MAMARONECK, NY – In the 14 years since the United States Open was last held at Winged Foot Golf Club, what is probably the most dreaded course hosting a major championship, technology and advanced strength training have revolutionized the game. Tee shots routinely ascend 50 meters further than they even did a decade ago.
As the US Open returns to Winged Foot on Thursday, some in the golf community are wondering if the advanced arsenal of the modern golfer could be the formula. to tame, or at least mitigate the club's rigorous challenge of narrow fairways, ankle-deep rough and dastardly sloping greens.
"As Mike Tyson said," Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, "said Rahm. "It's the same here."
Most in the professional golf world are instead committed to another four days of Winged Foot to humiliate the field. As David Feherty, the former tour professional and current NBC golf analyst said, "I expect a lot of nagging."
Indeed, the new era players who are now the face of the sport seem to be preparing. for a 97-year-old golf course mocking their contemporary tactics.
"You just have to embrace it," said Justin Thomas, third on the PGA Tour. Otherwise, it will eat you alive. It is the hardest course I have ever played.
"But I'm not afraid. I think it will be fun – maybe, you know, a different kind of fun."
Thomas made those comments Tuesday. With a smile he admitted. : “I might not think the same way at the end of the week.”
An enlightening exercise leading up to the championship was asking players what they think the final score of the winner will be. The consensus was about four shots over the par of 70 on the track, an improvement on the best score of 2006, when Gregg Ogilvy's five over par was good enough to take the US Open trophy. But it is also a far cry from Dustin Johnson & # 39; s winning score of 30-under-par at the Northern Trust of the PGA Tour about three weeks ago.
And, as many players noted, the United States Golf Association, who holds the championship and enjoys inventing the toughest test in golf, is well aware that last year's US Open was won with an unusually low score of 13 under par.
Rahm said of the USGA: to put some extra effort into this golf course and know the history. They have a reputation to uphold.
Already during practice rounds, there have been amusing results, as players fight with the lush, green rugged – much of it just inches from the devilish, sharp-breaking greens.
During a practice round this week, defending US Open champion Gary Woodland held a ball up to his waist and dropped it to the floor to practice his recovery technique. The ball disappeared and he and his caddy searched for it for five minutes.
"It was right in front of me," Woodland said. "But we only found it when we stepped on it."
The U.S.G.A. has recruited additional track marshals, and even experienced Winged Foot caddies, to the Championship to help find faulty shots. The help is needed more than in previous years. Since the U.S. Open this year will be contested without spectators, a wayward shot no longer lands in a crowd – or on grass trampled by tens of thousands of fans. The scores of huge hospitality tents are also lacking, which was often an advantage for the players as they could drop a ball off a tent without errors.
And while the rough gets the most attention this week, the most daunting part of the Winged Foot layout is revealed as soon as a player reaches the signature greens conceived by course designer AW Tillinghast, who last years by golf architect Gil Hanse have been restored using a wealth of archived photographs from the 1920s.
Those images proved that Winged Foot's greens had shrunk significantly over the years. Hanse & # 39; s renovations increased the green areas by about 20 percent and brought back the rolling, multi-layered greens of Tillinghast's vivid imagination.
The result is the placement of surfaces that leave something to be desired in even the best photos. Like Collin Morikawa, who owns the P.G.A. championship in August, said Tuesday, "You can be pin high and not have a putt at the hole."
Hanse was asked to name the hardest hit on the course and replied, "Your third putt on the first hole."
The test Winged Foot is expected to take at & # 39 The world's best golfers are so great that the USGA leadership has spoken about mitigating the potential ordeal. Mike Davis, the organization's chief executive, said that even in 2006, they were looking for ways to “make the golf course a little easier.
He also recalled that the players from 14 years ago didn't complain much, despite the high scores. Could the same thing happen this year?
"Listen, the players don't have a pencil in their hand yet," he said, referring to writing the number of strokes it takes to complete each hole on a scorecard.
"So we'll wait and see. , ”added Davis.