UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Every U.S. Open is a stern test, but there are reasons to believe that the 115th U.S. Open at fiery, baked out Chambers Bay may be different. It may be harder than that. The last time the USGA held a championship at Chambers Bay, the 2010 U.S. Amateur, the course was so hard that Patrick Reed won the first hole of his one and only match with a 9.
Indeed, the story at rock-hard, topsy-turvy Chambers, where balls will melt off of greens and into bunkers and rough, may be the blow-up hole and players’ ability or inability to avoid it.
“It's just about staying away from the big number,” said 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, who is coming off a playoff loss at the Memorial two weeks ago. “When I won the U.S. Open, I think I didn't make a double bogey the whole week. If you can do things like that and not give away cheap shots, or cheap bogeys, that’s going to help come the end of the week.”
The greens at this eight-year-old course on the Puget Sound are massive and wavy, with huge banks and bowls but no fringe to keep balls from falling off the edges and into the sand or rough. As a result, Rose said he expects fans will see “a little bit of tennis going on”—in other words players inadvertently batting their ball back and forth across the short grass en route to a horrific score.
“What type of player is going to get frustrated this week?” Graeme McDowell asked aloud, repeating the question at his press conference earlier this week. “I think every type of player.”
Henrik Stenson called Chambers “probably the toughest walk in golf,” and added that it may be one of the most irritating, as well, for players who get stuck on the idea that a good approach shot should always be rewarded with a birdie chance and not a funky bounce that sends the ball 50-100 feet away from the pin.
“You’ve got to be mentally very strong this week if you want to do well,” said Stenson, who tied for fourth at last year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst and comes here ranked sixth in the world.
So far there has been nothing to suggest the story this week will not be similar to the one five years ago, when players at the 2010 U.S. Amateur were stunned by the course’s difficulty.
“I’ve played a lot of golf courses in junior and college and pro, and there’s not a single golf course like Chambers Bay,” said Michael Kim, who failed to make the match play portion that year and didn’t get through local qualifying for this week’s U.S. Open.
“It was just firm,” added Kim, a product of Torrey Pines High (in San Diego) and Cal-Berkeley who plays on the Web.com Tour. “You could literally throw a ball down and catch it without bending over. It was something you’d see in Scotland maybe. It was so brown; it was meant for the British Open or something.”
Like fellow Web.com player Kim, Harold Varner III, who also failed to make the match play at the 2010 Amateur, sounded like a shell-shocked survivor in Jurassic World when recalling his experience at Chambers. “That place is hard,” Varner said.
Jordan Spieth was another casualty of that 2010 Amateur after shooting 83 in his one and only round here. He was just 17 and so, he said earlier this week, he has tried to discount the debacle round as nothing more than a bad day by a young golfer.
“It’s going to be a fun challenge,” said Spieth, whose caddie, Michael Greller, will draw on his many rounds as a caddie here. “It’s a beautiful challenge, as well. It’s going to be nice to kind of—I think it might be slower rounds, given the size of the greens and the difficulty of the course. So at least we’ll have nice views.”
Second-ranked Spieth will tee off at 5:17 ET Thursday with Rose and Jason Day. He’ll be the one whistling past the graveyard.