10 things you need to know before watching the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills
1) The Open keeps coming back to Shinnecock for a reason
This classic track features a William Flynn/C.B. MacDonald layout and is home to the very first clubhouse in the United States (and still one of the very best). It is one of the founding clubs of the USGA, hosted the second U.S. Open in 1896 and is about to host an Open in a third century. You can’t get any more legit than that. And each one of the Opens that have been held there have been memorable. Corey Pavin’s sweeping 4-wood to 4 feet on the 18th hole of the 1995 Open is one of the most iconic shots in golf history. The winner this year will certainly have to hit his share of hero shots, but will it be a classic U.S. Open? Let’s hope so!
2) It will be LONG
The course will be set up to play at over 7,400 yards as a par 70, a prodigious distance on any course but especially on one where errant drives will be severely penalized. Players who are long and straight will have an advantage, although if the fairways are baked out, mid-range hitters will get a boost on the ground.
3) The rough will be a one-shot penalty
Mike Davis is famous for using the rough at U.S. Open venues to test the accuracy of the field in pursuing his stated goal of “identifying the best player in the world” that week and this year will be no different. There are two different kinds of rough in play at Shinnecock, and each will pose a different challenge to all those who enter. The first cut will be the more traditional style of thick, long and juicy growth that your see at a U.S. Open setup (think Merion in 2013). Players who find themselves there will likely have to wedge out to the fairway and try their best to minimize the damage. The secondary rough is comprised of tall fescue; it’s thinner, wispier blades may give players the courage to try to muscle shots out of the rough. But those wispy blades are as strong as wire, and when they wrap around the hosel of the club they turn even the best executed swings into a Wheel of Fortune. Along with the challenge of the grass you have sandy, uneven lies where the ball is more likely than not to end up snuggled next to a hillock of sand or down in a divot. Between the burly first cut and treacherous second cut, the rough at Shinnecock will stifle more advances than a vice-principal at a high school dance.
4) The best short game will win
Like most classic courses that stand the test of time, the reason they stand the test of time is that short game proficiency is maybe the most reliable test of golf, especially under pressure. At Shinnecock, players will be tested by greens that will be lightning fast and postage-stamp-small. With the greens being so hard to hit, the ability to get up and down will be at a premium. And if the course gets even slightly “out of control,” as it did big-time in 2004, look for some players to get some humiliating experiences as they chip and putt from one side of green to another. Watch what happens to anyone who hits over the green at Number 10; we could easily see multiple people do what Sergio did on Number 15 at the Masters this year (a soul-destroying 13).
5) It all depends on the weather
Davis and the USGA have set the course up to be a difficult test, but much of that test is dependent on the weather. More holes are set up to play with a prevailing southwest wind. If that wind doesn’t blow or switches direction where more holes are playing downwind, it can shorten the course by as much as 20 percent. And if the greens are softened by rain before and during the event, then what ought to be a Doberman will be turned into a cockapoo (see Oakmont 2016).
6) The Grind will be even more Grind-ier than usual, so caddies will matter
Every U.S. open is a grind, an attempt by the USGA to wear down the physical and mental cartilage of the field. Every hole at Shinnecock calls for a post-graduate level of shot making, but it also calls for a high level of decision making. This not the venue to look at the book, get a number, pull a club and let it fly. The wind, ground conditions and consequences for a miss must be calculated and re-calculated for each shot. Caddies that are trusted sources of information and honesty will be a 15th club in the bag for their players. Look for a couple of the more experienced career caddies at Shinnecock to be on a bag or two during the Open for exactly that reason.
7) Anybody can win
Why’s that? Because there are so many talented players in the field, and because we have seen what can happen when a good player had a great week and a little luck. Think Michael Campbell, Geoff Ogilvy and the suddenly famous-again Webb Simpson and Lucas Glover.
8) Last Hurrah for a generation
This is certainly the last time that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will play this great venue in competition; Ernie Els and Jim Furyk are also in the field by special exemption. Whether it occurs on Friday or Sunday, the final walk up 18 for each of them will be special for the player and for the audience at the course and on TV.
9) Records will be set…. for sales
Combine a team that is second to none in creating marketing and sponsorship opportunities with the top market in the world and you get a recipe for a revenue bonanza. The USGA doesn’t necessarily report on all numbers in this regard, but all signs point to a ratings and revenue bonanza. Oh, did I mention that Tiger is in the field?
10) Fox TV coverage should be better
Fox Sports is now hosting its fourth U.S. Open after the USGA switched to the network from NBC. The first couple of years brought howls of complaint from viewers as the coverage had all the bells and whistles but somehow forgot to bring the bicycle. Key moments were bungled, interviews were botched, and commentary had viewers longing for Johnny Miller and Mr. Hannah Storm (just kidding, Dan!). This year promises to be a step towards competency if not excellence. Joe Buck will be solid as usual, Shane Bacon has found his footing as a post-round interviewer and the TopTracer technology that Fox introduced for on-course shots will all help. And the addition of Mike Breed to the team will give some much needed competence in swing analysis and on-camera savvy. And Holly Sonders… so there’s that.