Given the circumstances, the 2009 US Open would be a special tournament for all of us regardless of the venue.
The fact that it will be played at Bethpage State Park just outside of New York City only adds to the drama. Our Michael J. Graney doesn’t neet a golf course finder to tell a great golf course from a mediocre one. He has played Bethpage Black twice and looks at the key holes and the chances of Phil Mickelson.
I cannot wait for this week’s US Open and I cannot wait for the players to see some of the changes that have been made to the course since it last hosted the Open in 2002. One of the things that I look forward to is seeing how they handle the different stages the course represents. This US Open venue is truly a test and a monster that has to be tamed.
At the same time it would not surprise me if under certain conditions the course would yield a winning score of 8 under or better. Honestly, I am not sure who the lucky fella will be and how that number will be attained, but it could happen. And please remember: You heard that from me first.
A lot will depend on the length of the rough but if it’s not above 3 ½ inches this course could be in trouble and there for the taking. However, this doesn’t count the links rough that is incredibly tough to get out of - that is once you were lucky and managed to find your ball…
I had the pleasure to play Bethpage Black twice last year and was blown away by the size of the greens and how many bunkers were around the course. I can honestly say that for the first time in my amateur life if was wishing for my ball to go into the bunker instead of the rough. The only other time I experienced something remotely similar to this was when I played Oak Hill CC in Rochester, NY on the day after the PGA Championship. On that occassion the course management kept the course conditions and rough the same length for members and friends to play and my muscles are still sore after hitting out of that rough.
But back to Bethpage Black and the 2009 US Open: The course will play in about 3 different stages: The first four holes are by far the “easiest” if I can use those terms on a US Open course. Then the fun starts - that is if praying to shoot even par over the next 6-7 holes is your understanding of fun.
These holes are very long and the longest stretch of holes to manage on this course. The greens are extremely difficult to land on since they are very small. In addition, please don’t forget the severity of breaks and kidney shape greens that are blind shots to the hole.
What most people don’t see on TV is that there are a lot of downhill tee shots and uphill shots to a green where the player can only see the top of the flagstick but not the putting surface.
After you make your way through the monster of those seven holes you will come up along the Par-5 13th. The hole measures 605 yds. on the scorecard but is certainly within reach for the long hitters. However, you need to hit the fairway to even consider such an option. Compared to 2002 the fairways have been opened up slightly in certain areas with the intention of inviting aggressive players (a.k.a. our boy Phil Mickelson) to take a risk and hit driver.
There are birdies to be made on the finish holes, e.g. on the Par-3 14th that we remember Phil making on Sunday in 2002 a very important start to the final four holes. After that you have bogeys calling your name on the 15th and 16th. I didn’t and couldn’t make a par on those two holes if my children’s lifes were depending on it and I thank God that lives weren’t on the line when I played there. These two holes could prove to be the deciding point in this year’s US Open Championship.
17 is a tough Par-3 with a kidney shape green that plays uphill on top of the 200 yds+ distance. Finally, the 18th hole can be very interesting since it is a potential birdie hole but also has a chance to provide a two-shot swing if someone doesn’t hit a good drive off the tee. Now I’m a little disappointed with the final hole but maybe it’s just my personal experience.
Overall, I think with the weather forecast I’m seeing I do believe this open will be around 4 to 6 under par and I do believe Phil will be in the running going into Sunday. However, with everything going on in his life and with his family concerns (prayers for Amy and the Mickelson family) I’m concerned with his state of his game. He said over the weekend that his short game is not were he wants it to be and after looking at the size of the greens at Bethpage, a solid short game will definitely be necessary for victory.
I hope that Phil pulls off his first US Open after four runner-ups and winning on Father’s day for someone who is such a great family man would be a great story for a great Major.