The second golfing major of 2018 is upon us.
The U.S. Open returns to the fabled Shinnecock Hills. The site of four previous U.S Opens, the most recent of which was in 2004, won by South African Retief Goosen.
The layout at Shinnecock is iconic. The contrast between the dark green fairways and wispy beige rough is enough to swell the emotions of many a golfing tragic.
Since the 2004 U.S. Open, the course has gone under a substantial redesign, with the most significant changes seen in the fairways. In the 2004 staging of the U.S. Open, the average fairway width was 26-yards.
Following the re-design and adjustments from the USGA, the fairways will average 41-yards in diameter during the 2018 edition. The New York course has been extended to a 7445-yard par-70, making it the fourth longest par adjusted course in major championship history.
Shinnecock Hills has historically been one of the most challenging courses on the major championship rota. In 2004, the final round saw the unrivalled carnage, with a scoring average of almost nine shots over par.
No player managed to break par, and the 10th hole witnessed five times as many triple bogeys or worse, than birdies. Although a return to such ludicrous scoring is unlikely, it provides a sample of how difficult Shinnecock Hills can play.
7th Hole – Par 3, 189-yards
The famous ‘Redan’ hole is a gorgeous short par-3. A perched green surrounded by three deep green-side bunkers and closely mown run-offs on all sides. The green famously slopes dramatically from front-right to back-left in a consistent, but severe manner.
In the 2004 final round, the seventh green was hit in regulation 18.2 per cent of the time.
The ‘Redan’ provides a stern test of golf and will be a hole to watch.
18th Hole – Par 4, 485-yards
The hole aptly titled ‘home’ is a problematic closing hole, which sweeps right-to-left and backs up towards the clubhouse. The long par-4 has been lengthened 35 yards since the 2004 edition and has one of the most severely sloped greens on the property, which is harshly guarded by deep bunkers and dramatic run-offs.
The site of Corey Pavin’s famous 4-wood in 1995 and Tiger Woods holed approach shit in 2004, ‘home’ is a classically designed hole, that will likely be the canvas for more historic moments this year.
10th Hole – Par 4, 415-yards
Titled ‘Eastwood Ho’, the first hole on the back-9 seems innocuous at 415 yards and one of the most generous fairways on the property. However, the small table-top green makes this hole the most difficult on the course. The front and backs of the 10th green are guarded by severe drop-offs that can shoot wayward tee-shots more than 40 yards from the green.
During the 2004 final round, the 10th played at over a stroke harder than par, wielding only one birdie.
For those starting on the back-9, the 10th provides an immediate and daunting beginning.
Notables in the field
Following the phenomenal finish to the first major of 2018 at Augusta National, anticipation for this year’s U.S Open has reached fever pitch. The collection of recent performances from many of the world’s top-players has contributed actively to this expectation.
Tiger Woods has shocked most of the golfing public with his performances in 2018. The Three-time U.S Open champion was unlikely even to participate, let alone contend on the PGA Tour this year.
Recovering from back surgery, the American superstar ranks 10th in strokes gained total for the season including four top-20s. The question this week will be whether Woods will be able to keep to keep the ball out of the penal collection of thick grasses that line the Shinnecock fairways.
Jason Day appears to have recovered his form of 2015-16, which abandoned him last year. With two wins and a second-place finish so far this year, Day is firmly in the running for player of the year.
Holding a terrific record in U.S. Open, with five top-10s and two second-place finishes. Missing only one cut in his last 21 major championship starts, Day has shown he possesses the game to compete on the most significant stages.
Following a reliable, but disappointing T-20 at Augusta, the Queenslander will be confident that he can add to his 2015 PGA Championship victory at Shinnecock Hills this week.
Shinnecock will provide Phil Mickelson with his fifth opportunity to complete the career grand slam. The lefty has a much-maligned history at his national championship, with six runners-up finishes including the last time Shinnecock Hills held the U.S Open.
Mickelson broke through for the first time since 2013 earlier this year at the WGC-Mexico Championship and is eighth in strokes gained total for 2018.
Phil’s historical inaccuracy has however returned in 2018, ranking 108th in fairways gained. Given the harsh penalty for inaccuracy at Shinnecock, a reversal of this trend will be paramount to his success this week.
World number 2 Dustin Johnson has been metronomic in his performances over the last 18 months. Recording top-20 finishes in 16 of 18 events since last year’s U.S Open; the 2016 U.S Open champion is one of the most consistently exceptional players on Tour.
DJ also possesses an impressive U.S Open resume. Recording four top-10s including his victory at Oakmont in 2016. The similarities between Oakmont and Shinnecock Hills are significant.
Both long par-70s, which sit on tree-less properties in the North-East of the USA. Ferocious rough and deep bunkers line the tight dark green fairways.
The greens are diabolically fast, undulating and guarded by sharp tightly mown runoffs. Dustin Johnson is the betting favourite and undoubtedly has the right to be.
There has been much written about Jordan Spieth’s recent struggles. An uncharacteristic year with the putter has seen him fall to 186th in strokes gained-putting in 2018.
Finishing ninth and second in that statistic during 2015-16, his frailties with the flat stick have significantly contributed to his poor form.
Only three top-10s on the season and no victories outline what has been a disappointing year for the young American. However, memories of his 2015 U.S. Open victory are sure to spark his desire to perform this week.