Southampton, N.Y. (Reuters) – Professional golfers can be a querulous bunch, so it says something about the status of Shinnecock Hills that few complaints have been registered so far ahead of the U.S. Open starting on Thursday.
As the U.S. Open is poised to regain its status as the toughest test in golf, the course is likely to be the star as much as the game’s biggest names.
Described by Masters champion Patrick Reed as having the look of a seaside British links course without quite the same firm playing characteristics, Shinnecock stretches over 260 acres (105 hectares) of rolling land on the ritzy eastern end of Long Island.
With golden fescue rough swaying in the breeze like fields of wheat high enough to lose a small child in, accuracy will be the name of the game for the 156-man field, and it would not surprise if some of the amateurs struggled to break 90.
“It’s a mix between an American and a links-style golf course, because it’s not quite as firm, yet still has the characteristics of it,” said Reed on Tuesday.
He was referring to the fescue, and also to an absence of trees and a sea breeze that inevitably makes a stern test even harder.
Reed has been camped out in the area for more than a week, while Dustin Johnson arrived only on Sunday night, after winning in Memphis and regaining the world number one ranking.
“It’s a fantastic venue,” Johnson said. “It’s all about the second shots. You really have to hit quality shots into these greens.
“The fairways are fairly generous (but) if you miss you’re going to be in trouble.”
Tiger Woods said that the greens were not quite up to speed yet but as the course dried out, it would be “another great U.S. Open test”.
Woods, however, came closest among the top players to offering just a whiff of criticism.
“We’re back on old bumpy poa,” he said, referring to the poa annua grass greens that can become a little bumpy as the day progresses.
“This is basically what I grew up on out on the West Coast. A lot of times you can hit great putts on poa and they don’t go in. The key is to hit putts solid and see what happens.”
A little rain is expected on Wednesday, but no more than enough to settle the dust, which was flying everywhere in a stiff breeze on Tuesday afternoon, aided and abetted by hundreds of golf carts whizzing around.
The forecast for all four of the tournament’s rounds is fine and mild, with a moderate breeze on Thursday tapering off to a light zephyr on Sunday.
Johnson remains the favorite with bookmakers, followed by Justin Rose, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy.
Spieth’s chances are not rated too highly after recent woes with his short putting, while Woods is about 20-1 as he seeks to end a decade-long major drought.
Shinnecock is unlikely to throw up a long shot champion, but that does not make it any easier to pick a winner.
It would not be a complete surprise if Brooks Koepka became the first player to successfully defend his title since Curtis Strange nearly three decades ago.
Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Toby Davis