As the old saying goes, the way to get to Carnegie Hall is with practice. No one wakes up one day with the ability to take the stage at the esteemed venue in New York City without already mastering a talent worthy of it.
Like most settings reserved for arts and entertainment impacted by the pandemic, Carnegie Hall is closed for the remainder of the year. However, its proximity to Winged Foot Golf Club’s West Course just 18 miles to the northeast in Mamaroneck, New York, is a reminder as to why the U.S. Open was delayed three months, and why that’s a good thing.
Imagine reemerging from the three-month hiatus without a reasonable amount of recent competition and with the intent to tame the historic track when the major originally was scheduled in mid-June. Even a bear stretches and takes stock of his surroundings immediately after hibernation. It’s the kind of hypothetical that would generate pause and consternation among all of the 144 qualifiers. Then again, pause and consternation promise to be two of the most common experiences this week, anyway.
Scroll past the projected contenders for more on what is a closed U.S. Open, a breakdown of Winged Foot and other details.
POWER RANKINGS: U.S. OPEN
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 20 Brendon Todd 19 Patrick Reed 18 Louis Oosthuizen 17 Matt Fitzpatrick 16 Justin Rose 15 Harris English 14 Hideki Matsuyama 13 Patrick Cantlay 12 Tommy Fleetwood 11 Paul Casey 10 Daniel Berger 9 Tony Finau 8 Bryson DeChambeau 7 Rory McIlroy 6 Justin Thomas 5 Xander Schauffele 4 Webb Simpson 3 Jon Rahm 2 Collin Morikawa 1 Dustin Johnson
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Defending champion Gary Woodland, three-time winner Tiger Woods, 2015 champ Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson will be among the notables reviewed in Tuesday’s Fantasy Insider.
A September date isn’t unprecedented for the U.S. Open, but it’s been 107 years since the last. This week’s champion can dream that his performance warrants what was made of the 1913 edition at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts; that is, the movie entitled “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
It’d be another 16 years before Winged Foot would host its first U.S. Open. This week marks the sixth time that the major has been contested on the A.W. Tillinghast design. If the last one was transformed into a film, it’d have been a horror flick starring Phil Mickelson and for the wrong reason.
Since that perilous day 14 years ago, Lefty has gone on to capture a title at The Open Championship (2013). He also was enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame. However, he’s still without a win in the U.S. Open, which, of course, means that he’s still the same win shy of a career grand slam.
Mickelson is one of 16 who competed at Winged Foot in 2006. What they will see will be a blend of some things familiar and quite a bit new.
At 7,477 yards, the course is 213 yards longer, but it’s still a stock par 70. The fifth hole, which was a par 5 in 2006, now is a par 4 but only 13 yards shorter at 502 yards. Alternately, the ninth hole, which was a par 4 in 2006, now is par 5 measuring 565 yards. It’s 51 yards longer. New tees were added on seven holes, including on No. 9, and each extended its hole. The longest of the affected is the par-4 17th that can stretch 504 yards. It grew by 55 yards.
Architect Gil Hanse fronted the restoration of all greens so that they will play as close as Tillinghast constructed. The putting surfaces, which consist of a blend of Poa annua and bentgrass, have expanded by as much as 25 percent in some cases. This introduces additional hole locations. They remain as slick (13 feet on the Stimpmeter) and with the severe undulations in line with expectations for this tournament.
All bunkers also were updated, a SubAir System was installed and a program of removing trees was implemented. With trees a virtual non-factor across the property, well, save the most wayward of drives, rough thick and deep enough to shroud shoes and with water potentially influencing only one shot per round (a stream bisects the fairway on the par-4 15th), Winged Foot presents as pure a test as anyone in the field ever will play.
While long and accurate off the tee always is preferred, it might not be of more value anywhere else than at Winged Foot. When the premium of striking it well on approach is added to the equation, whoever will be lifting the U.S. Open trophy on Sunday likely will have been among the best in the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. The putting surfaces will be equalizers, but because they will be unfamiliar on the whole, average putters stand a better chance of contending.
Fans love when par is a great score, and it will be at Winged Foot as it always is, but all about which the pros care is taking the fewest strokes regardless of the aggregate. Form upon arrival, experience, patience and an even temperament are attributes that should define the winner. Like Carnegie Hall, the U.S. Open identifies the best in the world.
Mother Nature probably will have a cameo before the 36-hole cut of low 60 and ties occurs. A fair chance of rain is forecast for Friday, but only a cloudburst could delay the action as the energy passing through isn’t expected to be severe. It’ll also cool the air considerably. After Thursday’s daytime high flirts with 80 degrees, temperatures are going to struggle reaching 70 degrees for the remainder. Coupled with a shift of potentially moderate winds pushing from a northerly direction after the rain, distance could be governed.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Wednesday.