Editor’s note: I’m springing out of my armchair to spend the week at Congressional Country Club covering the 2011 U.S. Open. Share your U.S. Open thoughts: Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“BIG BLUE” WAS A NICKNAME coined for IBM back in the 1960s and 1970s. This week the nickname fits the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club, site of the 111th U.S. Open Championship. It’s a big, hairy, manly golf course that will test the skills of 156 of the world’s best golfers when they tee off on Thursday.
I’ve read about Congressional, seen it on TV, and heard plenty of chatter about it today on the PGA Tour network while I was driving to Bethesda. But until a few hours ago I had never set foot on the championship layout. I arrived on site in the mid afternoon and a short while later hiked all 3,872 yards of the back nine, which plays to a par of 35.
It was a perfect afternoon, about 80 degrees. Following are my notes on the golf course and a few other stray thoughts on the eve of the championship.
No. 10 is a 213-yard par 3 that features the course’s largest lake, which fronts the green. I didn’t get a good look at this hole, but I’d say it’s far from an easy start to the back nine.
No. 11 is a 494-yard par 4. A pond guards the right side of the green. The hole was deserted, so I crossed the fairway and walked down the left side to get an up-close look at the graduated rough. The first cut is a few yards wide and not long at all, a collar of sorts. The second cut, which is five to seven yards wide, looks to be about three inches deep. The last cut is the nastier five-inch variety.
The rough didn’t look that bad to me—but then I don’t have to play out of it. Several players have praised the course setup, including the rough, so I figure it’s not as wicked as in the past. The gallery ropes are set far off the fairways, which means that crooked drives won’t benefit from relatively playable lies in trampled rough.
No. 12 is a 471-yard par 4, a tight driving hole that doglegs lefts. This one looked tough to my eye. Narrow and curving.
No. 13 is a 193-yard par 3 with a two-tiered green. It doesn’t appear to be that difficult from the tee. Yet when you reach the putting surface you can see the potential challenges. The pin locations will make all the difference. Many of the greens, in fact, are tiered and undulating. They’re only going to get harder and faster as the week progresses.
No. 14 is a 467-yard straightaway par 4. From the tee the fairway looks only slightly wider than a cart path. There are openings into some of the greens, like at the 14th, but it’s going to be difficult to bounce the ball in on many holes because of rather severe slopes.
No. 15 is a straightaway 490-yard par 4. The fairway looked generous compared to the 14th. Four fairway bunkers guard the right side.
No. 16 is a 579-yard reachable par 5. No. 17 is a 437-yard par 4, and where I caught up with Rory McIlroy and company. At least one player teed off with an iron.
“This is going to be a great finishing hole.”
That’s what I overheard one spectator say about the 18th. I agree. It’s a 523-yard par 4, much of it downhill on the approach shot. The drive doesn’t look that difficult. The second shot is another story. Club selection will be crucial because a small lake wraps around the left- and back-side of the green. I predict there will be lengthy player-caddie discussions on the 18th fairway as they stare down the hill at the smallish green.
The front side, which I haven’t walked yet, measures 3,702 yards and plays to a par of 36. The course totals: 7,574 yards, par 71. It’s the second longest U.S. Open course. Torrey Pines played slightly longer in 2008.
So who can win on “Big Blue”? Will it take a bomber like Dustin Johnson? Can a short hitter with a golden short game get it done?
I’ve heard some say world No. 1 Luke Donald (a short hitter) can’t win here. That’s true if he makes too many visits to the rough. But, whether a short or long hitter, I think the winner will have to be great on the greens this week. That’s always the case at the U.S. Open.
That guy will be easy to spot. He’ll be the one with the lowest score.
−The Armchair Golfer
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(Photo credit: Keith Allison, Flickr, Creative Commons license)