BSP-01 US Open returns to Shinnecock aiming to lay the ghost of 2004

428

ZCZC

BSP-01

GOLF-USA-OPEN

US Open returns to Shinnecock aiming to lay the ghost of 2004

NEW YORK, June 8, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – The US Golf Association vows there will
be no repeat of the fiasco of 2004 as the US Open Golf Championship returns
to Shinnecock Hills next week.

The historic course on New York’s Long Island last hosted the championship
14 years ago, when the USGA’s zeal for demanding course set-up backfired as
blistering winds dried and damaged the greens.

The par-three seventh, in particular, was virtually unplayable, even after
officials began watering the putting surface between groups.

“It was certainly a bogey last time, probably a double-bogey,” admits USGA
chief executive Mike Davis. “We had a situation where on some holes, and
particularly the seventh hole itself, we were watching well-executed shots
not being rewarded…I can assure you, that was not what the USGA wanted.”

Champion Retief Goosen of South Africa at four-under and runner-up Phil
Mickelson — two strokes back — were the only players to finish under par
that year. No one posted a sub-par round on Sunday, when the average score on
the par-70 layout was 78.7 strokes.

Although Davis says the USGA remains committed to making the US Open the
most searching test in golf, he said technological advances ensure that
course won’t tip over into unfairness.

“Nowadays we have got everything from firmness meters, we have got moisture
meters in the greens. The meteorology is better, so we not only know where
the winds are coming from but the velocities. And, frankly, there’s better
communication between the USGA and the grounds staff,” he said.

“When you set up a US Open, it is golf’s ultimate test, it’s probably set
up closer to the edge than any other event in golf. I think that the
difference then versus now is we have a lot more technology, a lot more data
in our hands.”

This year Shinnecock, which hosted the second US Open in 1896 and hosted
again in 1986 and 1995, will present a different face from that of 2004.

It will play 449 yards longer at 7,445 and more than 500 trees have been
removed, lending the course an open, windswept look.

At an average 41.6 yards across, the fairways are wide in comparison to the
26.6 yard average widths of the landing areas over the 1986, ’94 and ’04
Opens — although plans to leave them even wider were scrapped in September
as officials pondered the best way to keep accuracy off the tee at a premium.

“Phenomenal,” Mickelson said of the course after a practice round in May.
“It’s really well done. They renovated it a little bit and some of the
fairways are a little bit wider. Certainly the rough is as penalizing or more
so than I’ve seen it, but the fairways are fair and the greens are as healthy
as I’ve seen them.”

Mickelson, who lacks only a US Open to become just the sixth player in
history to win all four major championships, has six runner-up finishes in
the event.

He called the current Shinnecock “the greatest set-up I’ve seen in a US
Open”.

“It will reward the best player as opposed to having luck be a big element
on some of the bounces in the fairway, bounces around the green, how it comes
out of the rough, so forth.

“Skill is going to be the primary factor,” added Mickelson, whose game is
well-suited to Shinnecock.

– Tiger back in hunt? –

The 47-year-old five-time major winner ended a near five-year victory
drought with his win in the WGC-Mexico Championship, one of five top-six
finishes this year as he stamped himself a contender for the longed-for
trophy.

Tiger Woods, who claimed the last of his 14 major titles a decade ago at
the 2008 US Open, has gone from strength to strength in his comeback from
spinal fusion surgery, although he remains in search of his first win since
2013.

World number one Justin Thomas heads a list of contenders along with the
man he replaced at the summit, Dustin Johnson, and former No. 1 Rory McIlroy
— who has a victory, two runner-up finishes and three other top-10s this
season.

Patrick Reed arrives off a breakthrough major victory at the Masters, while
2013 champion Justin Rose appears to be peaking at the right time after a
victory in the Fort Worth Invitational in May.

Jordan Spieth has slipped down the world rankings without a win so far this
year, but his four top-10s included a storming run to third at Augusta
National.

Brooks Koepka, trying to become the first player since Curtis Strange in
1988-89 to win back to back US Opens, has shown solid form since missing 15
weeks with a wrist injury.

BSS/AFP/MRI/0844 hrs