There are all kinds of intriguing issues heading into the U.S. Open this week, such as, does Tiger Woods have another 85 in him? Can Phil Mickelson secure the career Grand Slam? Will Rory McIlroy add to his array of majors? Can Jordan Spieth win two majors in a row? Is it time for someone else to break through?
And every one of those will be totally overshadowed by this one simple question: Where in the heck will the ball stop rolling?
It will be a whole new, quirky world for Open golfers at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington. The course has only eight years of history, only one tree (a Douglas fir, not in play) and hundreds of mounds and slopes that will put a completely unpredictable spin on the national championship.
All of the grass is fescue -- a first for the Open -- some of it short, much of it wild. On the ninth hole, there will be two sets of tees, one that leads to a downhill shot, the other to an uphill shot. In the middle of the 18th fairway, there is a 10-foot deep pot bunker that has become known as Chambers Basement. Most unusual of all, Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association said recently that golfers might be hitting from slopes on several tees.
Suffice it to say, Chambers Bay has been the talk of the tour, heading into the Open. Most notably, Ian Poulter, who had not seen it, said that some of his fellow pros referred to the place as "a complete farce.'' Ryan Palmer said, after having played it in April, "As far as the greens are concerned, it's not a championship golf course.''
Davis ignited the embers when he said, on media day at the course last month, "The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and having your caddie just walk it and using your yardage book, that person's done. [He] will not win the U.S. Open.''
When he was asked specifically about criticism from the pros, Davis said, "It would not be a U.S. Open if we didn't get some chirping. It's just a part of it. And we accept that. It's actually, in fact, we joke internally sometimes that if nobody's complaining, we have done something wrong.''
There are two ways to look at this unusual Open, which will be the first telecast on Fox. On one hand, it has the makings of what people in the industry call "goofy golf'' -- totally haphazard, with random results for good and bad shots alike. It might come off like a contrived weird reality show.
Or it can be seen as a breath of fresh air for the sport, a different kind of challenge. You could consider it refreshingly bold by the USGA to not bow to tour pros, a striking contrast to the way the PGA of America basically turned the keys to the Ryder Cup over to Mickelson and other golfers.
It sure will be different from the U.S. Open's hidebound image. "Lean and mean,'' Robert Trent Jones Jr., the course's architect, said on a Twitter chat Thursday (yet another Open first). Jones converted a gravel mine into a visually impressive course, just as he turned a potato field in Riverhead into Long Island National.
The architect has a special feeling going in to this week, one that evokes a memory from the 1970 Open. "Hazeltine was my father's design and I was there,'' he said. "On this Open Saturday, he would have been 109 years old. His spirit is with me.''
Mickelson, who has won every major except the U.S. Open, likes Chambers Bay and said it conjures the spirit of St. Andrews. "The first time you play St. Andrews you don't quite get it. It doesn't make sense. And then when you play it over and over and you realize what types of shots and where you're supposed to go, it all makes sense,'' he said this week at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis. "And I think Chambers Bay is a lot like that.''
Recent history suggests the pros will do fine. Their skills, training and equipment rarely leave them overmatched. Woods, however, has had enormous problems with his game no matter where he has played. His struggles were capped by his career-worst 85 at the Memorial last week.
His play this week will command attention, as will that of Spieth, the Masters champion and the only one eligible for the unprecedented single-season Grand Slam.
But for now, the "where'' of this Open is a bigger story than any "who.''