As I wrote earlier, this year's US Open at Bethpage Black will be a substantially easier scoring event for the pros than the 2002 tournament. Here are a few holes where you're going to see lower numbers, especially from big hitters:
Number 6 - 408 Yards Par 4 - The hole is short under normal conditions, but will play much shorter this year. As traditionally laid out, you had to play a conservative shot to a tiny landing area on top of the hill between two fairway bunkers, leaving a short iron to the green that's 50 feet below the driving area. Hit anything longer off the tee and you were in the rough that covered the hillside to prevent balls rolling down to the bottom fairway. The USGA did away with that rough for the Open this year, which will allow a tee shot over the left fairway bunker to catch that slope and roll down to within flip-wedge distance to the green. It won't have to be a driver, either, since the carry is only about 270 yards from the back of the back tee. I can envision some bigger hitters going with a driver, though, and making the greenside bunkers, which aren't particularly punitive by Bethpage standards.
Number 7 - 525 Yards Par 4 - The USGA is touting this as the longest par 4 in US Open history and, at 525 yards, it sure looks like it on the scorecard. Again, though, the hole won't play that long especially since the tees may be moved up to encourage more risk-taking. Even from the back, a 300-yard drive will clear the dog leg and leave less than 200 yards to the green. The USGA has actually widened the fairway to encourage players to challenge the oak trees that guard the right side. Count on that happening a lot. Even a player that doesn't cut the dog leg will be left with a mid- to short-iron.
Number 9 - 460 Yards Par 4 - This was the easiest hole in 2002 and, despite a new tee some 40 yards back and a new bunker off the fairway to the left, I still don't think it will pose problems for the big boomers. They'll be able to carry that bunker, possibly with something less than a driver, and leave themselves a wedge to one of the easiest greens on the course.
Number 13 - 605 Yards Par 5 - The new tee and new deep bunkers left of the driving zone will make this a harder hole for everyone but those guys who hit 320 yard drives with regularity--which includes an awful lot of players in the US Open field. The green will be reachable in two by those guys, with the vaunted cross bunkers not a factor for them (or really for anyone else). There is a bunker that appears to guard the approach to the green that should make someone think twice about trying to reach on the second shot, but it's actually 30 yards in front of the putting surface, so running the ball onto the green will happen fairly often. Even the player who lays up for some reason will have an easy third shot that should set up plenty of birdies. There is no real punishment for taking a chance here, so players who shoot par will have definitely lost a shot to the field.
For a really good overview of the entire course--with expert commentary by my friend Brian Crowell--check out the NBC flyover videos. Brian and I may be friends, but we definitely have a few differences of opinion!
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo