BROOKLINE, Mass. – Who will win the 2022 US Open? The golf viewing public, that’s who!
The USGA continues to be at the vanguard of the Second Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture by once again bringing the National Championship to a venerable, celebrated golf architectural masterstroke. Indeed, ever since Mike Davis begain his graduated-rough experiment in 2006, we have also seen US Open venue after US Open venue show the entire golf world the state of the art in agronomy, turfgrasses, tree clearing, water management and most of all Golden Age golf architectural strategies.
The pros destroyed the more modern designs of Erin Hills and Congressional to the tune of 16-under winning scores to par, but at old-school Merion, Olympic Club and Shinnecock Hills, the winning scores were all 1 over par!
Though the Country Club course we see this year is a composite -- a mash-up of holes from more than one golf course -- it will prove a stern challenge to the field. Huge, dramatic elevation changes provide the body blows to the golfer, depleting their energy and dulling their formerly sharp mental edge, while the tiny, tilted greens surrounded by thick northeastern rough provide the jabs and roundhouses to the jaw. Though only 7,245 yards stretched to its tips, the Country Club wears you down with its relentless challenges, requiring the golfer’s concentration to remain on high alert the entire round and to plan and execute every shot with precision.
Courses like Olympic Club, Merion and TCC prove that you don’t need 8,000 yards of length and 15,000-square-foot greens with three tiers; you need shorter courses with tiny, curvaceous greens and holes with center-line hazards or awkwardly turning doglegs.
Much like Olympic Club, the opening six-hole sequence is brutish. The first three par-4s -- Nos. 1, 3 and 4 -- all measure no less than 488 yards.
“If you get around that stretch at 2 over or less, you’re doing fine,” one USGA staffer observed.
“The first four holes, buckle up, you're going to have to really golf your ball,” explained tournament set-up maven John Bodenhamer. "You get into 5 through 9, you'd better get it then because when you make the turn and you go to No. 10. It's only 499-yard par-4, the Himalayas, but it was fabulous. You play 10 through 18, it's going to be a good old-fashioned US Open test.”
The uphill, 499-yard 10th is a museum piece of a golf hole. Trekking through the Paleolithic rock outcroppings and traversing the gargantuan mounds en route to the penny-sized green high atop its promontory, it’s one of two holes to watch for critical swings on the scoreboard, the other being the Brobdingnagian 641-yard uphill 14th.
“If you can only watch the golf from one hole, it’s the 14th,” confirmed Golf Digest’s Derek Duncan in his video preview of the course. From the number of fans camped out in the hole, the advice is paying dividends already.
But don’t – pun intended – sell the Lilliputian, the 100-yard, par-3 11th Short hole. The square-ish green is not only surrounded by rough and bunkers tightly abutting the green's edge, but there are mounds within the green that send putts scurrying every which way but straight toward the hole. Far from a pushover birdie -- “a lollipop” in the lexicon -- No. 11 is one of those gnarled little grinning garden gnomes giving you the finger.
Similarly, the short par-4 ninth hole seems a drive and pitch on paper. But with a mound in the middle of the fairway, well-struck drives may take a zany bounce right into the water hazard guarding the right side. Aware of the danger, most players are clubbing down to as little as 6-iron off the tee to avoid any chance of rinsing their tee shot.
But therein lies the secret genius of the Country Club: Length is not an advantage; executing a solid game plan and patience are the key. No one is going to run away and hide at this golf course; expect players to be bunched tightly throughout the tournament and into the back nine on Sunday. And expect a shotmaker to hoist the trophy come Sunday evening.
“You need everything. You need to drive well, hit your irons well, chip well, and putt well and be mentally sane for four days,” stated defending champion Jon Rahm of Spain. “You can't hide, period. I think that your biggest asset is mental strength out here, and that's what you need. You are going to have a lot of holes where things are going to go wrong, but I just have to know going into it and accept certain things that happen. Obviously, as every US Open, par is a good score."