It’s a tradition here pre-U.S. Open: counting down the holes until Shinnecock Hills hosts a fourth modern-era U.S. Open over its magnificent William Flynn design.
Lengthened to 589, the first par-5 at Shinnecock Hills is a niftily designed double fairway hole with a cool decision installed by architect William Flynn. When the hole was envisioned, Flynn was thinking of risk-reward dynamics that made the lay-up easier.
Unfortunately, even with the hole 54 yards longer than it was in 1986, 1995 and 2004–despite the claimed flatlining of distance since 2003–the player’s tee shot decision is muted by modern driving distances. From there, the dynamics of the second shot and green take on totally different meaning.
This is not a big deal if you think a test is all about power and hitting from point A to point B. But if decision-making and going to great trouble to return to Shinnecock Hills to ask more sophisticated design questions is the USGA’s goal, then the 5th provides a fine example of a losing battle for classic architecture.
The flyover of Shinnecock Hills’ fifth:
The USGA’s Mike Davis addressed the effort to get landing areas relevant again with new tees:
“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.”
Lengthened 30 yards for the U.S. Open’s return in 1986, Flynn’s fifth hole strategy is worth savoring even if it’s not as his team envisioned. The player unwilling to take on the carry to the left fairway is forced to play right, lengthening the next shot and bringing a fairway bunker into play, possibly forcing another safe shot. While the player who lands in the alternate fairway shortens the hole, improves the second shot view and in general, is high on life.
Basic but interesting strategy, that must have been even more clever when 250 yards was a big poke but now lost. With the carry to the left fairway at 240 or so yards, only a stiff breeze into the players could make the tee shot decision relevant for a U.S. Open field.