Shinnecock Hills can’t afford another nightmare hole like this

We hear them, but can we trust them? Can we trust the USGA when it says the seventh hole at Shinnecock Hills won’t turn into seventh circle of hell as it did in 2004?

Can we take their word that science, technology and a better understanding of how grass is grown will keep the 118th U.S. Open from becoming carnival golf like it did at the par-3 14 years ago when the water-starved green turned to a hard, brown table top that had softly tapped putts rolling past the cup and into bunkers.

That was the nightmare during Sunday’s final round in 2004, when the grounds crew took the unprecedented measure of frantically watering the green between some groups, unnerving players, enraging members and putting a permanent stain on that year’s national championship.

“Putting water on them wasn’t to get the grass to start growing again. It was already dead,” Charles Stevenson, Shinnecock’s longtime greens chairman, said Monday. “It was just to slow the ball down.”

How bad was it? Longtime tour pro J.J. Henry explains. “I was that guinea pig guy on No. 7,” he told The Post’s Mark Cannizzaro. “It was me and Kevin Stadler as the first group on Sunday. We get to 7, where I hit one on the green and it goes left off the green. I chip it back up the hill. Kevin hit it out of the bunker and had about 3 feet for par. I had about 8 feet from the high side. I miss, and the next thing you know I’m in the bunker. He lips out and he’s in the bunker. We walk off the hole with a 5 and a 6 and we really didn’t hit a bad shot between the two of us.

“Of course they start watering the greens behind us, right after we played,” Henry said. “They were like, ‘We’ve got a serious problem here,’ and they start watering the greens. We joked that we were these guinea pigs. I shot 76 and it felt like I shot 64. It was kind of crazy, but it was something you’ll always remember.’’

Phil Mickelson, who finished second to Retief Goosen in 2004, hasn’t forgotten. He made par at the seventh that Sunday, but played the hole 3-over for the tournament and lost by two shots.

“The barometer for watering the seventh green was: Did anybody make double or triple?” Mickelson said on Monday. “If nobody double or triple-bogeyed in the group in front of you, the green did not get water. If your group made a double or triple, the green got water for the group behind you.”

Mickelson wasn’t happy about that and neither was anyone else, including the USGA, which is apparently taking a more cautious approach this year as crews applied water to the par-3 seventh and the par-3 second green during Monday’s practice round. That along with new tools for moisture management and upgrades in meteorology and a change in grass should prevent a recurrence of what happened in 2004.

“We learned from it,” said Mike Davis, the CEO of the USGA, adding, “What happened in 2004 was there simply wasn’t enough moisture in the greens. Grass is just like any other plant, at some point if it doesn’t have enough moisture, it begins to wilt. That’s exactly what happened in 2004.”

Players testing the seventh hole Monday spent more time practicing their chipping from the closely mowed grass surrounding the green than putting on the green, which slopes right to left and is guarded by two bunkers on the left side and a deep bunker on the right. Chipping will be just as crucial as putting on the 189-yard hole. So will figuring out the wind.

“With the weather forecast the way it is this week, I think we’re going to see three different wind directions,” said three-time major winner Nick Price, who is part of the USGA executive committee. “That’s really going to test the players’ ability to adapt.”

That’s fine as long as they don’t have to adapt to another seventh circle of hell at Shinnecock Hills.

Source: Read Full Article