The season's third major championship is prepped for takeoff this week as the TOUR heads to Pebble Beach Golf Links for the 119th U.S. Open Championship.
The field is packed to the max with 156 golfers set to peg it at the iconic, coastal course. Thanks to the nature of sectional qualifying, we see a wide array of golfers in the field on top of a loaded field to begin with as the Top 60 in the world are automatically entered.
The field gets a big makeover after 36 holes as only the top 60 and ties move on to play the weekend.
The purse sits at $12.5 million for the 2019 edition with the winner taking home more than $2 million at week's end.
Pebble Beach Golf Links will host for the sixth time. It's the 13th time that it's hosted a USGA event so Mike Davis and his crew should have a firm grasp on how to set this course up. On that note, Mike Davis will not be directly involved in the setup this year since he's moved into the CEO role. Should be interesting to see if that changes anything about how the course is set up.
Originally designed by Jack Neville and Douglas S. Grant, this coastal track will play as a par 71 with 7,075 yards on the scorecard.
There are seven par 4s that play under 430 yards which means distance off the tee is not a prerequisite. Golfers will have plenty of opportunities to use less-than-driver on the tee boxes.
There are three par 5s but that doesn't mean eagles will fly off the shelf. The entire field bagged just 20 eagles the last time Pebble Beach hosted the U.S. Open (2010) and just 13 eagles back in 2000. Both years it played as the hardest course on TOUR, relative to par.
As you may have noticed from all the golfer's social media videos, the rough is already thick and juicy at Pebble Beach. We are in for a true test of golf where all facets of the game are tested.
Off the tee may not be the most difficult test since golfers can club down but if you are missing fairways it will be a long week.
On approach, golfers will see some of the smallest targets imaginable (just 3,500 square feet on average). The PGA TOUR average is closer to 6,500 square feet so these are tiny, tiny greens.
For turf, Pebble Beach features poa annua and ryegrass from tee-to-green with poa annua greens. That gives an edge to golfers that grew up on the West Coast on have spent a lot of time on the best coast. This type of grass usually gets a little rough by day's end so early-morning tee times are typically the times to go low.
There will be a lot of talk about how different the conditions are in June for a U.S. Open versus February for the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. They shrink the fairways, grow the rough, and the warmer weather allows for firmer and faster conditions. Despite all those differences, all of the major-championship winners at Pebble Beach had previously shown some form in the Pro-Am so it's not something that should be completely overlooked.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Graeme McDowell: "Placing the ball in the fairway wasn’t really that difficult to do this week, because you’ve got 3-woods and hybrids and other clubs off tees. And iron play was going to be at a premium. And my iron play has been solid this year. And chipping and putting was going to be at a premium. From that point of view, obviously, I was able to hang in there and scramble well and give myself a chance to win. "
Tiger Woods: " Keys to putting on poa, you have to hit the ball solidly. You can’t mishit putts on poa and expect it to go in. You have to hit pure putts because you know it’s going to bounce. A lot of the guys who grew up playing poa feel very comfortable with that."
Ernie Els: "the greens are going to be very tricky. And I went out late yesterday evening and hit some chip shots and putts on the greens. There’s a huge difference from the morning to late afternoon, when, as you said, when the poa annua really dries up."
Ian Poulter: "It’s very fiery on the fairways, there’s a lot of irons off tee shots, which is what you would get in links golf. You just can’t run it up on to a few of these greens because of the angle, the way the greens have been built and the bunkers in front. So you have to put it in position and then therefore try and give your self the best possible chance of getting it underneath, and that sometimes is very tricky. But it plays very linksy. I like the look of this course."
Dustin Johnson: "You hit driver a lot more in February. The ball doesn’t roll at all. So then coming into greens every club you hit spins back. So it’s a lot different with the ball bouncing a lot."
Overview: In 2010, golfers pointed out the differences between February and June at Pebble Beach. Most agreed that driver was utilized a lot less in the firmer June conditions. Others talked about how tricky the poa annua greens can be.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Riviera CC (Genesis Open)
Torrey Pines (Farmers Insurance Open)
PGA National (Honda Classic)
TPC Sawgrass (THE PLAYERS)
Harbour Town GL (RBC Heritage)
We're looking for poa annua greens this week but also targeting courses where golfers club down off the tee and see tiny greens on approach. Overall, these courses provide a good sampling of those angles.
Thursday: Mostly sunny with a high of 67 degrees. Calm winds around 8-to-12 MPH.
Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 66 degrees. Calm winds at 8-to-12 MPH.
Weekend: The sun continues to shine but there is a slight chance that the wind picks up over the weekend. Nothing extreme, though.
When you head to the Monterey Peninsula you expect to be greeted with some blustery conditions but that's not really the case this week. Unless the wind forecast drastically changes over the next few days, we are in for pretty calm weather.