Tuesday, June 10

Expect a more old-fashioned Open

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- This week's U.S. Open will barely resemble last year's event, which was played at Bethpage Black, a behemoth of a golf course. Olympia Fields is a more old-fashioned track, not relying on length to stymie the field, but rather on more subtle devises such as bunkering and doglegs.

Keys to playing Olympia Fields
  • I think the first six holes are really the key this week. This opening stretch features the only two par-5s on the course, and five of those six are legitimate birdie holes.

    It's possible we could see some guys play that stretch in 3- or 4-under. I think you'd have to be at least 1- or 2-under to keep pace with the field over that span. After No. 6, there aren't a lot of birdie holes left on the course, so players will have to really take advantage of that stretch.

    On the other hand, if you get off to a bad start and play those six holes at 1- or 2-over, you're in big trouble.

  • I think putting is going to be huge this week. In combination with that, players are going to have to keep their approach shots below the hole, in places that you can make putts. With these slopes, players aren't going to make putts here if they leave it 20 feet above the hole. The greens are going to be much more difficult to putt if they dry out.

  • If the course plays as tough as the USGA wants it to, players will really have to pick their spots. There are certain holes they can be aggressive on, and others they just have to lay back and play smart. At some of the tougher holes -- such as the fifth, ninth, 12th and 17th -- they have to go in thinking of just putting the ball on the green, and walking away with par.
  • This will be a more typical U.S. Open than last year. The 2002 tournament can be better described as a sporting event than an Open. From the day we arrived in New York last June, there was a different feeling, and the aura of the golf course lent itself to that. Olympia Fields couldn't be more different.

    The big advantage the long bombers had last year is nonexistent here. On many holes, you'll find bunkers on the narrowest areas of the fairways, forcing many players to lay up short of the traps. Doglegs will also take the driver out of players' hands on some holes.

    This setup brings a lot of the field into contention. A medium-length player that hits it straight really has a great opportunity here. Players like Jim Furyk, Nick Price, Stewart Cink, even Joe Durant, could win this week. Good ball-strikers that have a lot of experience will start out a leg-up on the field.

    I don't think the rough is as deep as it could be, and as of right now (because of all the recent rain), the course isn't playing nearly as fast as the USGA would like it to play. If the wind can blow a little bit, and if the greens dry out and become really fast and firm, I think 2- or 3-under could win the championship.

    If, on the other hand, the wind doesn't blow and the course doesn't dry out, I think we'll see the U.S. Open scoring record broken this week. Without wind or at least fast conditions, Olympia Fields will be basically defenseless.

    A lot was made of the deepening of the bunkers here, but the traps will only really become problematic if you get it up along the faces. If you put it in the middle of the bunker you might have a tough time, but it won't too penalizing. However, if you get it along the face of the trap, you could have some problems.

    More important than the deepening of the bunkers, though, is the fact they were moved back and into the sides of the fairways, narrowing the driving areas for the longer hitters. That's going to really help the shorter guys this week.

    Did the USGA make a good choice in Olympia Fields? I don't know, I was a little leery when I first learned the U.S. Open was coming here. I don't think the course is set up hard enough, and I don't think the rough is high enough considering the course probably isn't going to get real firm and fast.

    I'm also a little concerned about how close things are here, as far as players being distracted by fans or even other nearby players. I think it could be an issue before the week is out.

    Two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North serves as an analyst for ESPN, and will provide on-course analysis at Olympia Fields during the first and second rounds.

    espn indexespn index