Rory McIlroy can describe in detail the 14th and 15th at Friar’s Head in Riverhead, which he calls “two of the prettiest golf holes I’ve ever seen.” Rickie Fowler has played many courses on the East End and, in a telling fact, he knows about the ones he has not tried.
“I haven’t played Southampton [Golf Club)], next door,” he said during his pre-U.S. Open news conference at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club Wednesday. “I haven’t played Montauk Downs.”
Give him time. As he said, “This is a place where people want to come and play golf.”
Not just professionals, either. Amateur golfers go out of their way to make it to Long Island for the fairways and greens. One of them played with Fowler and Phil Mickelson at Friar’s Head on Tuesday. “I tell you what, Tom Brady can putt,” Fowler said.
Yes, that Tom Brady, the one with the Super Bowl rings. No doubt they played for a higher stakes version of the $2 Nassau, a now-universal form of golf match that was born on Long Island — as was American golf itself.
Having a fifth U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills reinforces the point that the Island is as brimming with golf as it is with traffic. The host club’s pedigree speaks for itself while history, reality and enthusiasts speak for the rest.
It comprises Nassau Country Club, where the $2 bet took root, and National Golf Links of America, where McIlroy also played last week, when he was not on his way to Friar’s Head and Garden City Golf Club.
Fowler became enchanted with Shinnecock Hills five years ago, when he made a seven-day trip to Long Island and played 13 rounds. “Two of those were here, for sure,” he said. “I had always heard about the great golf on Long Island, especially in the Hamptons, and I wanted to get up here and see and play some of them because I just love to play golf.”
As much as all of the pros love their game, they rarely go on golf junkets. When golf is your job, you want to do something else on your time off. But they will book flights to play here. Top tour members generally do not show up a full week early for the U.S. Open. But they do it when the Open is here.
So, we saw Jason Dufner last week tweeting photos of himself and his buddies at National and at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton (his caption: “Some of the best tracks in the world in such proximity to each other”).
Pros recognize what we locals always have known, that golf runs deep and wide here. From Montauk Downs to Deepdale, from Poxabogue to Nissequogue. From the par 6 at Cherry Creek to the little “two or 20” hole (describing the possible range of scores) at Engineers Country Club. There is the par-5 first at Spring Lake’s Sandpiper course, on which you have to carry water twice and there is the par-3 16th at Island’s End, where you must struggle to keep your shot out of Long Island Sound.
Long Island golf is Bobby Jones jump-starting his legendary career by winning the 1923 U.S. Open at Inwood and it is Inbee Park burnishing her legacy by winning the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack. It is Fresh Meadow pro Gene Sarazen inventing the sand wedge. It is people who have slept in their cars to play Bethpage Black (now they can register online) and it is the members and the pro at Cherry Valley Club catering to the caddies, instead of vice versa, when the latter group gets to play a tournament.
This is where staffers are working full-time to prepare for another major, the 2019 PGA Championship at the Black Course, before this one even has begun.
“I think it’s one of the best areas of the world in terms of golf courses,” McIlroy said, speaking for everyone who will be inside and outside the ropes this week.
It is a perfect place for a U.S. Open, or anything else golf has to offer.