The head of the United States Golf Association said on Monday that the superintendent at Shinnecock Hills has the course “right where it needs to be” for the U.S. Open in three weeks, adding that the USGA is grateful the club has given it a Mulligan, or do-over, for the 2004 Open.
“It was certainly a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey,” Mike Davis, the USGA’s chief executive officer, said during preview day on the course in Southampton. “Anyway, it is great to be back at one of the great courses on planet Earth.”
Davis repeatedly called Shinnecock “a national treasure.” But the vintage layout had been almost unrecognizable with the way the USGA left it in 2004, when the greens were thoroughly dried out and just about unplayable. “We’re happy to have a Mulligan this time,” he said, having anticipated questions about 2004 and said “I’m just going to hit it straight on.”
He walked the course Sunday with superintendent Jon Jennings, who was not on staff 14 years ago, and liked what he saw. There had been concerns over the greens after the cold, snowy March. But Davis said, “By and large, he’s got it right where it needs to be. When you’re setting it up, it starts years ahead of time, saying, ‘OK is there anything architecturally that we need to change?’ As you get to this point it’s all trying to get it as close to what you think you’re going to need.”
For many media people and guests, the preview day Monday was the first live glimpse of the course since it was burned out on the final day of the 2004 Open. Davis was not in charge of the association or of the setup back then, but he was a USGA official. He was the one, in fact, on the infamous seventh green, communicating with the rest of the staff about what to do (they decided to water the green during play). He acknowledged that the U.S. Open is “golf’s ultimate test” and added, “It’s probably set up closer to the edge than any other event in golf.”
But he insisted that Shinnecock Hills will not be sent over the edge again this time. “Nowadays, we have got everything firmness meters, we’ve got moisture meters in the greens. The meteorology is better, so we know not only where the winds are coming from but the velocities,” he said. “And frankly, there’s better communication between the USGA and grounds staff. So, I think we’re comfortable.”
Perhaps more challenging than restoring the turf was repairing the damaged relationship between the USGA and the club, with the former having tarnished the latter’s reputation. That appears to have been more than smoothed over.
Shinnecock Hills president Brett Pickett, son of former Islanders owner John O. Pickett, referred to the fact the club was one of the association’s charter members when he spoke of the “common heritage we share with the United States Golf Association.”
“One-hundred twenty-two years after our relationship began,” Pickett said, “we have never, ever been closer. And they are the only partner we would ever trust to present Shinnecock to the world.”