Notes and Observations From the Ground at Pinehurst No. 2

Emptying the Pinehurst No. 2 notebook on the eve of the 2024 U.S. Open


We’re less than 24 hours away from the start of the 2024 U.S. Open. At the risk of falling victim to recency bias, I am struggling to recall a recent major championship with such a divergence of opinions on how the golf course will test players. Picking a winning score is a fool’s errand without seeing pin locations and the firmness level before tomorrow, but there’s a wide range of opinions on that subject alone.

Below are some notes from walking the grounds Tuesday and overarching thoughts about how the golf course will play:

– You’re going to hear a lot of “It’s better to be 15 feet off the fairway than a foot off the fairway.” I’ve heard it from multiple caddies and players. It’s a reference to the wire-grass, which is often thicker just a step off the fairway than it is when you’re farther offline. For as much as you’ll hear this talking point, I think it’s a little bit overblown, or at least the inferences being drawn from it are.

Some people are talking as if you can just spray it all over and get away with it, and I don’t think that’s going to hold true. Sure, the wiregrass is thick a step off the fairway on many parts of the golf course, as seen here on No. 1, but it isn’t like that on every single hole.

To the right of the fairway on hole No. 1, looking back towards the tee. You probably don't want to be here (Fried Egg Golf/Joseph LaMagna)

But moreover, a wide miss will often mean tree trouble. Controlling the golf ball into Pinehurst No. 2’s greens is difficult enough from the fairway; I wouldn’t want to contend with trees, even if the lie is clean. While I don’t expect this U.S. Open to be a hardcore accuracy test, it should be far from a bomb-and-gouge fest.

– People are of two minds with respect to the importance of short game at Pinehurst No. 2. Some will argue that because putting around the greens is a viable option this week, as we saw Martin Kaymer do in 2014, short game isn’t that important. Others will cite the difficulty of hitting greens and the treachery of the green surrounds as reasons for why short game will actually be of the utmost importance.

I think there’s truth in both. Putting from around the greens is a strong option for players, but hitting good putts from off the green is a skill. If your short game isn’t up to snuff, you better be damn good at controlling your speeds with a putter. Otherwise, you’re going to have some serious problems.

– However many times you hear a comment like “It’s all about hitting greens” or “The guy who hits the most greens this week is probably going to win” is however many times you hear it too many. There might not be a less insightful comment in golf. Personally, I think the player who takes the fewest swings and fewest putts is going to win the tournament, but we’ll see.

– One of the best elements of Pinehurst No. 2 is the diversity of off-the-tee looks and decisions. Fairways are generous but often pinch in at driver length, and many of the fairways move on subtle diagonals. Angles into the greens matter, and they matter more at Pinehurst No. 2 than at the vast majority of professional golf venues, but you should not hunt them when choosing off-the-tee targets. On this golf course, hitting irons with ample green to work with certainly beats the alternative. But by changing your off-the-tee target and thus increasing the chance of missing the fairway, you’ll quickly erase any advantage you’d gain by having a better angle.

On the second hole, for example, I’d much rather have a shot from the left side of the fairway than from the right side, especially to a back-right pin. But if you try to take it down the left and end up in a fairway bunker down the left side, you’re in trouble. There will likely be a lot of talk about angles on the broadcast. They do matter, but hunting them is not wise.

– The par 3s at Pinehurst No. 2 are absolutely brutal. All of them have miniscule target areas on which players can both land the ball on the green and keep it there, especially the longer and firmer the course plays. I’m already sick of the term “carnage” and its overuse, but if you want to see big numbers and frustrated golfers, camp out on any of the par 3s, especially the 15th hole. Some “good” shots aren’t going to be rewarded, that is for sure.

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