U.S. Open: Things to know about Shinnecock Hills
June 11, 2018
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- The seventh green at Shinnecock Hills is a Redan hole, a template made famous at North Berwick in Scotland. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
The U.S. Open returns to one of the United States’ most historic venues this week, Shinnecock Hills.
The windswept linksland in an exclusive Long Island enclave has hosted just four U.S. Opens, including the second one in 1896. This will be the first national championship held at the William Flynn design in 14 years.
“Shinnecock makes your heart beat faster,” World Golf Hall of Famer Ben Crenshaw said. “Everything fits here. It’s a marvelous golf course in a unique setting, a touch of golf that emanates from the British Isles.”
He took a pilgrimage to Shinnecock Hills as a TOUR rookie in 1973 and decades later led a restoration that helped the course regain some of its early characteristics. Crenshaw’s work at Shinnecock Hills, performed along with Bill Coore, will receive a lot of attention this week. Here’s a primer on the historic course to get you ready for the 2018 U.S. Open.
1. HISTORIC HILLS: Legendary golf writer Herbert Warren Wind wrote that after Shinnecock Hills opened “the United States for the first time had a golf course that looked like a golf course.”
It was a 12-hole course when it opened in 1891. Willie Davis designed the layout, while 150 members of the Shinnecock Indian reservation built the course.
The crew “removed the blueberry bushes from the rough, utilized the Indian burial mounds as obstacles before the greens or made them into sand traps, cropped and manicured the sandy turf,” Wind wrote.
One-hundred dollar shares of the club were sold in September 1891. Forty-four men and women purchased between one and 10 shares apiece. The clubhouse, designed by famed architect Stanford White (who was later murdered atop Madison Square Garden), opened in the summer of 1892. The club’s membership already had grown to 70 members.
“Shinnecock Hills, in addition to being the first golf club on Long Island, the first in America to be incorporated and the first to have a clubhouse, assured itself one further distinction: it was the first golf club to establish a waiting list,” Wind wrote.
The course was one of five clubs that founded the United States Golf Association in December 1894. Shinnecock Hills expanded to 18 holes the following spring, just as the United States was undergoing a golf boom. “In a wonderfully short space of time this ancient Scottish game has leaped into the front rank of America’s outdoor amusements,” the New York Times wrote in 1896.
The links were revised four times before the current course, designed by William Flynn, opened in 1931. Flynn also designed Cherry Hills in Denver and played a large role in the design of Merion and Pine Valley.
2. EARLY BEGINNINGS: It didn’t take long for Shinnecock Hills to host its first major championship. Both the second U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open were played there in 1896.
The Amateur took top billing in those days. Eighty-five men played 36 holes of stroke play before the field was whittled down to a 16-man match-play bracket.
H.J. Whigham, who’d come to the United States from Scotland the previous winter, dominated from start to finish, earning medalist honors with a score of 163 before beating J.G. Thorp, 8 and 7, in the final.
“His playing was vastly superior to the great majority of his competitors,” the New York Times reported. “He is a young man but has been playing the game ever since he was 9 years old and is a scratch man in his club in Scotland, the Prestwick Golf Club.”
Whigham successfully defended his title the following year at Chicago Golf Club.
The field for the next day’s U.S. Open was less than half the size of the amateur championship. James Foulis turned in a record-setting performance, shooting 152 to defeat defending champion Horace Rawlins by three shots. Foulis’s second-round 74 was the lowest round in U.S. Open history, a mark that stood for several years. He earned $200 for his efforts.
The youngest player in the field, Shinnecock caddie John Shippen, shot 78-81 to finish fifth and pocket $10. The 16-year-old shared the first-round lead but was undone by an 11 on the 13th hole of the second round.
“It was just a little, easy par 4 and all I had to do was play it to the right,” Shippen said decades later. “I played it too far to the right and ended up in a sand road. And I kept hitting it in that sand road until I finally finished with an 11.”
It was a groundbreaking performance, and not only because of his age. Shippen was the son of a black father and Shinnecock Indian mother. Shippen’s father was the Presbyterian minister to the Shinnecock reservation.
Many of the Scottish and English professionals threatened to withdraw if Shippen and Oscar Bunn, a Shinnecock Indian, were allowed to play. USGA president Theodore Havemeyer declared the tournament would be played, even if Shippen and Bunn were the only two entrants.
“Anyone who plays Shippen has got to forget his boyishness and pay careful attention to his golf, for Shippen is, in view of the circumstances, the most remarkable player in the United States,” the Chicago Tribune heralded. “His principal weakness was in putting, and this lost him fully five or six strokes in the first round.”
3. SHORT STUFF: That first U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills also was the shortest in the tournament’s history. Shinnecock played 4,423 yards, more than 3,000 yards shorter than it will this week. Of course, the Chicago Tribune reporter present at Shinnecock that week gushed over Shippen’s “magnificent drive of fully 175 yards.” Many players can hit a 9-iron that far today.
The course will play 7,445 yards this week. That’s shorter than several recent U.S. Open venues but also about 500 yards longer than the last time Shinnecock Hills hosted the U.S. Open. Ten new tees were added to the course.
“We are excited because now all of a sudden some of the cross bunkers, … some of the lateral bunkers, are in play,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said.
Among the holes that were lengthened were Nos. 14 and 16. Crenshaw called the 14th “an incredible hole, a sinewy par-4, maybe the best hole on a course where the holes go every which way.”
The 519-yard hole, which plays from an elevated tee, is the longest par-4 on the course.
The par-5 16th will now play 616 yards. It’s one of two par-5s on the course, along with the fifth hole, but it’s hardly an automatic birdie. Both Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman made costly double-bogeys there in the final round. Mickelson made 7 after hitting his lay-up into the thick rough.
The new tee will return some of the hole’s original characteristics.
“That was a classic case of getting the Flynn architecture to work,” Davis said. “The further left you hit your tee shot, the better angle you’ll have for your second shot, but it’s a longer carry.”
The course will play 7,445 yards this week, about 500 yards longer than the last time Shinnecock Hills hosted the U.S. Open. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
4. WIDE ANGLE: Fairway width will be a big topic of discussion this week. Coore and Crenshaw – who also oversaw the renovation of 2014 U.S. Open venue Pinehurst No. 2 -- dramatically widened Shinnecock Hills’ fairways and expanded the greens to more closely mirror Flynn’s original design. Some of the fairways were made more than 60 yards wide.
After seeing players wield driver with impunity at Erin Hills, the USGA came in last fall to narrow some of Shinnecock Hills’ enlarged fairways, though.
“Accuracy needed to play a bigger role in (the U.S. Open),” Davis said.
Even after the USGA’s narrowing, the fairways will still have an average width of 41 yards, 15 yards wider than previous U.S. Opens at Shinnecock.
The greens, which had become more circular with time, were expanded to recapture some of Flynn’s more creative hole locations. Shinnecock Hills also is known for having expanded areas of short grass around the greens. This causes wayward approach shots to roll farther away from the green, and gives players more options on their short-game shots.
5. TASTE OF SCOTLAND: Shinnecock Hills gives a taste of a Scottish links thanks to its sandy soil, fescue rough, ocean breezes, short grass around the greens and scarcity of trees.
“I know that I run more golf balls up here than any other U.S. Open,” Tiger Woods said in 2004. “This is very much like a British Open. You can actually putt from 30, 40 yards off the green if you so choose.”
As the name would imply, Shinnecock Hills’ is situated on terrain that has some undulation. There are a handful of elevated tee shots where players’ balls will fly through the air at the mercy of the wind, with no trees to protect them.
The wind is unpredictable and can drastically change the course’s character. In 1986, it blew in a different direction each day.
“When there’s a Northeast wind, the members supposedly stay in the bar and play cards,” the New York Times’ Dave Anderson wrote in 1995.
Players face myriad wind directions during their rounds, as well, because the fairways don’t run parallel to each other.
“It’s not the longest U.S. Open course I’ve ever played but definitely with the breeze blowing it’s going to be one of the more difficult ones,” Ernie Els said in 2004.
That could still hold true today.
6. EXPERIENCE REQUIRED: After hosting the second U.S. Open, it was another 90 years until the championship returned to Shinnecock Hills. Raymond Floyd was 43 years old when he became the oldest winner in U.S. Open history, breaking Ted Ray’s 66-year-old record (Hale Irwin was 45 when he won the 1990 U.S. Open).
Floyd’s victory set a theme for Shinnecock Hills. Experience is required.
All three winners of modern U.S. Opens at Shinnecock have been 35 years or older. The last two winners at Shinnecock Hills, Retief Goosen and Corey Pavin, were in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking, as well.
This could bode well for Justin Rose, the only top-10 player who’s celebrated his 35th birthday. Rose, 37, also won the 2013 U.S. Open.
He is coming off an impressive victory in the Fort Worth Invitational and has finished in the top 10 in 15 of his past 20 worldwide starts.
7. THE REDAN: One of Shinnecock Hills’ most famous holes was at the center of controversy the last time the U.S. Open came to town.
The USGA had to water the seventh green between groups after losing control of the golf course in 2004. Some players were aiming for the bunker on the par-3 seventh because balls wouldn’t stay on the green.
“There simply wasn’t enough moisture in the greens,” Davis said. “At some point, if (grass) doesn't have enough moisture, it begins to wilt.
“It was certainly a bogey last time. In fact, maybe even a double-bogey.”
Even under normal conditions, the seventh hole is one of the toughest on the course. It is a Redan hole, a template made famous at North Berwick in Scotland. Famed course architect C.B. MacDonald wrote this about Redan holes: “Take a narrow tableland, tilt it a little from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally and you have a Redan.”
The Redan’s green slopes from front-right to back-left. At Shinnecock Hills, the prevailing wind blows into the player standing on the seventh tee and from the right.
“If you hit 17 greens, you’ll get 100 percent greens in regulation because it’s almost impossible to hit that green,” Sergio Garcia said in 2004.
8. TIGER AND PHIL: Tiger Woods played his first U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 1995, the same week that Phil Mickelson had his first chance to win the U.S. Open.
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are two of five players who are competing this week after playing in the 1995 and 2004 U.S. Opens at Shinnecock Hills. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
It didn’t end well for either of them.
After a first-round 74, Woods sprained a ligament in his left wrist after hitting out of the rough on the third hole. He withdrew three holes later.
Mickelson finished fourth, his first top-25 in five Open starts. He was undone by a double-bogey on the par-5 16th hole.
“It wasn’t like I was trying to get greedy and get on in two,” he said. “I just pulled my second shot and was hacking out of the rough.”
When the U.S. Open returned to Shinnecock Hills nine years later, Woods was again a sidenote while Mickelson contended until a double-bogey on one of the final holes.
Woods didn’t win a stroke-play title in 2004. His only victory came at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. He lost the No. 1 ranking in the world to Vijay Singh. Woods finished T17 at Shinnecock Hills.
Mickelson started the final round in second place, two shots behind Retief Goosen. Mickelson briefly took the lead after birdies at 15 and 16.
“I thought this was going to be the day,” he said.
He hit his tee shot at the par-3 17th into a bunker, though. His explosion shot took a hard bounce on the green and scooted about 6 feet past the hole, leaving him a slick, downhill putt. He three-putted from there.
Mickelson finished second, two shots behind Goosen. It was Mickelson’s third runner-up in the U.S. Open. He now owns a record-setting six.
Woods and Mickelson are two of five players who are competing this week after playing in the 1995 and 2004 U.S. Opens. Steve Stricker, Ernie Els and Kenny Perry are the others.
9. SHARK BITTEN: Greg Norman twice held the 54-hole lead at Shinnecock Hills but lost it both times. He held a one-shot lead over Hal Sutton and Lee Trevino in 1986 but shot a final-round 75 to clear the stage for Raymond Floyd. Norman finished six back of Floyd, who fired a final-round 66.
Norman held the 54-hole lead in all four majors that year but only managed to claim The Open Championship.
Nine years later, Norman shared the third-round lead with Tom Lehman. Corey Pavin fired a final-round 68 while Norman shot 73 and Lehman shot 74. It was the first of four consecutive U.S. Opens (1995-98) where Lehman would play in Sunday’s final group. He never won one. Bobby Jones is the only other player to compete in the U.S. Open’s final group four consecutive times.
Goosen is the only 54-hole leader to win at Shinnecock Hills.