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Friday, June 18, 2010


A U.S. Open Setup - Part II


By Ken Klavon, USGA

Pebble Beach, Calif.- On May 9, a chilly, dank day, four figures central to the USGA were followed by two Pebble Beach Golf Links employees as they headed to the 10th teeing ground.

The USGA's Mike Davis, Pat Gross, Jim Hyler and Tom O'Toole were here to finalize the setup that 156 players will see this week. Dalhamer and his assistant superintendent, Billy Hausche, are equally important, since no one knows the agronomy and nuances of Pebble Beach better.

As menacing clouds hung low like colorless cotton candy, some of the men shivered as they started their day's work at 6:30 a.m. As a cool wind blew through the cypress trees, superintendent Chris Dalhamer acknowledged the weather, but said he was used to it.

One day earlier, the group completed the first nine holes, concluding that they'd meet the next day to finish off the task. Just as he did the previous day, Davis, the USGA's senior director of Rules and Competitions, carries a clipboard full of notes under his arm.

In all, it took the group 457 minutes, or nearly eight hours, to put everything but the bow on Pebble Beach. Final touches have been made this week with the group doing a couple more walkthroughs.

The following narrative is intended to provide a window into what the USGA does, to show how a championship course comes together and to help explain the methodology. The USGA's philosophy is to identify the best golfer of the week through an arduous process that tests every facet of the player's game. Moreover, it's about creating a firm yet fair course. This is the second of two parts.

Hole 10

This is the last hole in an arduous stretch known as the "Cliffs of Doom." The 10th will play to 495 yards from a newly built back teeing ground, which excites Davis. The fairway was also widened. That's contrary to the adage that all U.S. Open fairways are tight. "We took the fairway to the ocean on the right," says Davis.

Dalhamer joins in, adding that the kikuyu down along the slope is there to "restore and keep the coastline intact."

The group comes to the green, satisfied with the progress on the hole.

Like fine-tuned fiddlers, everyone jumps into action. Hyler and O'Toole bisect the green with a tape measure; Gross grabs a Stimpmeter and announces to no one in particular what the greens are running; and Davis starts marking down the number of paces related to potential hole locations.

"The putting green contour follows the natural slope of the hole," says Davis. "A fairly significant left-to-right slope makes bailout left of the green an unlikely par save."

Hole 11

For whatever reason, the talk turns toward a mythical target score that the USGA would like to reap from its setup. That's pure balderdash, according to the group.

"We have no target score for the Open," says Hyler. "We do want the course to be hard but play fair."

Said O'Toole, in his first year as the Championship Committee chairman: "We are not affixed to one number versus another. It's what the site gives us, what we're able to do as it relates to testing these great players."

O'Toole is asked whether he's nervous about his new role. Nervous or anxious wouldn't accurately describe his feelings. "Humble would be the word," says O'Toole. "Humbled to be asked to fill such a position."

Soon the attention turns toward the 390-yard par 4. It plays mostly uphill. Many of the short-iron approach shots, says Davis, will be played over a deep bunker that fronts a severely-sloped green.

Hole 12

The 202-yard par-3 12th generally plays back into the wind. Davis calls it sneaky. Hyler wonders aloud about the sand in a bunker and whether it will be fluffed to U.S. Open specifications. It will.

"We think bunkers are hazards," says Hyler. "Therefore we like the sand and the bunkers to be a little fluffy."

Davis inquires about some of the closely mown areas and Dalhamer's answer that seems to satisfy Davis.

Hole 13

Davis lauds No. 13 with its new tee some 45 yards back. The tee shot will require a carry of 245-260 yards over a cross bunker and into a prevailing wind. The sight lines are a thing of beauty, the way the hole was intended to play in Davis' estimation.

Gross quickly makes another point. "You're not only playing into a prevailing wind, but there is a subtle elevation change." Meaning that it's characteristic of other holes on the course that play longer than they seem.

The group seems to have difficulty finding hole locations at first. The digital level is fine for locating overly undulated areas on the green, and this seems to fill the bill until Davis and Hyler move flags around.

Hole 14

At 580 yards, this par 5 is likely to play as one of the toughest holes during the Open.

"The tee shot is played to a blind drive zone that is guarded on both sides by the bunker," says Davis.

The right side of the putting green is a false putting surface where most balls roll back to the front of the green. And the left side sits high in the air, protected on all four sides. Trying to squeeze a ball in is like threading a needle.

Hole 15

This 397-yard par 4 offers a real chance at birdie. Thus it could be considered a scoring hole. The group stands on the teeing ground, reviewing the sight lines before Davis talks about the blind tee shot. Players need to be careful to avoid a pot bunker in the fairway; otherwise they will be in solid shape.

As they step off the teeing ground, Dalhamer discusses the change in elevation. Players will be looking downhill without really knowing it, he says. "You are looking at roughly 20 feet downhill."

On the green, there's little discussion as they go about their business until they realize two hole locations are too close together. With that, O'Toole and Hyler begin counting paces from the edges. Soon they have what they need. Only three more holes left.

No. 16

A short par 4, the 16th is similar to the previous hole in that players can score if they play each hole correctly.

"The typical tee shot will be a layup of roughly 230-240 yards to avoid two penal bunkers on the right and a downhill lie on the left," Davis says.

It's imperative that players don't miss approach shots long or to the right. If so, any scoring opportunity flies out the window and a potential birdie could become a bogey.

The group spends 35 minutes on this hole.

No. 17

There's something about this par 3 that creates magical U.S. Open moments. There's Nicklaus' 1-iron shot that hopped and hit the flagstick in the 1972 U.S. Open. There's Tom Watson's chip-in from the rough in the 1982 Open. The hole plays toward the ocean and a bunker guards the hourglass-shaped green.

"Let's see if we can get one hole location up as far as we can without it being goofy," says Davis.

The hole is going to typically play at 208 yards, mostly into a right-to-left wind. Birdie is a possibility but, Hyler adds, players need to be on their game. It takes the group 18 minutes to set up.

Hole 18

One of the most recognizable and dramatic closing holes in golf, the par-5 18tht has Carmel Bay running down the entire left side. "Although the hole should play into the wind," Davis says, "most players under normal conditions can get home with two well-executed shots."

This hole is the perfect example of the risk-reward scenario the USGA promotes. Players can play conservatively and get to the green in three shots or go for it in two. However, miss the green in two and it could be costly.

The group moves up the fairway until they come to a tree. Davis talks about players needing to drive it to the tree, roughly 260 yards from the green, to have a chance to get on in two.

"Or you pay the price," says O'Toole. Davis goes on to explain that players won't be able to bail out to the right or they'll be in the deep rough. On the left is the ocean.

"That's a big part of the Open - the mental aspect," says Hyler. "It's a four-day grind. It's hard. It's a lot of pressure to win the national championship."

The thinking is that with big swings on the leader board, the final hole may end up deciding it.

They move onto the green, each doing their job as usual. Davis pipes up that "if we get a prediction for a hard wind, we'll be conservative" with regard to hole locations. But they plot them out as though there won't be.

When the final pacing is marked off, the four men collect their things and call it quits. It's been a long, but productive and rewarding two days.

Ken Klavon is the USGA's online editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at kklavon@usga.org.

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