Fear factor flourishing at Pinehurst No.2

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M. James Ward outlines how precision has returned to this year's US Open and how mental anguish will impact the contenders this weekend.
Posted on
June 15, 2024
M. James Ward in ,
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

PINEHURST, NC. One of the key concerns that both the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the R&A have been following with close scrutiny is the overall distance gains achieved by elite players.

A proposal to "rollback" the golf ball was announced a short time ago and its implementation will not happen till 2028 for elite level players and then two years later in 2030 for all others.

Power has become the sine qua non in professional golf. Xander Schauffele in his pre-championship news conference stated how Pinehurst No.2 falls outside the usual venues the world's best players play.

124th US Open at Pinehurst No.2


"It's sort of, I guess, old-school golf a little bit. You play to the fat side of a green. It's okay to lay up on a par-5. Just everything that's sort of -- not against, but modern golf is sort of hit it as far as you can down every hole, get it as close to the green on every hole, wedge it as close as you can, get up and down on par-5s, that type of deal."

Random lies are common when fairways are missed. There's the possibility of having a good lie and sufficient stance but there's also the flip side in which one's golf ball and stance can be impacted by the wispy strands of grass that dot the outer areas of each hole.

Tale of the tape at the 124th US Open at Pinehurst No.2

15 – Players under par through 36 holes
74 - Players making the cut
73.22 - Field average for first round.
72.90 - Field average for second round
4 - Players with both rounds under par (Ludvig Åberg, Bryson DeChambeau, Thomas Detry and Tony Finau)
0 - Birdies for Scottie Scheffler, the world No.1 in his round of 74. He made the cut on the number of 145
19 – Combined strokes for Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy at the par-5 5th

John Bodenhamer, Chief Championship Officer for the USGA, highlighted this during the association's pre-championship conference.

"Our setup strategy is not very complicated, either. We want the players to get every club in their bag dirty. We want to give them choices, want to give them variety, give them angles. And we can do it all here. We endeavor to create firm and fast conditions because we believe the world's best players can control their golf ball not only in the air but once it hits the ground and think about where to miss it not just where to hit it."

USGA chief championships officer John Bodenhamer insists Pinehurst will be “tough but fair” for the 124th US Open
USGA chief championships officer John Bodenhamer insisted Pinehurst would be “tough but fair” for the 124th US Open (Matt York/AP)

Nothing showcased the need for precision better than when the threesome of Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy reached the par-5 5th hole during Friday's second round. Each man opted to go for the green in two shots and each man tugged their approaches just slightly left. While each ball reached the green on the fly no ball remained, rolling off into the natural area to the left.

Despite covering nearly 600 yards in two shots - both Scheffler and Schauffele each scored double-bogeys in failing to negotiate the demands of the wispy grass area each found. McIlroy was able to make par but had to work especially hard to do so.

During that same round McIlroy putted off the front of the par-3 17th and then was able to leave by holing out a chip shot to escape with par.

Precision can be a mental grind as the pressure to play consistently throughout the round builds. Knowing how far and where to land one's approaches is a constant hurdle to successfully climb.

Scheffler barely made the cut and alluded to the requirements he and all others are facing this week.

"I think that's part of the mystery of the kind of sandy areas. You get down there and it's kind of luck of the draw whether or not you have a shot. Preferably I would have loved to have hit like a little runner out of there, but I had a bush in my way to where I couldn't play the runner that I would have hoped to.

"Really all you're trying to do from there is get it up on to the green somewhere, and I felt like I took the best route I could think of at first, and just because it's so unpredictable. So yeah, just pretty challenging spot for your ball to end up in."

The character of Pinehurst No.2 will continue to befuddle players as they battle through the final 36 holes this weekend.

Valero Texas Open 2024 R3
Akshay Bhatia (Eric Gay/AP)

Demonstrating a positive attitude can be the difference in how one fares as Akshay Bhatia (-1 thru 36 holes) stated.

"I love this golf. You're hitting it in the middle of greens and making pars is fun. I think it takes a lot more discipline, and it takes just a lot more intention on where you're trying to hit it and where you're trying to miss it. It's a lot different than just birdie fests."

Precision has returned to major championship golf this week. Deciding what golfer is best able to handle the rigors Donald Ross originally envisioned as restored by the architectural tandem of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

For some the fear of being exposed will flourish and overwhelm them. But for those able to adapt as circumstances dictate, the likelihood for success can well prove to be the pathway to hoisting the US Open trophy when play concludes

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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