Watching the marquee group on usopen.com, you begin to get a sense for what these players are facing. This is a stern test of golf on a scale that is hard to me imagine for me not having played any conditions like that in my life.
The rough is truly punishing, the fairways are fast and the greens, well, it’s amazing these guys can keep it on there, and even more amazing when you see shots land softly.
In a sense it both magnifies their almost superhuman abilities, and yet it also shows them in ways that resemble the way we often feel as golfers. I don’t often see tour players be so uncertain, careful, and vulnerable as they can be during this tournament. And yet it also elevates them simultaneously. Great shots are even more spectacular and magnificent because of the difficult conditions.
It does feel like golf as it should be. I’m not saying that they should play open conditions every week, or that average golfers should be faced with open conditions. But watching the PGA tour week in and week out, they can make the game seem too easy. Then again TV coverage is normally skewed, showing the best players on the planet, on their best days. One of the reasons I love watching them in person is that you can follow players who aren’t playing their best and you’ll see that even if they are spraying the ball (which tour players are capable of) they manage to score well.
With the tough conditions at Pebble Beach, strategy becomes even more crucial. It’s amazing to listen to players and their strategies because they are all different. Phil Mickelson, in his news conference basically said that he wants to play defensively off the tee, so that he can be aggressive on his approaches to the greens. Yet other players have talked about being more defensive, with the emphasis on making pars as the #1 priority.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how different strategies succeed. This a tournament where missing it in the right place is crucial.
Strategy is crucial but just as important is ball striking. Fairways and greens are even more important. Ball striking allows you to execute the strategy. The firm greens at Pebble Beach will require absolutely precise ball striking in order to keep the ball on the green and have any shot at making par.
Watching the analysts on Golf Channel yesterday, I was amazed when I kept hearing that some greens are unhittable. The 17th hole is like that when the flag is on the left. Any shot from the tee that actually hits and stays on the green will have been hit absolutely perfectly.
I don’t think much needs to be said about putting as it is absolutely crucial to putt well in a US open. Poa greens are tricky, especially for the players who did not grow up playing them. The ball will bounce so putts need to be stroked solidly, but speed control on these fast greens will be absolutely crucial. Good putting will save pars and bogeys. But I’m sure we’ll see some examples of putting that will shock average golfers in all kinds of ways.