The gimmicks the USGA put in place to protect par at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black - forced carries of herculean proportions off the tee at No. 10 and No. 12 - are gone. Now, the golf course is in front of the players, but the Open-record length of 7,426 yards, quite simply, is backbreaking.
Last time, knee-high fescue stretched more than 250 yards in front of the 10th tee to within about six feet of where the fairway began. Corey Pavin, the 1995 Open champion, was among those who could hit his best drive dead straight and not reach the fairway. At the 12th hole, deep rough beyond the fairway bunker on the left meant only the biggest boomers could fly the bunker and reach the fairway. Pavin had to hit driver off the tee right of the bunker and then driver off the deck for his second shot and then a chip and one-putt to get his par.
"That's all gone," said Geoff Ogilvy, who won the 2006 Open at Winged Foot. "They've fixed that. It's really, really hard and really, really long. If you hit lots of good golf shots, it's fine, but if you hit a bad shot, you're going to be really punished. I wasn't here in '02, but from what I understand, there were plenty of people who couldn't get on [the fairway] at No. 10 and No. 12. That's not the case now."
Andy Carracino, the director of golf at Timber Point GC in Great River was here in '02, and he was serving as the starter at No. 10 Monday. The hole actually has been lengthened to play as a 508-yard par 4, but the carry to reach the short grass is only 225 yards. It wasn't an issue for anyone Monday, especially playing downwind.
"It's absolutely dramatically different," Carracino said. "I was here in '02 when Hale Irwin said, 'Where's the fairway?' You really couldn't see the fairway from the tee."
At the 12th, which also has been extended to play as a 504-yard par 4, marshal Mike Stein said he hadn't seen anybody fail to carry the fairway bunker although several balls landed in the area that used to be rough. Compact 5-8, 158-pound PGA Tour pro Casey Wittenberg said, "You can put it in every fairway, but the course is extremely long. As good a drive as I hit at No. 12, I still had 230 yards to the green. I think I hit more hybrids today than I did irons."
Wittenberg used a hybrid for his second shot at both Nos. 10 and 12. He said the 525-yard, par-4 seventh hole was the most difficult tee shot. "I hit driver and then a 3-wood to the fringe, and I'm not all that short off the tee. I can carry it 285 yards in the air . . . The biggest tragedy would be if they canceled out half the field like they did in '02 when it became basically a 15-man race."
Recent rains made the course play longer but also softened the greens, making it easier to score. More rain is in the forecast, and it's possible the USGA might react by stretching out the course.
"If they put it on the back of every tee, you count out three-quarters of the field, probably," said Ogilvy, a long hitter who would be among the contenders.
"If you put it in the middle on the tees or move it up a few times, it's pretty reasonable for most guys. But you could put a lot of guys out by putting the tees all the way back. I don't think they will."