SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- They’re off and running at the 188th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Here are five things to watch for as the day unfolds on this par-70 layout, playing 7,445 yards long.
Wednesday’s rain, only 1/10th of an inch of it, was just enough to cool off and slow down the pace of the ground game. That will be an advantage to the morning field. The course will dry out quickly because it sits on well-draining sand. Add to that the effects of wind and you have a formula for higher scores in the afternoon.
You’re out on an island adjacent to an ocean, and winds are normal here, though usually from the south/southwest. Thursday's winds will come in from what is not the prevailing direction, the north, and they’ll pick up to a swift 20- to 25-miles per hour by midday before they abate.
The USGA has outdone itself in creating some fascinating groups. The morning pairings included the long-hitting trio of Bubba Watson, Jason Day and defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka at 7:40 a.m. off the first tee. At 8:02 a.m. on the 10th tee were three players who are all one major short of the Grand Slam: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson. The highlight afternoon pairings is a blockbuster: Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods at 1:47 p.m. on the first tee. Think the USGA doesn’t have a sense of humor? How about the three amigos: Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
This par 3 is only 159 yards long and presents the smallest target on the course. Spieth has already made triple-bogey in the first round - his second hole of the round. The perched green is exposed to the winds like no other at Shinnecock Hills and offers too much slope and not enough hole location space for contemporary championship golf. USGA field staff has done their best with a center-left hole location that allows players to use the headwind from the northwest as a backboard. But recovery from behind and over will be common and might end up feeling like playing ping-pong on a car hood.
Despite what some folks are saying, this is not a links course; all of the greens are built up above grade and have false fronts and fall off sharply on the edges. You cannot run the ball onto these putting surfaces. That means aerial golf, and aerial golf in the wind can be very taxing on players. Expect some weirdly high scores.