About half the field won’t even know they are playing until a week before, and most others will have limited knowledge and practice on the course for next month’s U.S. Open.
UNIVERSITY PLACE — When the world gets its first view of Chambers Bay golf course during U.S. Open week June 15-21, it also will be new to the vast majority of the players they will be watching.
About half of the field won’t even know they are playing in the event until a week before. And of the players who can count on being in the field, most of them decided not to get an early peek at the course before coming to the event.
Rory McIlroy, the world’s top-ranked player, had a typical answer when at the Masters. He said he knew nothing about the course and would not be coming until setting up base the weekend before the event.
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Players in the U.S. Open field can play a complimentary practice round prior to the start of the championship assuming there is availability at Chambers Bay (it closes to the public after May 25). Players call the U.S. Open player services office, which works with Chambers Bay on finding a tee time.
So it’s clear that most players will arrive with little course knowledge. And here is the rub: Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA who will be in charge of course set-up, says course knowledge is paramount.
That’s because the U.S. Open has never been played on a venue such as this, a links-style course with many slopes, elevation changes and different ways to play each hole.
“I would contend that there is no way, no way, a player would have success here at Chambers Bay unless he really studies the golf course and learns it,” Davis said. “The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and having your caddie just walk it and using your yardage book, that person’s done.”
If that’s the case, the number of potential winners in the 156-man field would be narrowed considerably.
Phil Mickelson, who has finished second a record six times in the U.S. Open, said he will come out to the course after it closes to the public May 25. He has long been known to come to a major-championship venue several times beforehand but decided against it for this event.
“I’ll spend a little bit of time at Chambers Bay,” Mickelson said in April at the Masters. “But really, I think that when I played well and won at Muirfield (in the British Open) in 2013, I really didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on the golf course. I just got my game sharp, and I think I’ll probably take that approach more with Chambers Bay.”
More recently, after missing the cut at The Players Championship in May, Mickelson said, “I’ll go out there and see the course, and then I’ll play (in PGA Tour events) the two weeks prior to the Open to try to get my game sharp.”
And once here, he will rely heavily on what he learned.
“It seems like there’s going to be a lot of course knowledge that’ll be important to know the proper shot to play and where to leave it and what the best way to make par is on a lot of holes,” he said. “It seems like there’s a lot of subtleties and nuances, kind of like a (British Open) Championship, where there’s a lot of different ways to play certain holes and where to leave it is important.”
Responding to Davis’ comment that the player must really learn the course, Mickelson said, “I hope that’s the case, because it rewards the person that puts in the extra effort.”
Tiger Woods said after The Players Championship that he will come out early to Chambers Bay. A few players, including Henrik Stenson, the world’s third-ranked player, took a visit to the course before the World Championship Match Play event in San Francisco in early May.
Stenson did not play the course, choosing to walk the 18 holes and learning that way.
“I think it’s always good to have seen a course before you get there, because you know what’s expected of you when you’re coming there and what kind of shots you need to practice going in there,” he said. “I think it will definitely be worthwhile, the trip that I made, and I think the first time around a new course it’s probably a good thing, walking and not playing it.”
Stenson said the fact that course conditions in early June likely would be different than they were in early May was another reason not to play on his scouting mission.
That is why Puyallup’s Ryan Moore decided not to begin his preparation until he arrives the week before. He said coming earlier essentially would be a waste of time because the course would be in such a different condition. That is also why he downplays any advantage from having played the course a handful of times.
“I have not played the course like it will be at the U.S. Open,” he said. “When I played the course, the greens were rolling like a 7 or 7.5 on the Stimpmeter (the speed will be 12 to 12.5 at the U.S. Open). Sure, I know the slopes, but the course won’t play the same.”
Jordan Spieth, No. 2 in the world, played an unhappy round at Chambers Bay in the 2010 U.S. Amateur when the course got so firm (too firm, Davis admits) that a good score was impossible. Spieth, then 17, shot an 83 and did not advance to match play.
“The back nine was borderline unplayable for me at that time, given the length and lack of spin and height that I hit the ball,” he said.
But Spieth played again in the summer of 2013 before the wedding of his caddie Michael Greller, who not only lives in University Place but was a part-time caddie at Chambers Bay before taking the job with Spieth.
“I think having Michael know it so well is an advantage,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what to expect, but Michael has been out there walking it. He’s been walking with caddies, he’s been walking it with a lot of people that know the course very well. He’s already got a yardage book and marked some numbers down. So that’s about as experienced as we can be over the field, so I’m excited about it.”
For players such as Steve Stricker and Seattle native Fred Couples who are not already in the field and who have not played Chambers Bay, their attention has to be on qualifying. And if they make it, then they can worry about the course.
Then there are those such as Jimmy Walker, No. 12 in the world and in the field, who said at the Masters that he probably will start thinking about the U.S. Open when he gets here on Monday, June 15.
“I know nothing about it — haven’t been there, haven’t looked at it,” he said. “You’ve just got to go out and hit golf shots, it doesn’t matter where you play. I’ve played a lot of golf in my life blind, and I played good golf. It’s just about going out and hitting the shots you need to hit. Course knowledge helps, but you can get over that pretty quick.”