Silverman: Shinnecock Hills, Site Of US Open, Provides Extremely Tough Test

Historic Southampton Course Will Be Unforgiving

Steve Silverman
June 12, 2018 - 3:14 pm
Dustin Johnson hits out of a sand trap onto the second green during Tuesday's practice round for the 118th U.S. Open golf tournament on June 12, 2018, at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton.

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The U.S. Open is the kind of golf tournament that will bring the best golfers in the world to their knees.

If you look closely, you may see the same frustration on their faces that you see in your own golfing buddies after 18 holes of misery.

When the U.S. Open returns to New York, it is always special, and golf fans will be able to see the tournament unfold at Shinnecock Hills this week.

Instead of watching golfers slice and dice the course with birdie after birdie for four rounds, those who can keep it at even par or perhaps shoot 1 or 2 under for four rounds will have a chance to win.

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This is the most demanding golf tournament of the year, and it calls for consistency, accuracy, inventiveness and guts for those who are likely to be in contention on championship Sunday.

This is the way the U.S. Open has almost always been, and when there have been the rare occasions that the golfers have beaten the course, the United States Golf Association comes back with a vengeance in the years that follow.

That is just the case this year at Shinnecock, because the USGA was not pleased by what it saw last year at Erin Hills in Wisconsin. The wide fairways at that course allowed golfers to bomb away with impunity. Instead of paying a price for hitting a ball a few feet off course, the U.S. Open became a birdie fest that was won by Brooks Koepka with a score of 16 under par.

Seven players had scores of 10 under or better, and that just doesn’t work for the U.S. Open.

Shinnecock Hills is a par-70 course, and there have been some dramatic changes made so that players cannot run amok as they did in Wisconsin last year.

A huge physical change was made to the course, as thousands of yards of fairway was removed and replaced with tough fescue rough. The idea that players could just bomb away off the tee and then play their second shots was unacceptable. As a result of the changes made to Shinnecock, players who fail to hit the ball accurately off the tee will be punished with painfully tough second shots.

USGA chief executive Mike Davis explained what is expected from the participants at the U.S. Open.

“The U.S. Open really is, we consider, golf’s ultimate test, and accuracy is needed to play a bigger role in that,” Davis said.

There will be quite a bit of complaining and moaning after the first day of the tournament. Players won’t understand why fairways are narrower than they have been for any tournament all season and why the USGA wants to see players with scores that are in the high 70s and may reach 80 on occasion.

This is the tournament in which the USGA wants to see the course win, and it is a difficult challenge at this point. Golfers are simply better than they were 20, 30 or 40 years ago. They spend more time practicing and conditioning. While there are still a few heavyweights out on the tour, there are several like Koepka and Tiger Woods who have spent much of their careers in the gym adding muscle and getting in shape.

Additionally, equipment has gotten so much better over the years that today’s golfers have a huge advantage over those from their grandfather’s generation.

Can you imagine Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus playing with today’s advanced equipment? They might've set records that would never be touched.

Players such as Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler are capable of defeating this course, and Woods might be, too. He has been hitting the ball quite well in recent weeks, but his putter has not always cooperated.

There’s a chance this could be the week that Tiger comes back to form with the flat stick, and if it is, the interest level Saturday and Sunday will go through the roof.

The combination of a duel for the U.S. Open title that includes Woods on a course that will not back down from any of the biggest names is sensational theater.

The U.S. Open is  not about players who are shooting 62 or 63 with eight or nine birdies on their card. This tournament is about a player who needs to drain a 12-foot par putt on the last hole to send the tournament into a playoff.

It requires maximum confidence and concentration, and any player who lacks even a little bit in either category can find himself quivering like Jell-O at the end of the round.

Shinnecock Hills has withstood the test of time. It is one of the oldest courses in the country, and it has hosted four previous U.S. Opens, with the first in 1896 and the most recent in 2004.

This year’s U.S. Open will play at 7,445 yards, and there will be severe tests on nearly every hole. The rough will be thick and nasty, and the speed around the greens will cause additional issues with approach shots and putting.

Look for a score of even or slightly below par to win the U.S. Open. The best golfers in the world will be frustrated, but the accomplishment of earning the championship will be monumental.

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