I’ve spent two long days at Bethpage this week, and this is what you can expect from the 2009 US Open.
Bethpage Black is listed at 7,455 yards, but with several holes going almost directly uphill, it’s playing even longer than that.
Bethpage has a reputation as a bomber’s paradise, which in a way, it is.
But, the longer hitters won’t have as large of an advantage as many may believe.
The course has only two par fives – number four and number 13.
The fourth hole is 517 yards and the likes of Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson and Justin Leonard were all getting home in two during the practice rounds.
The 13th is a beast of a hole. It’s 605 yards into a green surrounded by all sorts of trouble. No one, including Tiger Woods, was attempting to make it home in two on the 13th.
So, in terms of the par fives, they will be played virtually the same whether you are Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Angel Cabrera or Jim Furyk.
Where it will be advantageous to be a bomber is on several of the long par fours. There are three par fours on the course that are playing over 500 yards.
The likes of Woods, Mickelson, Cabrera and the other bombers will have five and six irons into these holes whereas players such as Furyk, Toms and Johnson will be forced to hit approach shots with longer irons and hybrids.
It is obviously a lot easier to go flag hunting with a six iron in hand than a three iron or hybrid, so the shorter hitters will have their work cut out for them on several of the par fours.
The fairways are thin, as would be expected at any major championship, but, they have been widened by an average of two yards since the 2002 US Open at Bethpage. More important than the widening of the fairways by a measly two yards is the graduated rough that has been implemented. Players will need to miss the fairways by 8-10 yards before they start getting into the really thick stuff.
Will the graduated rough make Bethpage play easier?
With all the rain coming down in New York over the past two weeks, the greens are VERY receptive. Players who find the fairway will have no trouble flag hunting and players that miss the green by a few yards will still have no trouble flag hunting due to the graduated rough.
Back in 2002, when the US Open was last held at Bethpage, Tiger Woods was the only one in the field to shoot under par for the tournament.
Depending upon what the weather has in store for the next four days, there could be a decent handful of players under par this year.
If the tournament is not drowned out by heavy rain and high winds (which the forecast calls for) the winning score could be around five-under-par, possibly even lower, and many of the contenders could also finish the week under par.
Rain, rain and more rain.
If you are flipping through the channels this weekend and happen to come across the US Open coverage, you might very well think you are watching a British Open taking place in Scotland.
There’s a 100 percent chance of rain on Thursday. There’s a good chance of rain and thunderstorms on Friday and a 70 percent chance of rain on Saturday.
What’s the forecast for Sunday?
Yup, more rain!
Obviously the weather forecast can change in a New York minute, and when was the last time you saw a whether report that was perfectly accurate?
If the rain is off and on or very light, the greens will become even softer, which just means more flag hunting and probably a lot more birdies.
That being said, the fairways will also become softer with rain and eliminate any roll that players normally receive on their drives. This would mean that the bombers will have long irons into some of the pars fours while the shorter hitters will be forced to break out three and five woods for their approach shots.
The weather could certainly put a damper on what has to be one of the most anticipated US Opens in a very long time.
Tiger Woods is the hands down favorite this week following his near flawless display of ball striking at The Memorial.
The bad news for the rest of the field is that it doesn’t look like Tiger has skipped a beat since his win two weeks ago at The Memorial.
During his practice rounds, Woods has been every bit as accurate as he was at The Memorial. He is hitting fairways and greens and has had a sense of calm about him as if he knows with absolute certainty that he’ll once again be loading the US Open trophy onto his Gulf Stream jet on Sunday night.
But, practice rounds are, well, just practice rounds.
If Woods continues to find fairways he could pick apart Bethpage Black this week. If he has some trouble off the tee, the second major of the season could be up for grabs.
Phil Mickelson will have a following that will make ‘Arnie’s Army’ look like a small gathering of Arnold Palmer’s closest friends.
If Phil gets off to a hot start on Thursday and Friday, the New York crowd could give him an extra boost on the weekend.
Although most people are picking the longer hitters as the favorites this week, don’t count out the little guys.
Augusta National plays every bit as long as Bethpage Black and Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman certainly taught us that you don’t need to bomb the ball to win major championships. Jim Furyk was also able to plot his way around Olympia Fields to win the 2003 US Open.
The two par fives on the course don’t really offer an advantage to anyone. Virtually every player gets home in two on number four and no one gets home in two on number 13.
But, if the weather does indeed drown out the course this week the shorter hitters better hope they are striking their long irons, hybrids and fairway woods perfectly to have any chance on the three 500-plus yard par fours.
If Woods is precise as he was tee-to-green at the Memorial, he wins.
If not, keep an eye on the following players:
Cabrera has now won two majors and his US Open win back in 2007 came at Oakmont, which is a course that’s very similar to Bethpage Black.
Ogilvy won the US Open last time it was played in New York (in 2006 at Winged Foot).
Ogilvy hits the ball long and high, and if the greens remain soft, Ogilvy has the length and precision to go flag hunting all week.
During his press conference this morning, Mickelson said that his wife, Amy, would like the US Open Trophy in her room as she goes through her treatment and recovers from breast cancer.
That, combined with love and support of 10,000 of his loud and unwaveringly loyal New York fans might be all that’s needed to push him to his first US Open victory.
As if the New York crowd didn’t adore Mickelson enough already, they might like him a little more after he spent more than a half hour signing hundreds of autographs today immediately following his practice round.
Johnson has already won twice this year and used accuracy and solid wedge play to win at Augusta two years ago, which is a course that’s just as long as Bethpage.
Sure, Furyk doesn’t hit the ball very long, but he’s a genius with the short irons and he has won a US Open before.
Furyk is a gritty competitor and has been striking the ball beautifully all week. If the course doesn’t get too soft, look for Furyk to contend on the weekend.
There has not been a major championship in recent memory that has contained as many intriguing storylines as the 2009 US Open.
Can Phil win the US Open and bring the trophy home to Amy?
Can Tiger Woods get back to his dominant form at the majors and inch yet another step closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career majors?
There might be no single athlete in New York this week adored more than Phil Mickelson. The massive grandstands around the course will look like Giants Stadium during an NFC Championship game as Mickelson makes his way around the course.
What will happen with the golf course? Will the rain make the greens just soft enough for everyone to attack the pins, or, will the course become so soft that the shorter hitters will really be taken out of the equation?
The stage is set for what could very well turn out to be one of the most exciting and emotional major championships in recent memory.