Winged Foot's West Course is set up at 7,264 yards and will play to a par of 35-35-70. They are the facts of the track that hosts the US Open starting on Thursday but don’t let them get in the way of a good story.
This course is brutal, where the world’s best will have to take the rough – eight-inch deep cabbage in places – with the smooth, a silky putting stroke capable of retrieving par after par.
This will be the fourth time that the exclusive New Jersey club has hosted America’s blue riband event with Bobby Jones winning as an amateur in 1929, Billy Casper in 1959, Hale Irwin in 1974 and Fuzzy Zoeller in a play-off with Greg Norman in 1984 in that notorious white flag incident, where the Australian finally capitulated.
And each time it has got tougher and tougher with 2006 likely to be the first time where some of the world’s finest will actually surrender to the narrow fairways, penal rough and rock hard greens.
I predict some players might even walk off the course and not even complete 36 holes if it starts making a fool of them. Fantasy back strains, wrist injuries and heavy colds will be submitted as causes but quitting to save further embarrassment will more likely to be the grass root of the problem.
The USGA’s philosophy is to make the course ‘rigorous, yet fair - an examination of golf skills, testing all forms of shot-making.’
Fairways, we’re told, will range in width from roughly 22 to 28 yards wide but any tee shot offline more than the length of a double decker bus and clearing intermediate (1.5 inches) and first cut primary (3 inches) rough will wallow in lush grass that’s at least five inches deep and will need shears and a pitchfork in the bag.
The USGA is even arranging for some spectator ropes to be moved back to allow for their cunning plan, where the "penalty fits the crime." The further offline the drive, the tougher the recovery shot.
And to add ‘injury to insult’ the penalty for missing the 22-yard wide fairway on the par-4, 321-yard, sixth hole will be even more severe. Outside the six-foot wide strip of intermediate rough, the grass will be grown as high as 6-8 inches! Try flopping that close with your lob wedge, Tiger!
And that’s not all. The greens will be ‘double freakie’ mown to run at 11.5 to 12 feet on the Stimpmeter throughout the Championship.
The 2006 US Open promises to be one of the toughest yet and that could mean an outsider claiming the glittering prize, just like Michael Campbell did last year.
The winner will need to be both powerful and accurate, knowing when to take his punishment if he strays off line, then chip like a robot and putt like a machine. And that’s a fact.
US Open: The rough with the smooth