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U.S. Open: All elements in place for a sensational tournament

Jordan Spieth tees off from the fifth hole

Jordan Spieth tees off from the fifth hole during a practice round prior to the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton on Tuesday. Credit: James Escher

Starting with picturesque visuals of the iconic Stanford White-designed clubhouse overlooking Shinnecock Hills, the gem that is the closest thing America has to a true championship links golf course, the 118th U.S. Open starting play on Thursday has all the elements, including natural elements, to produce a showcase for greatness.

The field features a confluence of what might come to be regarded as one of golf’s greatest generations — Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, all of whom have traded the No. 1 ranking the past four years, plus current Masters champion Patrick Reed and fast-rising Spaniard Jon Rahm — crossing paths with aging lions Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who are in search of their last hurrah in the majors.

Reflecting on the contemporaries he first met in junior golf and the stage they are on now, 2015 U.S. Open champion Spieth said, “I think it’s awesome to have so many good friends that I grew up traveling with . . . and then, these same friends are able to get out here and compete on the highest level against your Tigers and Phils that we grew up idolizing. That’s what’s so unique and cool about it for us.”

Only 20 players in the 156-man field have played a previous U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, so several top players made a point of coming early to prepare. Spieth called it a “spectacular” layout because it demands so much in terms of skill and thought.

“You have to play in the wind,” Spieth said. “You have to work certain ball flights to hold greens. You kind of have to maneuver it around off different slopes and winds. It just requires more of an artistic approach.

“The fairways probably will play narrower as the week goes on and as it firms up. So you have to get smaller and smaller targets . . . and just be really, really smart about picking apart the golf course. It makes you think a lot.”

In 2004, a combination of wind, hot weather and not enough water caused conditions at Shinnecock Hills to veer out of control in the final round. Only one player matched par 70, the stroke average was 78.7 and there were 27 scores of 80 or higher.

But the USGA felt compelled to return not only this year but again in 2026 because of the special place Shinnecock Hills holds as one of five founding members and the only course to host the U.S. Open in three different centuries.

“This truly is one of the world’s greatest golf courses, and to be able to have our U.S. Open here is incredibly important,” USGA CEO Mike Davis said on Wednesday. “In some ways, this really is a national golf treasure.”

Davis assured course management now is more scientific, the USGA is prepared to adjust for what could be “extremely breezy” weather and green speeds have been slowed to suit the course architecture. Shinnecock Hills has been lengthened to 7,440 yards, the fairways generally are wider and the greens are larger, but that’s deceptive because the landing zones are so small and run off to closely mowed collection areas.

Describing the 189-yard par-3 7th hole, which was impossible to hold in the final round in 2004, McIlroy said, “You’ve got basically an eight-yard area to hit it into. That’s your margin for error right there.”

Defending champion Brooks Koepka added, “The par threes are crucial. I think you’ll see some big numbers. If you start missing it on the wrong side of the hole here, you can play Ping-Pong back and forth.

“Your short game, your touch has to be on point if you are going to miss quite a few greens . . . It’s all about your misses at this place.”

In other words, Shinnecock Hills is exactly the test the USGA wants for the world’s greatest golfers. “It really does play into not only shotmaking but course management,” Davis said. “It’s a beautiful design”

Picture perfect.

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