USGA’s Mike Davis eyes improvement in U.S. Open return to Shinnecock

U.S. Open trophy at Shinnecock HIlls David Dusek/Golfweek

USGA’s Mike Davis eyes improvement in U.S. Open return to Shinnecock

Golf

USGA’s Mike Davis eyes improvement in U.S. Open return to Shinnecock

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The last time we were here at Shinnecock Hills, things got ugly. So ugly that during the final round of the 2004 U.S. Open, while groups waited on the seventh tee and grounds crews frantically watered the dying grass, fans wagered in the stands on whether anyone would keep their tee shot on the putting surface.

Bad shots were repelled and, unfortunately, too many good shots landed on the green and then trickled down the slope and off the back edge.

Monday morning, as sunshine basked over Shinnecock and a steady wind blew, the U.S. Golf Association held its annual U.S. Open Championship media day and executive director Mike Davis made it clear that is not going happen again.

“It’s been 14 years, and it’s a different time, with different people,” Davis said. “When you set up a U.S. Open, it is golf’s ultimate test and is probably set up closer to the edge than any other event in golf. The difference between then and now is that we have a lot more technology and a lot more data. And frankly, what basically happened then was a lack of water.”

Davis said that with better weather forecasting, an improved ability to predict and monitor wind direction and moisture meters in the greens, the USGA should be able to maintain the course more effectively, pushing the game’s best players while maintaining fairness.

“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”

U.S. Open rough at Shinnecock Hills (David Dusek/Golfweek)

U.S. Open rough at Shinnecock Hills. (David Dusek/Golfweek)

Davis even joked that stroke control might have kicked in.

But this is still going to be a U.S. Open, an event that the USGA pridefully calls the toughest test in golf, and as courses go Shinnecock Hills is as blueblood as it gets. The club, which is 127 years old, was a founding member of the USGA and in 1896 hosted the second U.S. Open. The course has been strategically stretched to 7,445 yards leading up to this championship, to challenge the 156-player field and make them think.

“We didn’t add distance just to add distance,” Davis said. “What we really did, and we did it in concert with the club itself and also with some work with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, that architectural firm, is we really wanted to bring the shot value back to what (William) Flynn had designed in the late 1920s. So we looked at each drive zone and said, ‘what would it take to get the drive zone back into play?’ So I think we are excited because now all of a sudden some of the cross bunkers that are in play, some of the lateral bunkers that are in play or some of the shots, I mean take the second hole, it was always meant to be a long downwind par-3 that you can bounce the ball in. We now have that again.”

Shinnecock Hills has plenty of knee-high fescue rough lining the fairways. But Davis noted that many areas around the greens that had been rough are now closely mowed. That should not only make poorly struck shots finish farther from the hole, but also create an array of options for players looking to recover. Not necessarily easier shots, but more possible shots.

Davis said that he has no idea whether this U.S. Open will be won with an over-par score or an under-par score because the weather and how Shinnecock Hills will play is the ultimate variable.

“I’m a believer that the difference between a soft, still U.S. Open, in other words, it’s been raining, there’s no wind out there, versus a firm and windy one could be as much as 20 strokes,” Davis said. “I’m not exaggerating.”

But whether the course plays soft and long or firm and fast, if Davis and the USGA have anything to do with it, the U.S. Open is going to remain golf’s ultimate test.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home