It’s time. On this beautiful fall morning, the 120th United States Open begins. If you’re grinning from ear to ear, you’re in the right place.
We’ve run through a lot of 2020 U.S. Open preview content this week, but we’ve saved a fun one for last. Today’s newsletter runs through some of the key holes for the week. Where will the tournament be won or lost? Let’s speculate.
The West Course at Winged Foot Golf Club is a true thoroughbred of championship golf. While it’s certainly a demanding test at 7,477 yards and a par of 70, there are some holes that provide scoring chances. Here’s how to think about the course while watching the coverage this weekend.
The starting blocks
With split-tee starting times on Thursday and Friday, every competitor will face a difficult examination right off the bat with either the 1st or 10th holes.
Those starting on No. 1 will have to try to find the sliver of short grass that Winged Foot calls the 1st fairway at the West Course. Once there, players at least have some control over their approach shot into the legendary opening green. Anyone who ends up above the hole will be lucky to walk away with two putts. (Just ask Jack Nicklaus.) As a number of social videos have shown, the back-to-front tilt of the 1st green is immense. In addition to the severe pitch, Tillinghast built a valley that cuts across the middle of the green and a series of spines on the exteriors. The only way to have a real chance at birdie is to leave yourself an uphill putt, and the only way to have a real chance of leaving yourself an uphill putt is to hit that damn fairway.
Over on the par-3 10th hole, a player at least has the advantage of approaching a green from a tee. That’s where the warm and fuzzies end, though. Two-hundred and fourteen yards away, the 10th green is strikingly severe. It’s perched up and narrow in the front—far narrower than the average Tour pro’s shot dispersion from that distance. While the back half is slightly wider, the hole stretches to nearly 230 yards if the pin is there. Out of bounds long and severe drop-offs on both sides of the green also come more into play with the back pin position. It takes just one great strike to have success on the 10th hole, but when it’s your first shot of the day, that’s a tall order.
The scorable holes
A golf tournament doesn’t get a nickname like “The Massacre” without a plethora of high scores. Players will take par and run on just about any hole at Winged Foot. But while bogeys and worse lurk on every shot, a select few holes yield more birdies than others. These opportunities are concentrated in the middle of the round: Nos. 6, 7, 9, and 11.
No. 6 (321-yard par 4) will be drivable, but the hole is defended by long rough and a creek that creeps in behind the green. Finding the fairway and green will offer a good look at birdie. One hole later, on the 7th (161-yard par 3), players will have another chance to score with a short iron or wedge in their hands. There will be a good number of birdies here, but like many great short par 3s, misses can yield disasters.
The 9th (565-yard par 5) is the only reachable par 5 on the course and will almost certainly play the most under par of any hole at Winged Foot. The fairway is narrow and the green heavily sloped, but No. 9 should still yield some eagles and plenty of birdies. It’s best understood as a par 4.5 that makes players feel like a 5 is a missed opportunity.
While the 12th is also a par 5, it’s extremely long and difficult to attack, much like the 14th at Pebble Beach. This means No. 11 (384-yard par 4) is the final true birdie hole. Players will need only a long iron off the tee in order to have a wedge in. As at almost every green at Winged Foot, the 11th is fraught on all sides with danger. The most compelling pins are in the back of the green, where the putting surface narrows. You’ll see plenty of players go with safe wedges to the front half of the green for fear of missing long. So it’s a scoring opportunity, but not an easy one.
The closing stretch
Winged Foot West’s closing stretch is unparalleled in its difficulty. During the 2006 U.S. Open, all of the final six holes were among the course’s eight most difficult on the week. Any player who is able to get through this stretch at par or better will pick up a few shots on the field. In a way, it’s the opposite of Augusta National, where a flurry of scoring chances on the back nine can propel contenders up the leaderboard. At Winged Foot, you want to get to the clubhouse first and watch your competitors struggle home. As Phil taught us in 2006, no lead is safe down this stretch.
The Latest from The Fried Egg
Digging into Design, Episode 2: Winged Foot Golf Club feat. Gil Hanse – Winged Foot Golf Club’s consulting architect Gil Hanse joins Andy to discuss his recent restoration of the 2020 U.S. Open host. Gil talks about holes to watch, the process behind his green restorations, A.W. Tillinghast, and Tilly’s bunkering style.
Fried Egg Stories, Episode 10: The Test – Hale Irwin at Winged Foot
The 1974 U.S. Open, better known as the “Massacre at Winged Foot,” has become a touchstone in the debate over what a golf championship should be. Depending on your perspective, it’s either the U.S. Open at its best or the U.S. Open at its worst. With the national championship returning to Winged Foot this week, we ask what it means for a tournament venue to be insanely difficult. Our guests for this episode are Hale Irwin, Neil Regan, Mark Mulvoy, and Jeremy Schaap, reading from his father’s classic book about the tournament. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
ICYMI, all of our other U.S. Open preview content…
Winged Foot architecture:
John Bodenhamer, USGA Senior Managing Director of Championships, on U.S. Open setup
Geoff Ogilvy on his win in 2006 and his predictions for the 2020 edition
Neil Regan on the history of Winged Foot Golf Club
Andy and Brendan preview the U.S. Open on The Shotgun Start
A documentary episode on Jackie Robinson’s life in golf, with an assist from the USGA Museum
The greens at Winged Foot are wonderful specimens of the Golden Age of golf architecture. In an unprecedented move, we have created a new Fried Egg logo to pay tribute. Get your Fried Egg alternate logo t-shirt today!