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Thursday, June 18, 2009

A U.S. Open Green With Teeth

Another significant change the USGA has made to the course setup for this year's U.S. Open is to strive for consistent green speeds over all four days of the tournament. In my opinion, this will improve scoring as well, since the players will not have to make daily adjustments as greens get faster during later rounds as has been the case in the past. The weather, of course, is going to make it harder for the goals to be achieved, but the principle remains the same.

Mike Davis, USGA senior director for Rules and Competitions, said this morning:
Last night, after six days of trying, we finally reached the lower end of our desired range – an average of 14 feet on the Stimpmeter. With the rain overnight and early Thursday, the greens have likely slowed to the low- to mid-13 range.
That's still pretty speedy. As a note of comparison, the faster greens at most private clubs will peak out around 11, with an occasional masochist greens committee chairman who presses the superintendent to push them up to 12 or 13. Most public and resort courses will register closer to 8 or 9.

Most of the greens at Bethpage aren't particularly severe. Unlike Winged Foot, they lack the huge undulations and steep slopes that make putting a hit-or-miss proposition much of the time. That's one reason the USGA is pushing the envelope with speed this year.

There are exceptions, however. The eighth hole slopes significantly from back to front and the extension of the green toward the pond in front, coupled with a shaved bank, will make putts above the hole a real test of nerves. Eleven has a substantial false front, too, and seventeen is split by a ridge that can keep things interesting.

Nothing compares with the fifteenth green, however. Without question it's already the toughest hole on the course, requiring a laser-accurate drive to stay in the fairway followed by a second shot to a blind putting surface perched fifty feet above the player's head. The green is brutal, with a six-foot drop from back to front exacerbated by tiering. According to the NY Times, only three percent of the green's surface is level enough for a hole. Check out their graphics for a great overview of the hole.

I've putted (and chipped) from above the hole under normal conditions and can guarantee it's no fun. Honestly, I can't imagine doing that at U.S. Open speeds.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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