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2018 U.S. Open Preview: The holes at Shinnecock that will make the difference

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I have been fascinated by Shinnecock Hills since I was a kid, watching Corey Pavin’s 4-wood curling through space above the golden fescue and landing a few feet from the flag. It was further cemented by the massacre in 2004, where conditions were borderline unfair… except for the fact that everyone had to play under the same unfair conditions. I love the way this unassuming beauty brought the best in the world literally to tears. The Open returns to Shinnecock for 2018, and while all of the holes will obviously count, some will be crucial.

Here’s a breakdown of the holes that just might cause a breakdown for some of the players, and a couple that will give them a break.

Hole No. 1 (Par 4, 399 yards)

Like Merion and many other classic courses (other than Oakmont where it’s a death march from start to finish), number 1 at Shinnecock is a relatively benign hole. Long hitters will use less than driver and will still have a wedge into one of the most straightforward greens on the course. A rare birdie opportunity that must be taken advantage of.

Hole No. 2 (Par 3, 226 yards)

The longest par 3 on the course will hit the players in the face after the opening hole. It’s a long way uphill and if the wind is in their face it could take as much as a pro 3-wood to get to the green. As with most greens, staying below the hole is an imperative as there is a world of hurt behind.

Hole No. 6 (Par 4, 467 yards)

The No. 1 handicap hole on the course is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Hitting the fairway will not be hard for the pros but he second shot is one of the most demanding in championship golf. Players will have to accurately judge the speed and direction of a cross wind that will be howling on every part of the hole except where they are standing. The only water on the course guards the green along with a cadre of greenside bunkers. Short right will be a popular spot and there are no easy up and downs here. Par will feel like a birdie.

Hole No. 7 (Par 3, 194 yards)

Maybe best known for its conditions in the 2004 open when the green got totally burnt out and was virtually impossible to hit and hold. It was like a watching the Daytona 500 with an oil slick on the second turn and the bitching and moaning of the field immediately made the U.S. Open my favorite major. Even with grass on it, number 7 is no picnic. Nicknamed “The Redan”, a French term for a fortification, the hole defends itself with distance, the wind and a triangular, back-sloping green that as only a couple of reasonable pin placements. More than half the field each day will likely have a wedge in their hands for the second shot and if conditions go south look for numbers that will look like a description of Happy Hour (4 to 6).

Hole No. 9 (Par 4, 460 yards)

If Augusta has Amen Corner, then 9 through 11 at Shinnecock might be called “Hell’s Belles,” a breathtaking trio with a perfect combination of beauty and danger. The tee shot on nine seems easy,  but you have to be in the fairway to be in position to go for the green. As with every hole at Shinnecock, a good sot is rewarded with an opportunity for another, in this instance a good tee shot will leave a short club into a green that is fairly large but perched about 50 feet above the players standing in the fairway and sloped back to front. Players unable to control their spin will find their third shots in waste areas and bunkers guarding the front of the hole, or maybe even back at their feet. Spectators will have a majestic view of the entire course from the green, including the red faces of those who don’t execute on this exacting test.

Hole No. 10 (Par 4, 420 yards)

This might be my favorite hole on the course. The tee shot presents plenty of fairway on the left but players in the know will aim over the fairway bunker on the right. The fairway and approach on 10 are evidence of why the course is called Shinnecock Hills. Finding the fairway on the left leaves a mid-iron into a turtle back green that is canted from back to front. Players who find the fairway right will take advantage of a drop that looks like it inspired a roller-coaster. A 40-foot speed slot means that there is only a wedge into the green and that’s where the fun begins. In 2004 players like Singh and Els saw multiple wedges go up the hill and back again like some sort of sadistic golf nursery rhyme. Singh fumed, “It’s hard to stop a shot on the hood of a VW.” Trying to play safe and hitting the back of the green will send players into a massive steep swale behind the green that will test the skill, imagination and nerve of the unfortunate souls who land there. At least a few will find themselves back in the fairway. This is a hole that, in the hands of the USGA, will humble all and humiliate some.

Hole No. 11 (Par 3, 154 yards)

The shortest par 3 on the course is small but mighty. An uphill tee shot to a green that is relatively large, but if you are on the wrong level of the two-tiered green a two putt will be as rare as finding a taxi in Manhattan rush hour. Players who card a 3 will be running to the next hole with a mix of joy and relief.

Hole No. 15 (Par 4, 430 yards)

This is downwind par 4 is the last of the “easy” birdie opportunities on the back nine. An accurate drive will leave a short iron to the green. If you relax and miss the green, it would be better left 9bunkers) than right close-shaven chipping area.

Hole No. 18 (Par 4, 460 yards)

This majestic closing hole is remembered for Corey Pavin’s heroics in 1995 but with its broad vistas and exacting layout, it is among the quintessential holes at Shinnecock. The ideal tee shot on the sweeping par-4 is to the right side of fairway. From there, a precise shot is needed into the elevated green that is guarded by wind, sand and fescue. Approaches that don’t have enough steam will roll back off of the green. Shots that go long will require a delicate chip or putt back onto the surface. This hole in many ways is what U.S. Open golf is all about: the course, the history, the player and the stage all combing for one magic moment. Worthy, indeed.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. juliette91

    Jun 12, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    I think you can see enough of what you need to see but the point I’d like to make that wasn’t made is that the wider fairways are a bit countered by the way most of the fairways are angled to the teeing ground, effectively making their width that much smaller.
    I watched 1995’s Open there and that’s the big impression I got, especially what you call the birdie hole at number 1. Maybe it was the wind but many players ended up left in heavy rough precisely because they tried to cut the angle and shorten the hole.

    Anyway, the yardages of the pivotal holes you described seem mostly minuscule by today’s PGA tour standards. If a 467 yard hole is a drive and a PW, and that’s one of the longer par 4s it does seem like the scores will be double digits minus for 3-5 players.

    • juliette91

      Jun 12, 2018 at 11:27 pm

      whoops meant players ended up right on number 1…

  2. Jeff

    Jun 12, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Why even bother with pictures when you can’t see what’s going on because of watermarks? Worthless article.

    • 3puttPar

      Jun 12, 2018 at 4:33 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. Its so damn frustrating.

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GolfWRX forum celebrity “Warrick” explains what he loves so much about Mizuno irons, where he got his name from, how he became a gear head, what’s in his bag currently, his all-time favorite golf course and more. Also, GolfWRX equipment expert Brian Knudson talks about playing Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan for the first time.

Checkout the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Golfholics Course Review: Spyglass Hill Golf Course

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In this new course review series, Marko and Mike from Golfholics provide their takes on the golf courses they’ve played around the world. The first episode starts with the famed, yet often overlooked Spyglass Hill. Enjoy the video below, and don’t forget to check out more videos from Golfholics on their YouTube page!

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Redkacheek’s DFS Rundown: 2018 CJ Cup

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Wow, what a crazy start to this season! Not only has the cheat sheet and slack chat plays over at the Fantasy Golf Bag been on complete fire, but the new golf betting model has now hit on two outrights and one FRL in back-to-back weeks! We get a much better field this week so definitely plan to keep this heater going here at the CJ Cup this week. Brooks Koepka will be teeing it up for the first time since being named the 2018 POY, along with guys such as Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Paul Casey, Billy Horschel, and our new favorite Sungjae Im. As you can see, this will be a fairly exciting event for a setup as similar as last week’s tournament.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at this course and see if we can pinpoint some key stats to take us to another Big GPP win or at least a couple good choices for an outright win.

The CJ Cup will be played at the Club at Nine Bridges, a 7,196 yard par-72 golf course in South Korea. Although this may appear like a similar course to TPC Kuala Lumpur last week, this one will play quite significantly tougher. As you can see below, in 2017 there were more bogeys than birdies for the week which doesn’t happen much outside of majors. Justin Thomas won last year’s event after shooting 63 in the first round but failed to break 70 the following three days. JT finished at nine under, which tied Marc Leishman, who coincidentally won this last weekend (2019 Fall Swing narrative). So why so tough if it appears so short? Let’s take a look.

So first off, let’s get this out of the way first. These greens are brutal. No joke; these greens were the single most difficult greens to putt on all of last year. Everything from one-putt percentage to 3-putt avoidance, these ranked the No. 1 most difficult on Tour all year. But here’s the problem: We all know putting is the single most variable stat, so using SG:P will tend to lead to a very disappointing pool of players. For example, coming into last year the players ranked Top 10 in SG:P finished 11-33-47-40-28-64-36-26-71-36, respectively. There is a still a stat that helped fine-tune player pools last year that I will recommend this year: my first key stat to consider this week is 3-putt avoidance.

The next section here I will just briefly touch on the driving accuracy and GIR percentage for this course. It is very average for the PGA Tour…that is really all you need to know. Driving accuracy ranked 48th and GIR percentage ranked 38th in 2017. This course is not difficult tee-to-green, plain and simple. I will certainly add the usual SG:T2G this week along with GIR percentage, but this course will favor most guys this week.

So besides putting, why are these scores so poor considering the appearance of an easy course? Well besides putting on these greens, scrambling here is brutal. Scrambling also ranked No. 1 most difficult here last year but again, this is a stat that is extremely tough to see useful trends. I will, however, encourage you to use SG:ARG to help narrow down your player pool more efficiently.

Remember that this segment of the Fall Swing will not yield strokes-gained data, so we must only utilize the traditional stats the PGA Tour keeps. On top of all the micro-scoring stats mentioned above, let’s take a closer look at this course from a macro level. This will be fairly straightforward when building your model. The par 4s here are extremely difficult, so add SG:P4 Scoring to your research (par 3 scoring is also very difficult but sample sizes are usually too small to include each week). Par 5 scoring was difficult as well but there is a better stat we can use than the P4 scoring mentioned above. The final stat we will be using is simply bogey avoidance. This will do a fantastic job of incorporating T2G, scrambling and putting into our model/research.

Overall this course is really an amazing layout but will pose a difficult task for the players. Just like last week, I encourage you to ease into the season by playing light and also primarily playing GPPs.

With all that out of the way, let’s get into my core plays for this week…

Justin Thomas (DK $11,600)

Justin Thomas finally makes the core writeup. After a mediocre finish last week (5th place), he comes to Nine Bridges as the defending champion. Ironically, he beat out Marc Leishman, last week’s winner, in a playoff last year and I think he is going to be the guy to pay up for over $10k. JT won both CIMB Classic and The CJ Cup last year, and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t leave this leg of the Fall Swing (Asia) without a win. There’s a lot going for him outside of his recent form and course history (if that wasn’t enough), he ranks first in both SG:T2G and SG:APP, second in par 4 scoring, eighth in bogey avoidance and finally, surprisingly, 11th in 3-putt avoidance. If you are building only a few lineups this week, I think JT should be in around two-thirds of them.

Byeong-Hun An (DK $8,700)

Mr. Ben An makes the list again! Byeong-Hun An received a lot of praise from both Jacob and myself on the FGB Podcast last week and he did not disappoint with a 13th place finish, and really a strong chance to win going into the weekend. As part of a common theme you will see here, Ben An is the kind of consistent ball-striker to rely on each and every week. On the PGA Tour in the last 50 rounds, he ranks third along with a strong ranking in bogey avoidance (third) and GIR percentage (also third). He did play this event last year, finishing 11th at 4-under par, and if it weren’t for a final round 73 he had a realistic chance for the win! The price on Ben An is getting a little steep but I think we can still get some value out of it this week.

Kyle Stanley (DK $8,200)

Kyle Stanley should be considered a core play almost every week he is under $9K on DraftKings. One of the most elite ball strikers on Tour, ranking ninth in SG:T2G, 11th in SG:APP, sixth in GIR percentage and 14th in par 4 scoring, he sets up for another solid top 20. Last week Kyle finished 13th in Kuala Lumpur and now comes to Nine Bridges where he ended the tournament in 19th place last year. Kyle tends to be very “mediocre” so upside for a top 3 always seems to come sparingly during the season, but you still cannot ignore his skills at this price.

Charles Howell III (DK $7,700)

Charles Howell III is a lock for me this week. Coming off a strong showing last week (T5) but also an 11th-place finish at this event last year, he grades out as one of the strongest values this week at only $7,700. CH3 hadn’t played on the PGA Tour for over a month before appearing at Kuala Lumpur, causing him to fly well under the radar on his way to a solid top five finish. Always known as a superb ball-striker, Howell actually rates out 16th in bogey avoidance and 10th in 3-putt avoidance, both key stats for this golf course. Additionally, CH3 ranks inside the top 20 of both par 4 scoring and GIR percentage. In a no-cut event on a difficult ARG golf course, count on CH3 to gain enough placement points to pay off this solid price tag.

Ian Poulter (DK $7,600)

Ian Poulter may be extremely sneaky this week. We haven’t seen him since the Ryder Cup and most people that play DFS have severe recency bias. Poulter is a grinder, and considering the winning score should only be around 12-under par with lots of opportunities for bogeys, he should keep the wheels on all four days and have a chance on Sunday. One of the most surprising stats for me in my research on Poulter is that he ranks first in 3-putt avoidance, along with some impressive tee-to-green stats where he ranks inside the top 25 of all of my key stats mentioned above. Why is the 3-putt avoidance stat so important? As I noted in the course preview, these were the single most difficult greens to putt on last year with the worst 3-putt percentage. Outside of the key stats, it does seem like this course fits his eye as he finished 15th here last year. Ian Poulter will be another core play but I think he may come in quite under owned from where he probably should.

Joel Dahmen (DK $6,900)

Chalk Dahmen week is upon us and I am going to bite. Dahmen has been a DFS darling this year and last week was no different. Dahmen ended up finishing 26th which was largely due to a poor final round 71, which dropped him 11 spots. Even with that poor finish he was able to pay off his sub-$7K price tag, which is where we find him again this week. Dahmen ranks top 10 in this field in several key stats, including: SG:T2G, SG:APP, and bogey avoidance. If you need some salary savings but unsure about anyone under $7K, Dahmen should be your first look this week.

Also consider

Brooks Koepka
Jason Day
Marc Leishman
Paul Casey
Ryan Moore
Sungjae Im
Kevin Tway

Good luck this week everyone!

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