The guru in charge of setting up this long, sandy, hilly, widest-ever, one-of-a-kind course for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay admits he’s nervous about how the course will play on Thursday.
“To be honest, there is some anxiousness, and some excitement,” said Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA on Wednesday.
As he was speaking, 22-year-old amateur Denny McCarthy was taking his ball out of the hole and the nearby crowd was roaring over his hole-in-one on No. 9. McCarthy is just played his final season at the University of Virginia, showing anyone of any experience and pedigree can succeed or fail at unpredictable Chambers Bay.
“One hundred twenty years, we haven’t been here,” Davis said of the Northwest, and of Chambers Bay in particular. “It’s very different. It’s wide. There’s more elevation change than any Open we’ve seen.”
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Another source of Davis’ anxiety is how firm an already-fast track has gotten during one of the driest and warmest springs the Northwest has had in years. And there’s very little chance of rain, and huge chances for more warm sun through Sunday’s final round.
Tiger Woods believes Chambers Bay’s link-style course will play fair for this Open — unless it gets too firm.
“The only reason why it would get unfair is if it dried out too much,” the three-time U.S. Open champion said. “The green speeds are going to be probably what they’re going to be right now. But if it dries out too much, then you’ll see some weird bounces and some awkward putts.
“If they can keep it receptive at this speed then it’s going to be a great championship.”
Davis noted that while there is a little chance of rain the forecasts are calling for relatively light, southwest winds — the norm off Puget Sound in University Place — of about one club’s worth on Friday but then north winds Saturday and Sunday.
“It will be interesting because it’s going to show this golf course very differently,” Davis said. “And from a player’s standpoint, getting a southwest wind versus a north wind, some holes literally play almost opposite.”
Much has been made about Davis’ switching the pars between 4 and 5 on the first1st and 18th holes for this Open. That will depend on which tee boxes he decides to use. No. 18 has one that is 100 yards further back than the other. Using that pushes the hole to 604 yards away from the tee. Fans might wish for a van to follow the action at that length.
“It’s unlike any other major championship I’ve ever had to prepare for,” said Woods, the winner of 14 of them.
Davis says he already knows which pars he’s going to use for No. 1 and No. 18 on Thursday. He added coyly that “the players will find out tomorrow morning.”
Other highlights from the press conference:
• DavisHe said Chambers Bay will play between 7,300 and 7,700 yards each day. Davis said he never intended to stage any round of this championship at the course’s full length of 7,900 yards from all the new, back tees.
• Davis is estimating a round will take 4four hours, and 45 minutes to play at the shortest, and that’s for groups leading off rounds with no one in front of them. So expect some rounds approaching 51/2½ hours.
That should make Fox television happy; it is broadcasting the ends of rounds in primetime back to the East Coast. That’s no small consideration. This is the first year Fox has had the U.S. Open. The network has a new, 12-year contract with the USGA worth about $100 million per year.
“And we think 4:45 is a very reasonable time,” Davis said. “I will also tell you that there’s a lot of research that goes into this. We have this year 21 minutes worth of walking time between greens and tees. Put that in perspective: Last year at Pinehurst, we had 13 and a half minutes. Merion the year before 11 minutes.”
• The USGA also announced the total purse for this year’s Open is $10 million. That’s up $2 million from last year at Pinehurst.