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3 things you need to know about Pinehurst No. 2, site of the 114th U.S. Open

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The United States Open Championship, golf's second major, begins Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2 in beautiful Pinehurst, N.C. It's the third time in 16 years Pinehurst No. 2 is hosting golf's best and brightest, and here are three things you need to know about one of golf's oldest and most prestigious courses, which will look a lot different - unrecognizable! - this year.

Back to basics

Pinehurst No. 2, a course more than 100 years old, has been restored for the 114th U.S. Open. And by "restored," we mean the course has gone back to basics. Allow USA TODAY Sports' Joe DiMeglio to explain:

Pinehurst No. 2 has returned to its original splendor. The host site was restored to its authentic, rugged past and will play as influential golf course designer Donald Ross and Mother Nature intended.

... large swaths of manicured turf were bulldozed, replaced by a punishing collection of native vegetation that includes brush and clumps of wiregrass, all resting atop sandy hardpan that rims the greens and widened fairways.

By U.S. Open standards, the course is unrecognizable because there is no rough, ankle-high or otherwise. There only will be two settings for the mowers – one for the greens and one for the fairways. With no rough and the natural vegetation, some 75% of sprinkler heads were purged, saving about 40 million gallons of water a year.

That's a lot of water. And this ain't your father's Pinehurst No. 2. It's probably not even your father's father's Pinehurst No. 2.

The longest course on tour

Pinehurst No. 2, already one of the toughest course's there is, is 348 yards longer than it was in 2005, the last time it hosted the U.S. Open, writes ESPN's Zach Jones. It's the third-longest course in U.S. Open history, Jones adds.

There are four par 4s over 500 yards, including two of the longest in U.S. Open history: No. 16 at 528 yards, and No. 4 at 529 yards. Good luck and Godspeed, gentlemen. 

"Middle of the green, middle of the green, middle of the green," said Rory McIlroy. Sounds like a plan. And a prayer. 

The ultimate test

Mike Davis, executive director of the United States Golf Association, wants golfers to sweat when they're on Pinehurst No. 2. And sweat they will, without rough on the course.

Davis said:

One of the things that everybody talks about is the U.S. Open being the hardest test in golf. There's certainly some truth to that, relative to other events during the year. But, internally, when we talk about what we want it to be, you never hear us talk about wanting it to be the hardest test. That ends up almost being a byproduct.

What we really want our national championships to be is an incredibly challenging test, where it challenges every aspect of the game, shot-making skills, your course-management skills, your ability to handle the pressure at certain times of the championship. We do it on some of this country's very best golf courses. So that's really what our championships are about, holding a challenging championship on some of the great courses in the country.

You know what? Phil Mickelson, who needs a U.S. Open win to complete a career slam, approves: 

Golf Channel's Randall Mell goes on: Davis' plan for graduated rough at Pinehurst No. 2 was in the works for 10 years, and he wants nothing more than to put golfers in tough spots, which is precisely what's in store for them this weekend:

Whether it’s graduated rough, or no rough at all, Davis has found a way to put players in tough spots when they miss fairways. He has found ways to test smarts and resolve, as well as skill, whether a missed fairway leaves a player in deep rough, as it did last year at Merion, or in waste areas, like it will at Pinehurst No. 2.

In fact, Davis seems to most relish seeing how players fare in the toughest spot of all. He relishes putting them in their own heads. He does that with setups that force players to think their way out of trouble more often now, versus putting them in spots where the sole choice is chopping out of trouble with a wedge.

Only Davis would want to make golf harder. And at a major, no less. 

Mell has more on what will make Pinehurst No. 2 different this year from past U.S. Open's:

Typically, a U.S. Open came to be set up with fairways 24- to 28-yards wide, framed by a band of interim rough 2 yards wide and then by deep, nasty rough, measuring 5 inches or deeper.

With graduated rough, there are 5 or 6 yards of intermediate rough between the small band of interim rough and the deep, nasty stuff.

Five different men have won the U.S. Open in the last five years, two of them Americans. A sixth first-time winner would tie a U.S. Open record, but in order to win this tournament, it'll take guess work, luck, and skill.

Bill Coore, one of two course architects who helped restore Pinehurst No. 2, said, "We think you're going to see some of the most spectacular recovery shots in U.S. Open history."

We're holding you to that,  Mr. Coore. Or Bill, if we may. 

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