with Robert Bicknell
The US Open Championship is always an exciting event, due to the fact that it's a major and, even more so, because the USGA is known for setting up courses in such a way that top playing professionals seek psychiatric help afterwards and gobble Maalox like candy during the rounds. Yes, this is a great reason for watching it on TV. Anytime you can see a Tour pro talking to himself, throwing clubs and ripping out his hair, it's worth the price of admission.
By the time this column goes to print, most of the early drama will be over and the final two rounds under way. Hopefully, some of the top names will be in contention, but even if not, it's nice to see a relatively unknown making a charge up the leader board. Granted, it's been a very long time since an amateur won the event (Johnny Goodman, 1933), but you never know. There just might be another Francis Ouimet (1913), or Bobby Jones (1923, 1926, 1929 and 1930) out there waiting to announce his presence to the world.
Pinehurst No2 has always been a very difficult tract and with the renovations which restored the course to the original Donald Ross design, things could get very ugly out there. Most players are used to the USGA growing 5-6 inch rough which required players to take a wedge and slash and hack the ball back onto the fairway, but the redesign has removed the rough and brought "waste areas" and "local grasses" (read: weeds) into play. This will truly test player's abilities in both decision making and shot making. It will be fun to watch.
When approaching a major event, most of the pros will look at the course and re-evaluate the equipment in the bag. For most Tour events, their standard kit is good enough, but when you face something like Augusta National's 16 speed greens; US Open rock hard greens; or (British) Open Championship climatic challenges (wind/rain), players need to think carefully about what they put into the bag. For example, US Opens require accurate drives and near vertical approach shots, so many players will opt for a driving iron or strong three wood instead of a driver and most likely add an extra wedge.
The Open Championship requires players to drive into the wind, so lower lofted drivers and more long irons can often be seen in the bags. Many times, players will have to run the ball up to the flag from well off the green, so additional clubs which allow that shot will be added as well.
At the Masters, it's not strange to find a player going with a different putter than normal, simply because when greens are as fast as the surface of an automobile roof, normal just doesn't cut it.
Next week, the Vietnam Amateur Open will take place in Da Lat, and as you might expect, the better players are already practicing with different clubs, especially putters to better handle the fast bent grass greens. A normal heavy putter used in at Twin Doves, Thu Duc or Kings Island, might not be the best choice for Da Lat. Expect green speeds of around 12 (compared to normal average Vietnamese club speeds of 9 or 9.5). While it doesn't seem like much on paper, that extra three feet of roll can give you a heart attack.
NOTE: A stimp meter reading is when a ball rolls 30 inches down an extruded aluminum bar at about 20-degrees of slope at a repeatable velocity of 1.83m/s. The distance travelled by the ball in feet is the 'speed' of the putting green. I.e., 12 feet equals a reading of 12. They do measurements in 2-6 directions to get the average, so an uphill putt might be 6, while a downhill putt might be 18, but the average is 12 (18 + 6 / 2 = 12).
Needless to say, golf equipment is so specialized nowadays that professionals can find the exact tool they need for any particular playing condition, especially putters, wedges and drivers.
Check out the US Open website and see which players switched out their equipment. Then talk to your local pro to see if you are playing with the best equipment for your game. — VNS