Yesterday, my wife, sister, brother-in-law and I attended the first practice round of the U.S. Open, played this year on Pinehurst #2 just a short drive minutes from my home.
As it was a practice round, the mood was as relaxed as could be expected at the beginning of arguably the most important golf championship in the world. The clouds and light wind brought a measure of relief as the temperature hovered around 90. The $2.50 bottled water was worth every penny.
This was my first time walking Pinehurst #2, always ranked among the finest tests of golf in the world. After a difficult spring the weather had cooperated over the past few weeks; the course was in great shape. I have putted on greens that looked worse than the fairways we walked. As for all Opens, the roughs were thick and punishing.
But the main feature of the course is the genius of its designer, Donald Ross. Number 2 is just jaw-dropping beautiful, but it ways that test one's golf, not imagination. I was lucky enough to play as a youth many times on a Ross course, although I did not know it at the time. Those holes - among the last he ever designed - always seemed special to me. Watching from outside the ropes yesterday was difficult. I wanted to pick up my clubs and play!
Finally I was again reminded of the considerable gap between my golfing skills and those of the players we saw yesterday. Vijay Singh, currently the world's number 2 player, hit a drive shortly after I took the photo above that was longer, higher, and straighter that any I ever hit in my prime. Then he took a three-wood and did it again. Sure, modern equipment accounts for some of the difference, but not all. I am sure I hit a 300-yard drive or two in my career. Vijay averages over 300 yards and hits the fairway over 60 percent of the time. Damn! These guys are really, really, good.
Pinehurst #2 is a player's course, not a spectator's course. Given that and the even larger crowds once the tournament starts, I will be happy to be watching on TV this weekend as the championship is decided. But then I will have a bit more understanding of what it takes to play #2.