Yes, they’ve planted grass and shoved dirt around to make the contours interesting and appealing, but under the veneer, Chambers Bay’s true nature hasn’t changed: This place is still as tough as a gravel pit.
And trying to shovel your way to a good score in Monday’s opening round of the U.S. Amateur golf tournament was about as difficult as working a day at the quarry.
The design and terrain make the course enough of a challenge, but the hot, dry conditions have turned the undulating greens into tiny, treacherous places.
“This is the toughest,” answered Bhavik Patel when asked where Chambers ranks among the courses he’s played. Patel, from Fresno State, was a semifinalist in last year’s Amateur.
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He finished with a respectable four-over-par 75 on Monday, but his scorecard reflected the wild nature of playing Chambers: Just seven pars, with eight bogeys, an eagle and two birdies.
“You can’t make any mental errors,” Patel said. “The wind swirls a little bit and then you’re afraid of hitting too much club and getting way past the pin.”
He gave an example: His 8-iron approach shot on No. 7 landed on the green and appeared headed for the flag, but it caught a swale, diverted back toward the front of the green, and picked up speed downhill before it ended up 50 yards away.
Lion Kim, a University of Michigan golfer who recently won the U.S. Amateur Public Links title, had his own adventure on No. 7. His second shot to the elevated green bounced on the front, but skittered onto the rise behind the green.
He tried a delicate chip from about 30 feet. It did nothing but pick up speed on its way off the green and down the hill, finally stopping 50 or 60 yards away. By the time it stopped, Kim had dropped to his back and was rubbing his eyes in disbelief.
“Well, if you’re above the pin, you’re dead meat,” said Kim, who finished with a 77. “But if you’re short, you’re dead meat. If this isn’t the toughest I’ve ever played, it’s right up there.”
Kim said that players believe that the USGA, already notorious for toughening up courses for championship competitions, is using these amateurs as guinea pigs to test conditions under tournament pressure for when Chambers plays host to the 2015 U.S. Open.
“Our practice round on Saturday was very close to unfair, maybe even unplayable,” Kim said, noting that the greens hadn’t been watered and were running close to “13 or 14” on the gauge that tests such things. Readings that high are reserved for Wal-Mart parking lots.
“I think they want to test things out to see just how far they can take it and still make it playable,” Kim said.
Some golfers managed to score, though.
Drew Kittleson, a runner-up two years ago, who earned berths at the Masters and U.S. Open as a result, shot an even-par 71, and his young playing partner, 18-year-old Patrick Cantlay (who will be a freshman at UCLA) came in at 1-under.
Kittleson said the break on his putt on No. 7 was so severe that when he addressed the ball, his back was to the hole. “It was about a 50-foot putt that I must have hit 80 feet,” Kittleson said.
The two compared their experiences on the tricky No. 1 hole, when both hit shots that looked perfectly on their way to the flag, only to see them hit the green and nosedive off a steep hill on the left side and leave them with 60-yard third shots.
“It’s extremely difficult,” Kittleson said. “I’m sure this will make a great venue for the U.S. Open. They may do a few things to it, maybe green it up a little for TV, or change the grass on the greens, but it will certainly be tough enough for them.”
The young Cantlay had advice for anybody dealing with the frustrations of shots gone awry at Chambers.
“You just have to forget them and move on to the next one,” he said.
Good advice for anybody trying to golf on a course that still thinks it’s a gravel pit.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org