BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — The U.S. Open will return to Shinnecock Hills in 2018, heading back to a course that produced one of the most embarrassing final rounds in the tournament’s history.
Retief Goosen won by two shots over Phil Mickelson in 2004 after a final round marred by greens that were almost too fast to play. At one point, officials had to sprinkle the seventh green simply to keep balls on the putting surface.
Ernie Els played in the final group that day and shot 80. No one broke par in the final round and the average score was 78.7.
It was widely viewed as one of the worst days for the USGA, which prides itself on setting up the toughest courses in tournament golf. Even the USGA officials conceded they lost control of the course.
“Shinnecock is a challenging course to set up, and we certainly experienced that in 2004 when we let the course get away from us the last round,” USGA president Jim Hyler said Wednesday. “This has been well chronicled and discussed over the years. I will tell you that we have used this as a wholesome learning experience, and this experience led us to the development of our current setup philosophy that we use today.”
The new setup guidelines feature “graduated rough” – grass that’s grown longer and thicker the farther it gets from the fairway. The idea there is to penalize players more for shots that go further astray than those that miss the fairway by a foot or two. The USGA also started moving tee boxes around to better adjust to weather conditions that affect scoring.
“When it comes to a U.S. Open, you’ve got the world’s best players, and if you’re trying to set it up as the hardest event of the year, it’s easier to go to that point of having a setup where well-executed shots are penalized,” said USGA executive director Mike Davis, who is in charge of course set-up. “And that’s exactly what was happening on some of the holes at Shinnecock in 2004 in that final round.”
The USGA is hoping the recent changes will prevent another debacle at Shinnecock, one of the country’s hallmark courses, which will host its fifth U.S. Open.
James Foulis won the 1896 Open at Shinnecock – a year after Newport Country Club hosted the inaugural Open – but the tournament didn’t return to the Long Island course until 1986. Raymond Floyd won that one and Corey Pavin won in 1995.
The USGA had already awarded the 2019 U.S. Open to Pebble Beach. Other future tournament sites: Olympic Club in 2012; Merion in 2013; Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014; Chambers Bay in 2015; Oakmont in 2016 and Erin Hills in 2017.