SOUTHAMPTON, NEW YORK | The U.S. Open isn’t scheduled to start until 6:45 a.m. Thursday, but by Tuesday night USGA CEO Mike Davis and his staff already were making changes to how Shinnecock Hills will be set up for the first round.
The adjustments were necessitated by a changing weather forecast which now calls for breezy and sometimes gusty conditions during the first round. Cognizant of Shinnecock’s demanding nature and the memory of how course conditions got away from USGA officials in the final round here in 2004, the decision was made to alter the intended setup.
“I can’t remember, between last night and this morning and going around making so many audibles from the original game plan, and that really was because of the predicted wind we’re supposed to get. So most places we go, we don’t get that windy,” Davis said Wednesday.
“There are a number of holes here that we’ve got to be very mindful of where tee markers go. I think of tomorrow, the sixth hole, wonderful. It’s kind of a blind shot, but you’ve got to carry the ball some 240, 245 yards to get to the fairway. That’s nothing for these players, but you put a three-, four-club wind in their face, all of a sudden it is.”
The good news is there’s little chance of rain the rest of the week, with predictions of generally sunny conditions and temperatures in the 70s. The wild card is the wind, which is forecasted to blow between 15 and 20 mph Thursday with gusts up to 30 mph from the west/northwest.
A light rain early Wednesday didn’t significantly soften the course and though green speeds will be around 11 on the stimpmeter, windy conditions can exacerbate the challenge of keeping balls on the putting surfaces.
“You start to think about how do certain carries on holes play? What are the players’ options?” Davis said.
“Even with hole locations, you think about it’s not just the green speed, it’s not just the percentage slope, but where is the wind going to blow? Because, actually, the wind will have more influence than the speed of the greens or the percentage slope. So in a lot of cases, we’ve tried to put hole locations where the wind might blow uphill.”
In the final round in 2004, the green at the par-3 seventh hole became virtually unplayable due to stronger-than-expected winds that made it difficult to keep balls on the crusty putting surface. Davis said that problem won’t recur because of technology improvements and experience.
Ultimately, though, the weather will be the determining factor in how Shinecock plays.
“We want it to be a stern test, but as you sit here today, you say, ‘Well, what are we going to get tomorrow?’ And we’ve got to make sure that, to the extent we can control it, that we have a setup that actually works,” Davis said.
“Listen, if the wind blows really hard, which could happen, it doesn’t matter how you set the course up and the speeds. You get to the point where it’s kind of like a lightning storm. You just can’t play golf. Hopefully, we won’t get to that point, but we’re doing everything we can to be cognizant of it.”