SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- The USGA has the line rehearsed. The U.S. Open is "golf's ultimate test," it'll say, over and over. At Shinnecock Hills, a course born in the 1800s, an original member of the USGA, a U.S. Open host for the fifth time, the challenges hide at every turn.
Here, at the U.S. Open, greed is not good. Par is good.
"If it's firm and fast, and we get our normal wind, which is 10 to15 mph, I don't think the winning score is going to be very many under par," Shinnecock Hills head professional Jack Druga said. "I think 3 to 5 under would be a pretty good score."
But what do we know about Shinnecock Hills? With the U.S. Open rotating among so many courses, it does not have the annual rite of passage feel of Augusta National, where each step traces upon familiar ground. Some people will remember 2004, the last time the U.S. Open came to Shinnecock Hills. In truth, the USGA would rather you forget that one, when the seventh hole at Shinnecock became virtually unplayable.
"We we were watching well-executed shots not being rewarded," USGA CEO Mike Davis said. "In fact, some well-executed shots being penalized. ... We're happy to have a mulligan this time."
Some players have made trips to Shinnecock Hills in the weeks and months leading up to the U.S. Open. Tiger Woods dropped in over the Memorial Day holiday to get some advance work.
What did he learn? What should the players expect? Where are the big numbers hiding.
Nobody knows better than Druga, who walked through each and every hole, pointing out its nuance, its opportunity and, of course, its lurking trouble.
Places where big numbers lurk
Surviving the turn will be pivotal for any player hoping to hold the trophy late Sunday evening.
"Without question, 10 and 11, and now 16 where the tee is, a bad tee shot can turn into a big score pretty quickly. I've been saying the guy that plays 9, 10 and 11, if you look at the stats over the years, the player that has won has gotten through 9, 10 and 11 very well through the four days."
Check the wind. Then check again
If the wind blows, look out. First, because of the elevation changes, it can be tricky to figure out where it's coming from and how hard it's blowing, both where the player is standing and where they are headed. Second, it can make some holes play very, very different as the day progresses.
"You don't just have to hit good shots in the wind, but you have to be able to read the wind. You have to know that what you think the wind is going to do to your ball is actually going to do it. It gets confusing."
Put the ball in the fairway
The USGA should slap this logo on anything that moves. If the ball isn't in the fairway, good luck.
"The way the rough is, I think the guy that is driving the ball very, very straight probably won't miss a lot of fairways. But if you do, it's going to be a penalty. It brings patience into it. These guys are not used to chipping the ball out if they miss a fairway. They are used to thinking they can still get it on the green or by the green. They will not be able to hit it very far out of the rough the way it is now. There is a patience factor."
No. 1: Par 4, 399 Yards
Ease into your round? Sure, you can do that on No. 1, a slight dogleg right at just under 400 yards. Or ...
"I think with technology some players are going to look at this as a potential drive-it-by-the-green hole. If a player doesn't do that, I think the shot to hit is about a 265-yard shot, short of the first bunker, and it'll leave a wedge into the green. I think you'll see 90 percent of the guys play it that way. There may be a few guys that give it a go.
"We've had -- and wind conditions determine everything out here -- we've had players in our member-guest drive that green from the U.S. Open tees. So if I have someone in a member-guest get there, certainly Bubba Watson or Rory McIlroy or Jason Day can drive the green. I don't see it as a very smart shot on the first hole of the day, but players are different now, they see things different now."
No. 2: Par 3, 252 Yards
The hole has been lengthened -- get used to that phrase, you'll see if quite a bit over 18 holes -- to catch up to technology and require a long iron into this par-3.
"The one thing about it is you can bounce the ball on the green. So even though it's 250 -- uphill -- there's ample room to land it short and bounce it up on the green. It's 32 yards longer than the last time [the U.S. Open was here in 2004]."
No. 3: Par 4, 500 Yards
The tee box was moved at 3, adding length -- see, we warned you about "added length" -- but more importantly changing the angle.
"The new tee is back and to the left of where it was, creating a little bit more of an awkward dogleg. You're kind of shooting away from the dogleg. For the most part, the player will not see his ball land, so you have to pick something out in the distance to aim at. At 500 yards, I think most guys are going to have to hit driver, mainly because it's a 500-yard par-4."
No. 4: Par 4, 475 Yards
There aren't a lot of breaks at U.S. Open courses. In 2004, the USGA let the players off the hook for a moment at No. 4. (It played the fifth-easiest hole on the course.) But that was 2004.
"No. 4 was a little bit of a breather in 2004. I'm not sure it's going to be a breather this time. The left side of the fairway gives the player a better angle to shoot at the green. If you miss, you're going to be in some pretty penal rough. Shooting from the green from 30 yards back [a new tee was added since 2004 to lengthen the hole], having a longer club into the fourth green, makes it a tough shot. It's a tricky green to hit from 150 to 200 yards, which is probably what the players will have."
No. 5: Par 5, 589 Yards
The only par-5 on the front side, it played under par in 2004. And, you know, you can't have that. So things have changed.
"It's 589 yards now, and I think it was in the 545-550 range last time. Long players will still be able to reach the green in two, but the thing about it is how the runoff area around the green was expanded. You'll see some eagle putts for sure, but if a player misses it long or left or right, it's going to be a pretty tricky shot from down there."
No. 6: Par 4, 491 Yards
The tee shot on No. 6 is the key, because hitting the fairway on the right side makes life easier. But missing the fairway on the right side makes life miserable.
"A player that is really doing his homework will try to get it down the right side, which is also where there is a little more trouble. There's some sandy, scrubby area on the right side that, if you miss it, you might not be able to get it to the green or even over the pond."
No. 7: Par 3, 189 Yards
This hole will be talked about -- a lot -- because of the problems in 2004. It was a mess, a not-so-overwhelming par-3 that yielded the second-highest scoring average over four days. "What really happened then was just a lack of water," Davis said last month.
"It requires a very high, soft shot to hold the green. I would guess you'll see 5-, 6- and 7-irons into that green. It doesn't really matter what club you hit, you have to hit a high, soft shot to hold that green."
No. 8: Par 4, 439 Yards
The USGA lengthened this one, too, but it also widened the fairway. At No. 8, the long hitters can -- and should -- take advantage.
"This will be the widest fairway on the course. The good angle on this one is as far left as you could put it. It's a tough green, a tricky green to hit because it's got a false front and some false edges on the left, right and back. The big thing is -- will the players be able to carry the bunkers on the left to get to the left side? I would give the long hitter a pretty good advantage on the eighth hole because they will have the wider fairway to shoot at."
No. 9: Par 4, 485 Yards
Watching on a 65-inch television screen or on your phone will not do justice to the elevation change on the second shot coming into No. 9. Think starting in the basement and ending up on the 20th floor. Oh, and there's wind, which you might or might not realize.
"That second shot plays longer, and if it is into the wind at all it's tough to judge. You are at the bottom of the hill not feeling the wind at all and you are shooting it up into the sky into the wind or a side wind or whatever way the wind is blowing at the time. It plays uphill, pretty obviously, but it's such a hard one to judge. Is it going to knock my ball down? Is it going to blow it to the left? No. 9 is just a bear."
No. 10: Par 4, 415 Yards
The players will have the option to play it safe and hit a middle-to-long iron to the top of the hill, leaving a flat lie and clean look at the green. Yeah, that's not going to happen.
"Players will be able to get it to the bottom of the hill with something less than a driver. You have to get it down the left to get it to end up in the fairway down the right. If you hit it down the middle or the right, it's going to run into the right rough and that's a really, really hard shot. That one will be fun to watch. It'll be interesting to see how players handle that."
No. 11: Par 3, 159 Yards
Nice and easy, right? At last, a short, manageable par-3 up the hill. So will players have visions of walking away with a 2 on the scorecard? Uh, no.
"Well, 11 is just a masterpiece. I think that shot, up that hill, to 11 is a masterpiece. That shot, up that hill, will never get old. It's such a demanding iron shot. You just have to hit just a really good shot to get it on the green. The miss, without question, is the right bunker. With a good lie, that's not really that difficult a shot for these players. Left bunker and long is dead. It would bring 5 into play pretty quickly. This is another tough one to judge the wind. You're down low and hitting up. You won't necessarily feel how hard the wind is blowing or necessarily which direction it's blowing. You've got to rely on the flag on the green or the flagstick up on the clubhouse. Four [pars] on 11 will be fantastic for the week."
No. 12: Par 4, 469 Yards
The USGA left this one alone; no new tees, no added length since 2004. Despite it being a decent-sized par-4, keep the driver in the bag.
"The long players will not hit a driver there, unless the wind turns and it's back into the wind. It's not a wide-open shot, but I am not sure you are going to see every player hit a driver there."
No. 13: Par 4, 374 Yards
Some players probably opted not to take a chance on No. 1. So what about now, on 13?
"I think this is another one, depending on the wind, where guys will try to drive it up by the green. We've put in some rough left and short to penalize the guy that misses that shot if he tries to go for it. I think you'll see a guy more apt to go for it on 13 than you will on 1, mostly because it's later in the round. I would think on 1 you just want to put it in the fairway and get off to a good start. At 13, maybe it's worth it to try to drive it up there."
No. 14: Par 4, 519 Yards
Irons off the tee in 2004 did not sit well with the powers that be. It was time to add some real estate -- about 77 yards' worth. It doesn't mean every player will go big off the tee, but it will require more work this time around.
"Guys were hitting irons in 2004 because that's all they needed to carry the bunker on the right. Now to carry that bunker on the right, the carry is almost 300 yards. This is probably the biggest hole in which we've created a narrower fairway. We've grown some grass over the bunker on the right, and I promise you players will not be able to get it on the green if they hit it over there. Even at 519, and I know this sounds crazy, but the long, long guy won't hit driver."
No. 15: Par 4, 409 Yards
With an elevated tee and a relatively short total, this is a chance for players to make something happen -- if they can hit the fairway.
"It'll be less than a driver, I'm sure. The must is you have to get the ball in the fairway because it'll be a very difficult task to get it on the green from out of the rough. If you are in the rough and can't control the ball, this is a really tough green to hit. This is a must hole to get the ball in the fairway."
No. 16: Par 5, 616 Yards
The world's elite love to attack par-5s. Well, at 616, uphill and likely into the wind, this won't be one of those times.
"I would say that my favorite hole is 16, with the clubhouse in the background, the way the hole winds down the fairway and the naturalness of it. ... Sixteen is fantastic. If it's in the wind, I don't know of anybody that can get it there in two [shots]. The fairway bunkers that were completely out of play in the last U.S. Open are very much in play. If you drive it into the fairway bunkers, the problems start. You can't advance it very far from any of the fairway bunkers out there. So now you are bringing in a third shot that is a longer shot for a green that is built for a pitch shot. A bad drive on 16 could result in a bad score if a player isn't careful."
No. 17: Par 3, 180 Yards
A straightforward par-3 that, thanks to some changes in the green, gives the USGA some options.
"The green has been restored to its original shape, which will bring in a few more hole locations that I am sure the USGA will want to use. It's now, at 180, that will be a little tougher to get at than 2004 because we didn't have these options in 2004."
No. 18: Par 4, 485 Yards
The iconic clubhouse in the distance will provide quite the stage to close the U.S. Open. And, one more time, the USGA came in and added some length to make the last hole of the day a little bit more work.
"The fairway bunker is 300 yards, and the longest guys can carry it. That gives them a wider fairway, but I think 90 percent -- maybe 95 percent -- is going to have to play to the right of that bunker. If it's firm and fast, that fairway won't play wide. Anything hitting the right side of that fairway will bounce down into the rough. It will now be a finishing hole players will be hitting 4-, 5- and 6-irons, whereas last time a lot of guys were playing short irons."