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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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