On Thursday, June 12, the second major championship of the 2014 golf season begins, as Pinehurst No. 2 plays host to 156 of the best players in the world at the 2014 U.S. Open.
Pinehurst last hosted the U.S. Open in 2005, when Michael Campbell came away victorious. A lot has changed in the last nine years, including a complete restoration of the course to the original Donald Ross design. The toughest test in golf is always fun to watch, and we've got you covered in this A-Z guide to Pinehurst and the 2014 U.S. Open.
The 2013 Masters champion comes to Pinehurst as the world's number-one ranked player, claiming the honor from the injured Tiger Woods a few weeks ago. Since becoming number one, Scott won at Colonial and was in the final few groups two weeks ago at the Memorial, finishing in a tie for fourth place.
He's been on some kind of run since the end of last season, with four worldwide wins since August. Seeing him listed as the number-two favorite in Vegas behind Rory McIlroy makes sense, though he's always struggled at the U.S. Open. His best finish in 12 starts came at Olympic in 2012, where he ended up tied for 15th. In 12 prior appearances (36 rounds played), Scott has broken 70 just once, doing so in the opening round at Bethpage back in 2009.
The reigning Masters champion enters the U.S. Open in an interesting place. Watson is, without question, one of the game's most incredible talents. He hits the ball further than just about anyone and, with his homemade swing, he's able to shape the ball in just about any direction humanly possible.
Despite six wins and two green jackets on the PGA Tour, it's tough to know what to expect from Watson outside of Augusta, a course that sets up so well for his game. So far, his success at the U.S. Open has been very limited, with one top-10 finish and three missed cuts in seven appearances. In 22 rounds played in this event, he has only broken 70 once, and will be playing Pinehurst for the first time this week.
For many golf fans, Pinehurst No. 2 earned its "Cradle of American Golf" designation. When the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were tasked with a renovation of the North Carolina course, which changed dramatically since the original design of Donald Ross in 1907, there was some understandable trepidation around the industry.
Coore and Crenshaw set out to restore the course to its roots and thankfully the results have been incredible. This guide touches on some of the most critical changes, but it's safe to say that the players are going to see a vastly different course compared to the one they played during the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens.
Donald Ross was the original course designer at Pinehurst and is largely cited as being the foremost course architect in American golf history, but he was actually a pretty good player in his own right. He was appointed as the head pro at Pinehurst in 1900, two years before he built No. 2, and between the years of 1902 and 1907, Ross actually finished in the top-10 at the U.S. Open four times, and also finished tied for eighth in the 1910 Open Championship. Ross' biggest impact though was in course design, where he was involved in the process with an estimated 400 courses before his death in 1948, with No. 2 being his crown jewel, but as Lee Pace of Pinehurst.com wrote last year, things could have turned out very differently for both Ross and Pinehurst if not for an unexpected loss by Bobby Jones in the 1929 U.S. Amateur.
Jones and Ross had a handshake agreement that Ross was going to be the designer on the course of Jones' dreams in Georgia, which as we all know, turned out to be Augusta National, arguably the most famous course in all of golf. After Jones was knocked out in the first round by unheralded Johnny Goodman at the U.S. Amateur held at Pebble Beach, he stuck around for a little bit and played Cypress Point for the first time. Jones fell in love with the place and actually got to meet the architect, Alister MacKenzie, while on the grounds and instead of going with Ross, Jones gave the job to MacKenzie. Ross, furious at Jones for going back on his word, set out to make Pinehurst even better than the original design that he put together 27 years prior. The redesign was considered a huge success, but so was Augusta National and the eventual Masters Tournament, so everyone won, right?
The U.S. Open is the only of golf’s four majors using an 18-hole playoff to decide events tied after 72 holes. Playoff rounds take place on the Monday, and the format moves to sudden death if the golfers remain level after 18 extra holes. The last U.S. Open to go to a playoff was in 2008 when Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in sudden death, which to date, is his last major championship win.
One of Donald Ross' design traits was that he believed in wide fairways, which should present the golfer with myriad options into the green on their second shots. The changes made to Ross' original design at Pinehurst severely limited those options, as thick Bermuda grass was planted throughout the layout, essentially choking out the fairway and making them very narrow. Coore and Crenshaw's work restored the original fairways, widening them by as much as 50 percent in spots, meaning that we'll be seeing some fairways with 50-60 yards of real estate in play.
The U.S. Open traditionally ends on Father’s Day, and this year will be no different. One of the big selling points of golf is the time that you get to spend with family, which is something I know firsthand, but it’s also become apparent that it’s a big deal even for the professionals.
In recent years at the U.S. Open, we’ve seen emotional moments with Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy celebrating with their fathers after they’ve won the tournament, and Justin Rose last year couldn't help but tear up after his victory, mostly he said because his late father couldn't be there to celebrate with him. It’s become a focal point for both ESPN and NBC in their broadcasts in recent years, and it will be once again in 2014.
When the USGA last came to Pinehurst in 2005, Jason Gore was not supposed to be part of the story. Gore lost his PGA Tour card two years prior and was milling about on the mini tours in 2005 when he used one of the many qualifying sites to get into the U.S. Open. On the way to Pinehurst, his car was broken into and everything was stolen with the exception of his clubs - they were with his caddie. Once he got to the course, none of that mattered, as he shot 71 on Thursday, followed by 67 on Friday to grab a share of the 36-hole lead. He followed with 72 on Saturday and even though he was three shots back, he was in the final group with two-time U.S. Open winner and defending champion Retief Goosen. Gore would fire a 14-over par 84 on Sunday, falling well out of contention and ending up 14 shots back of Michael Campbell's eventual winning score. Gore failed to qualify for the U.S. Open this year, finishing four shots out of a qualification place, but he will always be an important part of the U.S. Open and Pinehurst.
Remember those wide fairways that we talked about? Well, those playing from the fairway are going to have a distinct advantage over those who are playing from somewhere else thanks to the green complexes that Ross put together almost 100 years ago. The signature feature of a Donald Ross course is the crowned or turtleback greens, meaning that the greens are higher in the middle than they are on the sides. This leads to greens that slope away from the middle, causing very difficult approach shots and encouraging more European style run-up shots as opposed to lofting shots at the pin from high angle.
Many of the greens at Pinehurst have tons of trouble at the back, with severe slopes that can be difficult to manage if the run-up goes too far. Attacking these greens from the fairway will be difficult enough, but if the players land somewhere else, it's going to be next to impossible.
Horace Rawlins holds a major spot in golf history, even if most people have no idea who he is. Rawlins won the very first U.S. Open at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island back in 1895, beating out 10 other players to claim the victory. He shot scores of 91 and 82 over the 36-hole championship, defeating Willie Dunn by two strokes, coming away with $150 and a $50 medal as his reward. By contrast, Justin Rose took home $1.44 million for his victory at Merion last year.
Coore and Crenshaw completed their redesign a couple of years ago, so many golfers have played the new/old course and the reviews are nothing but positive. This includes players who will tee it up this week, as everyone from Phil Mickelson to Graeme McDowell, who both played in the most recent Open at Pinehurst in 2005, caught sneak peaks and said the restoration made an already great course even better.
The last time there was this much hype around a young American golfer, Tiger Woods ran around Augusta National, winning by 12 shots at just 21 years old. Spieth, who already has a PGA Tour win and a boatload of close calls, doesn't turn 21 until July. If he can win this week at Pinehurst, he'll be the sixth-youngest major champion in golf history, with the most recent player to win at a younger age being Tom Creavy, who won the 1931 PGA Championship. At a time when golf is experiencing an influx of young talent, Spieth very well might be the most exciting of the bunch.
Hey, did you know that Johnny Miller won the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont by posting a final round 63? Well, you do now and Miller will make a point of bringing it up on the NBC broadcasts whenever he can. As NBC’s lead color commentator, Miller has made a second career of reminding people about his past successes and for his "Millerisms," where he tries to get overly technical with explaining what’s going on on the course. With Fox taking over the broadcasting duties for all USGA events next year, this will be the last U.S. Open that we hear Johnny Miller and the rest of the NBC crew, which is either a good or a bad thing depending almost entirely on your view of Miller, who has been with NBC since 1990.
There's an argument to be made that Matt Kuchar is the best player in the world right now without a major championship. Much like Spieth, Kuchar burst onto the PGA Tour at a young age, but struggled and lost his card after the 2005 season, leading to a seven-year gap between wins. Now, at 35 years old, he's one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour, piling up top-10 finishes on almost a weekly basis. He won smaller events, and big ones, including the Players, WGC-Match Play, and the Memorial, too. It's time for him to take the next step and win a major championship.
You know how sometimes you watch a PGA Tour event and a player hits a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway, but ends up in a divot? Usually, that's the unluckiest a player will get, but this week could all come down to who gets a lucky break just off the fairway. As I've mentioned, the Coore and Crenshaw restoration returned Pinehurst back to its roots, and if the players miss the wide fairways this week, there's a good chance that with the natural areas and removed rough, two players could be inches apart and have completely different lies, which you just don't see very often any more.
Michael Campbell is the last player to win at Pinehurst, coming from behind to take the 2005 U.S. Open after getting into the event through sectional qualifying. Despite eight wins on the European Tour, that major nine years ago remains Campbell's only triumph on the PGA Tour. Campbell announced last month that despite still being eligible, he will not be competing this year at Pinehurst due to a combination of injuries suffered earlier this year and his recent separation with his wife, Julie.
Golf has certainly become a very global game over the last couple of decades, and the U.S. Open has seen it's fair share of international winners in recent memory. Of the last 10 winners of this event, seven of them have hailed from somewhere other than the United States, with only Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines in 2008, Lucas Glover at Bethpage Black in 2009, and Webb Simpson at Olympic in 2012 winning their national open. American golfers take a lot of pride in being able to win the U.S. Open, much like a British player would love to win the Open Championship, and make no mistake, both NBC and ESPN want nothing more than to see a leaderboard packed with Americans this week.
“A first-class architect attempts to give the impression that everything has been done by nature and nothing by himself.” Those are the words of Alister MacKenzie, but Ross also believed this to be true, and that was evident in his original course design, leaving the natural, sandy areas alone. Coore and Crenshaw restored the natural areas back to what they were originally after Robert Trent Jones and the club decided to put Bermuda grass all over the layout, and the result is a course that looks absolutely stunning and will play completely different to what it did nine years ago. Rye grass, pine needles, and sand are not things that you see directly off of the fairways in most courses today, and as noted above, these areas are going to cause some lucky or unlucky breaks for the players all week.
Overseeding is a process where grass seed is spread out over top of the existing grass in order to produce growth, most notably on fairways. This happens everywhere, mostly over the winter but in preparation for the U.S. Open this year, the club opted against overseeding, resulting in very fast and firm fairways. Players on going to need that extra length on a course that's playing north of a ridiculous 7,500 yards, but it also means that balls will be running off of the fairways as well, leading to some nasty situations.
Oh boy, where do I even start with this one? Last year at Merion, Mickelson had the lead on the 13th hole, seeking his first U.S. Open victory in an attempt to win golf's grand slam, joining Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen, and Tiger Woods as the only players in golf history to win all four major championships. He proceeded to bogey three of his final six holes to finish two shots behind Justin Rose, giving him his sixth runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, the most in tournament history.
Lefty returns to Pinehurst for the third time, this time on the 15th anniversary of his first U.S. Open runner-up finish, when he lost to Payne Stewart right here at No. 2:
Mickelson hasn't had the best of seasons so far in 2014, with his lone top-10 finish coming back in January in Abu Dhabi, but you have to think that he'll be in contention, which is something NBC is desperately hoping for in the absence of Tiger Woods. Mickelson talked earlier in 2014 about building up towards Pinehurst because this event means so much to him. I can't imagine that there would be a better 44th birthday present for Mickelson on Monday than to wake up as the U.S. Open champion.
You can't talk about Pinehurst without mentioning Payne Stewart, who won here back in 1999 after sinking a 15-foot putt on the 18th to beat Phil Mickelson by one. It was the third major championship for Stewart, having won the 1989 PGA and followed that with a win two years later at the U.S. Open at Hazeltine. Unfortunately, Stewart never got a chance to defend his Pinehurst win, as he passed away just four months after the win in a plane crash, on his way to the Tour Championship. Stewart was an incredible player and a one of a kind personality that golf has greatly missed since his untimely passing, and you can bet that he'll be a big part of the focus this week at Pinehurst.
The U.S. Open might be the most democratic event in all of professional sports, allowing anyone who’s good enough to attempt to qualify for the event and play with the best players in the world. Prove to the USGA that you have a handicap of 1.4 or lower, and you can go to one of 111 local qualifying sites and try to punch your ticket to the sectionals. Get through the sectionals, which is usually littered with PGA and European Tour players who aren’t exempt yet, and you get to tee it up with the pros. The odds are long though, as 10,127 people signed up for local qualifying this year, with 769 of them moving on to the sectionals. Of those 769, 57 of them earned spots at Pinehurst, joining the 74 already exempt pros and 20 international qualifiers.
Here’s a sample of quotes about both Pinehurst and the U.S. Open:
“There are more bogeys in the last nine holes of the U.S. Open than in any other tournament in God’s creation.” – Ray Floyd
“The U.S. Open is my favorite week of the year. To a lot of people, it is the worst week of the year. To me, you should be punished if you miss the fairway. You should be punished if you miss the green.” – Colin Montgomerie
"I've always thought Pinehurst No. 2 to be my favorite golf course from a design standpoint."
– Jack Nicklaus
"The fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed." – Donald Ross
“The U.S. Open has never been exciting to watch. It has always been a sad tournament. There is no excitement, no enjoyment. It is all defensive golf, from the first tee to the last putt.” – Seve Ballesteros
“A difficult golf course eliminates a lot of players. The U.S. Open flag eliminates a lot of players. Some players just weren’t meant to win the U.S. Open. Quite often, a lot of them know it.” – Jack Nicklaus, on the traditional Open setup
There is no golfer on the planet right now who is under more pressure or scrutiny than Rory McIlroy. After a very public and what seems to be a messy breakup with fiancé Caroline Wozniacki, McIlroy went out and won the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship event on the European Tour, doing so on a course (Wentworth Club) that's never been his favorite. He followed that up with a 63 in the opening round at the Memorial before ballooning in round two, but got it back together on the weekend to finish tied for 15th, giving him only one finish outside of the top-25 worldwide since October. In terms of pure talent, you'd be hard pressed to find someone better than McIlroy, but he's been prone to blow ups as well, especially in the second round of events, where his scoring average is a full shot worse than any other round in 2014. He's the current betting favorite at roughly 10-1, and you'd have to think that he's going to be a factor all week.
"For the first time in the history of the U.S. Open, which goes back to 1895, we're going to be playing a U.S. Open with no rough to speak of, at least the way most of us think of rough as grass. It is going to be very unique; it's going to be great for television." That was Mike Davis of the USGA speaking to Dave Droschak of Cyber Golf, and it's a big departure for the USGA to stage an event that doesn't contain rough, which for better or worse, has become the focal point of the event for the last 10-15 years. It's been so high and thick in recent years that players would frequently lose balls or injure themselves coming out of it, but that won't be the case this time around as all of the rough has been hacked away in favor of "natural" areas.
At 34, Sergio Garcia still seeks his first major championship win, and even though many people have given up on the idea of him finally getting one, including Garcia himself at points, there's an argument to be made that he's in a better position now to win one than ever before.
Garcia has always been one of golf's best ball strikers, but his putter held him back. The stats show that he's actually been one of the game's best putters over the last three years, jumping him back up the Official World Golf Rankings to eighth overall. The ball striking is still there, and many people are looking at him to finally win that first major this season.
He finished tied for third here back in 2005 on what was admittedly a very different course, but with the need to think your way around and stay in the fairway, Pinehurst figures to be a perfect fit for Garcia. Don't be surprised if he's the one left standing on Sunday night.
No, he's not playing this week, but we still have to talk about Tiger Woods because he still figures to be a focal point for the broadcast. He's supposedly only chipping and putting right now in his recovery from back surgery, and there are all kinds of rumors about him trying to be ready for the Open Championship next month. For him to have any shot at being on Tom Watson's Ryder Cup team, he's going to need to be back sooner rather than later.
As Tiger has mentioned, he was trending in the right direction at Pinehurst, finishing third in 1999 and second in 2005, and it would have been fun to see how creative he would have gotten on the newly redesigned course, but he's obviously nowhere near ready to compete. NBC will probably double down on the Mickelson storyline because of the lack of Tiger, but he'll still get a good chunk of airtime, especially if the rumors are true about an NBC retrospective coming in their last U.S. Open broadcast on Sunday night.
The United States Golf Association is the governing body that hosts the U.S. Open every year, along with 12 other national championships, and in conjunction with the R&A in Scotland, help produce and enforce the Rules of Golf. The USGA was founded in 1894 and over the last 120 years, it has become the most powerful organization in all of American golf with over 700,000 members headed up by president Thomas O'Toole and executive director Mike Davis.
Golf has always been about etiquette and that goes for all levels of the game, whether you're a weekend hacker or playing for money on TV every week. Fans were expected to respect the rules of the game as well, but in recent years, especially in the United States, galleries have become overly loud and belligerent while they're watching the action. At the Masters, the Augusta National crew doesn't stand for any of it, so they usually kick people out on the spot when they hear someone yell "mashed potatoes," but it's been a free-for-all in the past at the U.S. Open, where fans are usually able to get away with saying whatever they want as long as it doesn't get too disrespectful. Just ask Sergio.
For the first time ever, the USGA will be staging both the men's and women's open at the same course in back-to-back weeks, as after the men are through playing Pinehurst, the women will tee it up on the same layout, albeit at a shorter yardage. It's going to be interesting to see how the course bounces back from the beating that it'll take from the men, but I'm sure that the grounds crew will get it in great shape, even with the extremely limited turnaround time. Names to watch this week include defending champion Inbee Park, Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie, Lydia Ko, Stacy Lewis, and 11-year old qualifier Lucy Li. Yes, I said 11 years old.
Forty years ago this week, the USGA staged the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York for the third time, having done so in 1929 and 1959, as well as hosting a U.S. Amateur and two U.S. Women's Opens. What happened that week has become the stuff of legend, even with the crazy difficulty that the USGA likes to enforce at their events. Dubbed the Massacre at Winged Foot, no player broke par in the opening round, with Gary Player leading the way at even, and Hale Irwin eventually walking away as the champion at 7-over par. Why did it play so tough? Well, the initial thought was that the USGA set it up to play that difficult in response to Johnny Miller's final round 63 at Oakmont the year before, which is something that they denied back then and continue to deny to this day.
The future of golf is in a good place right now. Players like Hideki Matsuyama, pictured above, along with Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, and yes, Rory McIlroy, have all shown that they are more than ready to lead golf for the next few years, and there's more coming too. We will never see another Tiger Woods, but these guys are going to make golf exciting to watch for the foreseeable future.
If there's one thing the USGA likes, it's a difficult U.S. Open, and even though the rough isn't up like usual, Pinehurst is going to play very tough all week. In six of the last 10 U.S. Opens, the winner has finished at even par or worse, including last year when Justin Rose ended at 1-over par, and when Michael Campbell won here at Pinehurst back in 2005 with a score of even par. We're not going to get to Winged Foot levels here, but I'd be surprised if anyone broke par again here this week.
The 2014 U.S. Open starts Thursday morning at 6:45 AM ET. theScore will have you covered with live updates and news from Pinehurst.