The U.S. Open, for better or worse, always seems to be more about the golf course than about the players.
The Masters each April is about who may win, the Open Championship is built on history and linksy charm and the PGA Championship has, at least until next year, been about a final chance to win a major.
The U.S. Open is about the place more than the people. At least that’s the way it starts.
Ultimately, whether it’s Curtis Strange or Andy North or Tiger Woods, the U.S. Open wins someone whose place in the game is eternally altered by the championship they won.
This year, it’s Shinnecock Hills’ turn to be the focus and no place is more worthy of a close up than it is. It’s American golf at its finest, a place where old money and old world golf intersect on a slender section of Long Island. Shinnecock Hills has been modernized through the years, mostly recently by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, today’s course whisperers, and it surrenders nothing in star power compared with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler.
The players can make it about themselves this weekend but everything is painted against the Shinnecock canvas.
There’s an element of the unknown with the fairways averaging more than 40 yards in width, narrower than they could have been but wider than they were when the Open was last played at Shinnecock in 2004. What the world will notice will be the waving forests of fescue blowing in the breeze, keeping every player on notice that one loose swing can ruin four days of brilliant work.
There will be traffic issues on the Long Island Expressway getting to Shinnecock (they’ve apparently already begun) and every little thing becomes a big thing because it’s the U.S. Open. Adam Scott has a new caddie, Tiger has moored his yacht nearby and the rounds will take far too long, as they always do in the U.S. Open.
Traditional U.S. Opens, if there are such things any more, have featured an undercurrent of dread, players and fans alike understanding double and triple bogeys are waiting for seemingly everyone. But because it’s Shinnecock Hills, the sense of anticipation and excitement is winning, at least early in the week.
This is Shinnecock Hills’ moment. That’s our good fortune.