Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'These Guys Are Good' -- Better Be at Shinnecock; Narrow Fairways, Waist-High Grass and Strong Winds Make U.S. Open Course "Great Test."

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'These Guys Are Good' -- Better Be at Shinnecock; Narrow Fairways, Waist-High Grass and Strong Winds Make U.S. Open Course "Great Test."

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits, The Times-Union

The Shinnecock Hills Golf Club will play just a pace short of 7,000 yards this week for the U.S. Open -- short by modern professional standards.

But hardly anyone is expecting the venerable, links-style course to play any easier than it did in the previous two Opens it hosted.

Raymond Floyd won the 1986 Open at Shinnecock at 1-under-par 279, emerging from a star-studded pack of 10 players on the Sunday leaderboard. Nine years later, Corey Pavin hit a 228-yard 4-wood to within 6 feet of the hole to set up a clinching par and a final score of even-par 280.

Although the United States Golf Association purposely tries to set up courses for the Open difficult enough for an even-par score over four days to be in contention, some are predicting a score of a stroke or two over par on the Shinnecock of 2004 will look awfully good come late Sunday afternoon.

"It will be a very, very strong test of golf," said USGA director of agronomy Tim Moraghan. "We added some length on [Nos.] 3, 4, 5 and 8, and the course is playing very firm and fast. We always try to set up courses where the ideal score is par, but, as the commercials say, 'These guys are good.' "

With little added length, why will the course necessarily bedevil players who are using much more advanced equipment than in 1995? After all, one of the players in contention with three holes to play, Tom Lehman, was still using a persimmon driver. Titanium was new and balls had yet to feature recent technology.

For one thing, the USGA has narrowed the fairways from 1995. They were between 28 and 32 yards wide then, but the average width this year will be 26 yards. The spot on the fairway from which Pavin hit his stunning 4-wood shot in 1995 is now on the first cut of rough.

Another change was that the USGA ordered the removal of a few trees on a course that didn't have very many trees anyway. As a result, the prevailing southeast winds off the Atlantic Ocean should create even more difficulty.

The course is also routed strategically so that very rarely will a player have the same wind direction on two holes in a row.

"The prevailing wind, this time of year, will be between 20 and 30 mph," said Mark Michaud, the Shinnecock superintendent. "The players are going to have to land the ball on different halves of the fairway to give themselves the kind of angle they'd like to the green, and they're going to have to think on every shot. Shooting even-par in every round is going to have you in contention."

Awaiting errant shots off the tee, beyond a narrow strip of 4-inch rough bordering the fairways, will be native grasses such as fescue. Some of the grasses are waist-high and give a player no chance to reach the green.

"The great aspect of Shinnecock is that it sort of beckons to the players to attack it off the tee," said Ed Seay, the CEO of Palmer Course Design and a fan of the 113-year-old course that was designed in 1891 by Willie Davis and redesigned in 1931 by William Flynn. …

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