little things like that.

"You could design the hardest course, but that doesn't mean it is a good golf course."

Strange opened up about a variety of topics in the photo interview, including players whom he thinks the world should keep an eye on at Pinehurst:

• • •

You played Pinehurst last week, so what should the players expect to see?

"Not much has changed. About 10 new tees are in, but the routing, the design, the greens are all the same. The fairways are a bit wider, but they are not going to play that wide.

"Everything outside the fairway is sand, wiregrass – basically undergrowth. It's basically weeds. I was surprised. I thought it'd just be sand and wiregrass, but anything grows (in the rough) . . . tall weeds, low weeds. I guess they decided to just let it grow. It's going to be rough and penal."

• • •

Whom does the course favor this week?

"You have to think strategic placement around Pinehurst, especially angles into the greens. Accuracy with your short game is going to be key. Yes, you have to be able to get it out there (off the tee). But the greens aren't large to start with, and they are going to be plenty firm, if the weather allows. The area that you have to land it in (on the greens), it shrinks because of the firmness, so having shorter irons will lead to consistently putting for makeable birdies.

"Having said that, a big hitter that's putting in the fairway is going to be tough to beat."

• • •

U.S. Open courses can be brutal, yet you won back-to-back. What does it take to win a U.S. Open?

"Comes back to the same ol', same ol' . . . experience. You learn how to play a U.S. Open golf course. A big hitter must put it in the fairway instead of bombing.

"Your patience level has to change completely. You expect to make four to five birdies a round on the PGA Tour. But in the U.S. Open, par is a good score. You have to take advantage of the few looks at birdies. When you miss a fairway, you have to salvage par any way you can. You can miss a green on Tour and get aggravated with yourself. You can't do that at a U.S. Open. You must stay focused, change gears and salvage par.

"The U.S. Open will identify any problems you have with your game."

• • •

What's more important: being mentally or physically superior?

"You have to come into a U.S. Open well-rested mentally. You can go out there and do your work physically, but you really can't do more to get ready for a U.S. Open. It's a tough grind. The U.S. Open is a marathon."

• • •

Whom have you identified as a favorite this week at Pinehurst No. 2?

"Adam Scott has plenty of game to do well there. Justin Rose won last year and is capable of doing that this year. Rory McIlroy, it's fun to watch him play better. And then there's an interesting group of players that have not won a major, but are certainly capable, like Matt Kuchar . . . Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed – a lot of young players.

"The big question is Bubba (Watson). He's interesting to me. You wouldn't think that he'd ever be a U.S. Open champion, but that's selling him a little short. He won the Masters twice. He's done well. We thought the same things about Phil Mickelson."

• • •

How does winning the U.S. Open rank against other majors?

"That's a loaded question with me. It is always great fun to go to Augusta. It's the same course. and you know everything about it. You see the people once a year under the oak tree. But the U.S. Open, it's the national championship. It doesn't have the glitz that Augusta has, or maybe the excitement, or maybe even the beauty. But it's your national championship, and there are some pretty good names on that trophy. It's the biggest thing you could ever do (in American golf)."

• • •

You'll be a part of ESPN's coverage of the U.S. Open. What are your thoughts on Tiger Woods' absence and what it does for the rest of the field?

"I think viewership will be fine. Give these other players credit. Give Pinehurst credit. A great champion will survive four days at No. 2. Sure, Tiger's name will come up once per day; it's hard not to. He has been such a dominant figure. And he's still at an age where he could still win majors. But I've always given the other guys credit." readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.