UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. - The beauty of the first U.S. Open at 8-year-old Chambers Bay is that no player has a clue what to expect until he arrives Thursday to find which layout USGA executive director Mike Davis has planned. They only know this is going to be an utterly unique U.S. Open from any of the 114 that preceded it.
Working together with the USGA, architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. moved 1.5 million cubic yards of sand to create a true links course out of an abandoned sand and gravel pit next to Puget Sound on the outskirts of Tacoma. Although it is in the "Evergreen State,'' there is one lone pine next to the 16th tee, where it's not in play.
The public course will provide eye-catching views for new TV partner Fox Sports, and it will pose unprecedented challenges with 10 holes that may be played from 21 different tee boxes, including three on the par-3 15th ranging from 123 yards to 167 to 246. No. 1 and 18 each can play as either a par-4 or a par-5 but will total a par-9 each day to maintain the 18-hole par of 70. The par-3 ninth hole has an elevated tee that drops 37 feet to the green and another that plays 2 feet uphill.
The sandy soil allowed Jones to cover every inch of the course with fine fescue grass like a true links in the British Isles. No U.S. Open has been held on such a surface. There is no definition between greens and fairway because it is all the same surface. The USGA has painted dots around the green to define where a player may mark his ball and lift it. Oh, and did we mention some tees are on uneven ground?
Thanks to warm, sunny weather, Chambers Bay is playing firm and fast in a way that will test players' imagination and patience.
"This is like green ice; this is like downhill skiing in the Olympics,'' Jones said. "Now, the better players like this because it separates the big boys from those who are a little bit not psychologically ready for the test.''
In his prime, no one had a stronger mind than Tiger Woods, but when he saw all the options Davis has in setting up the course, Woods exaggerated only slightly when he said, "Mike has an opportunity to play basically 36 holes. So, it's one of the harder Opens to prepare for. given there's so many variables . . . We could say the long hitters have an advantage, but maybe not. Depends on what Mike does.''
Rory McIlroy and Jason Day said they should have a distinct advantage because their length leaves them hitting shorter irons. But Phil Mickelson, who is a bomber, said the fairways are running so fast that it might bring a lot of players into it, placing the emphasis on the second shot and putting.
Not even Davis, who said the course will play from 7,300 to 7,700 yards instead of the maximum 7,900, is sure.
"I don't ultimately know what to think,'' Davis said. "This is a shotmaker's golf course. You may bomb it and have two or three clubs less, but it's getting your ball in that four and a quarter-inch hole. There is a lot of thought that goes into it. I wouldn't call it a bomber's paradise.''
Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said the degree of difficulty with "fairways [running] faster than greens in some places'' will make it a contest to see who can scramble best for pars.
"This could really be carnage if you play it incorrectly,'' McDowell said. "So, what type of player is going to get frustrated this week? I think every type of player.''