Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002.
OAKMONT, Pa. — On their way here to oversee this year’s U.S. Open, officials of the U.S. Golf Association drove out to Eastern Long Island to see the future. It looked a lot better than 2004.
Two years away from a U.S. Open that should make everyone forget the nightmare 12 years ago, Shinnecock Hills is on schedule and in shape.
“It is awesome. I have never seen it so good,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said Wednesday, on the eve of this year’s championship at Oakmont Country Club.
Jeff Hall, the USGA’s manager of competitions who accompanied Davis on the trip to Southampton two weeks ago, said, “I hadn’t been there in five or six years so to me, the transformation has been substantial. Two years out, there are always some things to fine tune. But we were very, very pleased.”
What they saw was more than a course that recovered from the scorched earth look of the place at the end of the 2004 Open. They saw subtle enhancements that will bring new strategic elements, with a nod to the roots of one of America’s most venerable clubs.
“Talk about restoration: the fairway contours, the bunkering. They have expanded out the greens substantially. It is like they are 40 percent bigger. It’s amazing. So it is really going to play the way it should have, many years ago,” Davis said with a verbal nod to Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, who were brought in to touch up the layout. “They just did great work there.”
Davis was a member of the staff back then and he was the one who stood on the parched seventh green with a walkie-talkie, getting the go-ahead to order the maintenance crew to start watering during the final round. “I was getting stuff thrown at me,” he joked Wednesday.
It was one of the association’s most embarrassing moments, having made a series of decisions that let that green become so scorched that a golf ball would not sit still on it. Phil Mickelson, when he was asked Wednesday to name the hardest U.S. Open hole he ever had seen, said, “Well, we could go to 7 at Shinnecock, the week of the Open. Any other week, it’s a beautiful par 3.”
Having smoothed hard feelings from the club and given approval to try a Mulligan — golf lingo for a do-over — with the 2018 Open, the USGA is confident that such a debacle never will happen again. “That was the point that helped us realize we have to look at things differently,” Hall said. “We have had a great deal of change since 2004 with the equipment that is available to us, the moisture probes and the firmness readings. We get a lot of data to help manage things.”
As Davis cautiously put it, reflecting on 2004, “Not that we don’t make mistakes. But that should never happen again.”
What the world likely will see is the Shinnecock that drew stunned admiration in 1986 and 1995. Curtis Strange, now a U.S. Open commentator for Fox, admitted that he hated the place in 1986 because the weather and traffic were bad, as was his play. “I went back the next time and I really, really liked it,” he said. “I thought, ‘I could play here every day.’ ”
Paul Azinger, the lead golf analyst for Fox, played there in 1995. “I thought Shinnecock was frightfully hard and beautiful to look at,” he said, meaning it as a double compliment.
The USGA hopes, and has every reason to believe, that golfers will leave Southampton in 2018 with the same impression. “Oh, it is fantastic,” Hall said. “One of the special places to have a U.S. Open.”
The Knights of Columbus New York State Chapter will hold an outing benefiting the Sisters of Life June 29 at Rock Hill Golf & Country Club, Manorville. Call 631-654-8474 . . . The Lindenhurst Football Alumni Association will hold its third annual golf outing July 18 at Wind Watch in Hauppauge. Contact frank@lindyfootballalumni@gmail . . . The NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) Golf Classic will be July 19 at Willow Creek Golf & Country Club, Mount Sinai. Visit nari-ny.org.