Seattle has become, at least temporarily, the site of U.S. Open golf championships.
This week Sahalee Country Club is hosting the Senior U.S. Open, and next month Chambers Bay will be the site for the U.S. Amateur Championship. And to top it off, Chambers Bay will host the U.S. Open next summer.
Sahalee has hosted big events before. The 1998 PGA Championship and the 2002 WGC-NEC Invitational. It is as unique a golf course as you can find for a tournament, with towering 120 to 140 foot Douglas Firs lining most fairways.
"It can be intimidating, especially coming from Carnoustie last week. The tallest tree over there was probably a 3-foot bush," Peter Jacobson said in his press conference earlier in the week. "And you come here and anybody who is not from the northwest has never seen 100-foot firs and 100-foot cedar trees so it is different. And as tight as fairways are, you just really have to keep the ball in play."
The USGA has had Sahalee's Golf Course Superintendent Rich Taylor graduate the rough out from the fairways, from 2" just off the edge to it's deepest, a thick, dense 4". The average fairway width is only 26 yards.
Putting the ball in the fairways will be essential. Tom Lehman, who is also coming over after playing in Scotland last week, said, "After playing links golf the last two weeks and then standing on that first tee, it looks like you have to walk sideways. The trees really make it feel like there's no room."
Lehman and Jacobson are part of an impressive field for the championship. Seattle's favorite son Fred Couples will be teamed with Tom Watson for the first two rounds.
Watson, in his press conference on Wednesday, agreed with the challenge that the trees will bring, but also thought the greens would be just as hard of a test.
"There's two things you have to do," he said. "First thing, you have to drive it straight. The first hole is like a slap in the face... You look right down there and it's as narrow a tee ball as you're ever going to see here at Sahalee. And it doesn't get a whole lot wider than that.
"The other thing is the firmness of the greens. The firmness of the greens is probably as hard as I've seen a green in America in a long time. They're very, very firm. And as a result the greens are not real big in depth."
Couples, the native of Seattle, will be the big draw for the week. Fred, playing in his first Senior U.S. Open Championship, was asked in his press conference earlier in the week what it would mean to win in Seattle.
"To win here?" he said. "It would be --first of all, it's a U.S. Senior Open or USGA event, so that would be incredible. But to win here would be -- it would rank right up there as any other tournaments probably besides Augusta... This is just like a U.S. Open; no one is going to tell me differently. It's very tough out there. So to win here would be, you know, like winning a U.S. Open. And I'm from Seattle, so I would think it would be a great, great accomplishment. But it would be very special for me."
Others in the strong field include defending champion Fred Funk, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin and winner last week at the Senior British Open Bernhard Langer.
Paul Azinger and Nick Price both had to withdraw earlier in the week due to nagging injuries.
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