Pinehurst is the oldest golf resort in the U.S., with an opening date of 1895. It’s seen its share of hooks and slice,s not to mention champions, since 1898 when the first nine-hole golf course opened. The crowning glory, though, has always been Donald Ross’s No. 2 course, which made its debut in 1907.
While other courses have been added over the years, it’s the famed No. 2 that has continued to capture most of the attention. With tree-lined fairways and crowned greens, No. 2 is all the golf even the best players can handle, particularly when the USGA is turned loose to make the greens faster than they were ever meant to play.
Here’s what Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson expect to see this week, starting with the greens.
“I’ve just briefly heard or read a little bit on the statistics from the last two Opens,” Spieth said. “And I can only imagine this one is going to be even more difficult to hit greens. But something like 58 percent or 60 percent was leading the field or around there. Maybe that was the average of the top 10 guys.”
“With the way these greens are, the green complexes, anything in the middle of the green is a really good shot. And you've more chance of making your par—making a two-putt from there, than if you go off the side of these greens,” McIlroy explained. “The worse thing you want to do is go long on these greens. If you're going to miss, you miss short.”
“These greens were built back in the early days when green speeds were a little slower,” Watson said. “So I believe that these green speeds we're putting them to and the firmness we're putting them to makes it unfriendly,”
In actuality, for many years the greens were sand, not grass.
“If you're going to hit a running up shot, you got to be very precise. And then you are a little bit in that luck of the golfing gods, which way it bounces coming into the green,” Justin Rose explained. “If you can pick your point on the front edge of the green, obviously there's like a third or half of the green that is actually a playable surface, so you're going to have very small landing targets.” He said it was reminiscent of Augusta National in that aspect.
“The greens are so repellant that you need to get as close to them as possible. So I'll be hitting a lot of drivers. I'll be trying to play this golf course fairly aggressively,” Mickelson explained.
“You've got to launch the ball very high to hold the greens. Either that or you've got to land it short with a little lower shot to get it to run, otherwise it's going to land anywhere in that bank and come down or land over it and bounce forward,” Spieth added.
So other than the greens being impossible, what else is difficult about the course? And what do these fab five have to say about how they will play it? How about the inconsistency of the wire grass. Then there’s the trade-off of distance and accuracy.
“The wire grass I think is going to be really interesting because the ball actually—I hit a couple of shots where I landed it kind of on the edge of the fairway wire grass, and it went 30 yards further than if I landed it in the middle of the fairway,” Spieth said about a practice round. “But you can also be in between pieces of grass, where you can't really get a club on the ball.”
McIlroy contrasted Pinehurst No. 2 with links golf.
“Unlike links golf, where it allows you to run the ball up on to the green, anything that hits on the front of the green is just going to get repelled off to the side on those false fronts,” he explained. “There are going to be some greens that are going to very difficult to keep it on.” He thought the second green would only hold shots 20 percent of the time because it is set at a severe angle to the golfers.
There are other trouble spots, too.
“You wouldn't want to hit a driver on No. 1 because right at 300 is where it actually gets very thick,” Mickelson said about the native area. “The challenge of those areas are that you have sand and then you also have kind of a wiry grass. The sand will make the ball come out dead with a lot of spin, and wiry grass will make the ball come out shooting into a flier. So identifying which way the ball's going to come out is going to be a big difference, because it's 40 or 50 yards with an iron.”
He said during the practice round, Rickie Fowler had a shot he thought was going to come out dead, but due to the wire grass, the ball rocketed over the green and two-hopped into the grand stands. “It would have been 70 yards over the green had it not hit the grand stands.”
“The guy who can hit a high soft iron shot will probably have a big advantage,” said Rose. “Everybody in the field is going to be able to hit it 270 to 290, given the roll. So I don't think there's a premium. The longer hitters are going to have the ability to get the ball coming into the greens softly from the same areas that most guys will be laying up to.”
Watson is going to rein in his length and focus on the second shots.
“For me personally it's going to be—it's all about the tee shots,” he said. “I'm going to try to lay farther back than normal, because it's still iffy hitting in that—I don't know what they call it, rough, dirt, sand, I don't know what they're calling it. But it's going to be iffy, you don't know what kind of lies you're going to get.”
For certain, this U.S. Open will be all about the recovery. From bad bounces, gnarly grass clumps, trees and sand to greenside slopes. Mickelson thinks it’s perfect for a guy like himself or for Bubba Watson.
“A guy like Bubba Watson, who has had some exciting recovery shots in the past, like at Augusta in the playoff, that wedge he hooked, I think he can hit a lot of those shots around here out that native area, and it could be really exciting,” Mickelson said. “Now, you'll be making some doubles along the way too, because this golf course is just tough. But it's really, really good.”
Watson is all about the short grass, whatever it takes.
“I say hit fairways and then just go with a longer shot into these tough greens. Not saying it's the right strategy—hopefully in four days I can tell you it was a great strategy,” Watson said. “That's what I'm planning right now. Now if I make a few bogeys and doubles right quick I might switch to the driver.”
“You're going to see a lot of big numbers, especially around the greens when guys make the wrong decision,” Mickelson predicted.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from theUSGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.