Nick Bonfield looks at the unique challenge of Pinehurst and gives his views on who might contend in the 2014 US Open
What do you associate most with the US Open? Treacherous green complexes, perhaps. Lightning-fast fairways? Penal rough? You’d expect those three to garner the majority of the votes if you asked a wide cross-section of the golfing population.
But this year’s US Open will be slightly different. The famous crowned-shape green complexes will demand the utmost control on approaches and the fairways are already browning to a crisp, but it’s the absence of rough that makes the 2014 contest a rather intriguing one.
And absence isn’t even an understatement. All rough has been completely removed to restore a natural feel to the course, with waste areas and shrub grass now lining all the fairways.
But what does that mean? Well, in my eyes, the PGA Tour’s Total Driving statistic could be the most revealing in terms of predicting who might conquer this mighty course.
Yes, dry, firm fairways will reduce Pinehurst No. 2’s overall yardage, but at almost 7,600 yards – and only a par 70 – it’s an extremely long layout with four par 4s in excess of 500 yards.
Still, success will only be achieved if sound driving is complemented by a razor-sharp short game. Simply put, you aren’t going to hit every green at Pinehurst, and I’d be surprised if the highest Greens in Regulation percentage extends into the 70s.
So, let’s take a look at the Total Driving and Scrambling statistics to see what we can glean in terms of a prospective winner.
The top 5 on the PGA Tour in Total driving are Derek Ernst (not playing), Shawn Stefani (not playing), Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer and Graham DeLaet.
Scott – coming off a win at the Crowne Plaza and a top 10 at The Memorial – will attract a significant amount of money this week, and so he should, especially as he’s inside the top 40 in Scrambling.
Kaymer’s Scrambling stats, meanwhile, are a little concerning (178th), but given Pinehurst’s parallels to Whistling Straits – where he won the 2011 PGA Championship – and his current form, I think the German warrants some serious attention.
Also keep an eye on DeLaet, who leads the PGA Tour in Greens in Regulation.
In terms of the tour’s best scramblers, Jim Furyk (1st) is a past US Open champion who excels on tough golf courses, Keegan Bradley (13th) is a exemplary driver of the golf ball with major-winning pedigree, Graeme McDowell (12th) is in his element during golf’s most thorough examination and Jordan Spieth (9th) looks poised to win a major championship sooner rather than later.
Still, statistics can only take you so far, and control of emotion, experience and other intangible factors become increasingly important in the US Open.
One thing’s for sure: the eventual winner will excel in all areas, both mentally and physically.