When the U.S. Open begins at Winged Foot this June, the golfers and spectators are going to see something new at an Open venue--primary rough that's been cut at varying heights.
The concept of trying to make the punishment fit the crime regarding off-line golf shots isn't exactly new, but this is the first time the USGA has put it in writing.
According to an article on the championship by staff writer David Shefter, Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director, Rules and competitions, who is taking the place of retiring Tom Meeks, came up with a new philosophy about rough heights at the U.S. Open--which could also be translated to the U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Senior Open, depending on the venue.
In simple terms, the USGA is asking Winged Foot superintendent Eric Greytok to create two distinct cuts for the primary rough in addition to an intermediate cut. A shot that barely trickles into the primary rough will not be as severely punished as one that missed the fairway by 15 yards.
In addition, the rough can vary from hole to hole. The 321-yard, par-4 sixth hole, a hole that is eminently drive-able by some of today's longest hitters, likely will have thicker rough around the green than, say, the 514-yard, par-4 ninth hole.
Longer par 4s are likely to possess less penal rough than shorter par 4s or par 5s.
“The real gist of this thing is matching the penalty with the crime much more so than we used to,” said Davis, who will be working his 17th U.S. Open. “If the practical side of this actually matches the theory behind it, I think it will be a neat thing.”
Of course, the changes and execution will rely heavily on Mother Nature. Getting the rough to grow exactly according to plan is never easy, but when Davis visited Winged Foot in mid-March, he liked what he saw.
The goal is for a first cut of primary rough between 3 to 4 inches, with the secondary cut growing at least as high as 6 inches. To accommodate the change, gallery ropes will be widened. In the past, players who missed fairways badly sometimes were rewarded with a better lie because the ball came to rest in areas trampled by spectators.
The fairways will average 25 yards in width, followed by 6 feet if 1 1/2-inch intermediate cut. The first primary cut will be about 18 feet.
Another change from past Opens is that multiple tees will be used at two holes. Meeks had the philosophy that once you decided on a teeing area that tee should be the one to be used for all four days of the championship. Davis said he had no problem with that system, but he wanted to try something a bit different.
In 2006, the third hole and par-5 12th hole will be altered slightly at least for one round during the U.S. Open.
The third hole, the longest par 3 on the course, will play 216 yards for three of the rounds, with the new tee being used once and playing to a yardage of 243 yards. At the 1959 U.S. Open, Billy Casper laid up in all four rounds, but still managed a par each day en route to the title.
The par-5 12th will normally play 640 yards, making it a true three-shot hole even for the long hitters. However, during at least one round the tee markers will be moved up to make it play 540-550 yards, giving some of these longer hitters a chance to go for the green in two.
“The whole idea there is to see if we can get guys in a position where they might want to try and go for it because there is some risk to it,” said Davis. “The only way to do that is to hit a sweeping hook around the trees or send it right over the trees. It's a total blind shot and you are just hitting and hoping to get it up in the air quickly.
“I really don't think we are going to make it any easier. It's going to make them think more and add a little excitement.”