Kevin Gorman's Take 5: Five things to know about U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills
One of the five charter clubs of the USGA will host the U.S. Open, where the head professional is a Pittsburgher who started his career as a caddie at Oakmont Country Club and calls himself a "Steelers fan for life."
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club head pro Jack Druga, a Greenfield native and Allderdice graduate, shared his thoughts on the course that underwent a makeover six years ago and how he expects it to play for the 118th U.S. Open championship.
1. It's no Oakmont: Where Oakmont is renowned for its reputation as the most challenging course, from narrow fairways to deep bunkers to incredibly difficult greens, Shinnecock Hills is designed and plays more like the links courses of England and Scotland.
"Couldn't be more different than Oakmont," Druga said. "Shinnecock's greens are difficult but it's a different animal. The penalty at Oakmont is the fairway bunkers. The penalty here would be the native grass if you get your ball off line."
Forgive me, but I've never been able to embrace the charm of ShinnecockHills since it's in the same neighborhood with National Golf Links and Maidstone.— Dan Jenkins (@danjenkinsgd) June 6, 2018
But those aren't the only differences.
2. The fairways are wide: They aren't as wide as Erin Hills, whose 60-yard wide fairways allowed for a birdie fest.
But they're wider than the last time the Open was at Shinnecock Hills. In 2004, the fairways at Shinnecock Hills averaged 26 yards wide before a makeover by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2012 made them much wider.
Druga said Shinnecock's fairways will play 38 yards wide on average. By comparison, Oakmont's ranged from 28-32 yards wide for the Open in 2016.
"The cool thing is, the longer you drive the ball the narrower the fairway gets," Druga said. "So, a player is going to be given a choice: He can either lay back and hit it to a very wide fairway or he can drive it a little further and hit it closer to green, where the fairway gets narrower."
New @GolfDigest U.S. Open video up today, and this is the one I've really been waiting for: Brand-new drone flyover of Shinnecock Hills + interesting course info, including this cool nugget (which was news to me). https://t.co/swA3tqeMDJ pic.twitter.com/nsvT4o6gyR— Stina Sternberg (@StinaSternberg) June 7, 2018
3. The rough is pretty rough: Druga said that Shinnecock Hills had a rainy stretch about three weeks ago, so the rough is right where the USGA wants it.
"I would call it a half-shot penalty, for sure," Druga said. "There are places you can get into where you might not be able to get it back into the fairway on one swing."
Druga said the penalty for missing the greens from the tee or fairway "will be very severe."
"There's not a tree at Shinnecock that comes into play during the course of 18 holes, so it's really all about the wind, the greens, the native grass if you happen to get it off line," Druga said. "That's really the difficulty of the golf course."
#USOpen preview: Shinnecock Hills, hole No. 18: par 4, 485 yardsBlind tee shot ☑️Prevailing breeze from right to left ☑️Green pitched from back to front ☑️In partnership with @DeloitteUS pic.twitter.com/NfK30vEE7Z— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 7, 2018
4. The crosswinds are killers: With the golf course surrounded by Shinnecock Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, reading the crosswinds is a key to playing off the tee and fairways.
"The greens play small because of the slopes and you've got the ocean and the bay surrounding the course, which makes the winds pretty tricky to read," Druga said. "Almost all the time, very rarely do you play direct down or direct into the wind – a lot of judging with what the wind is going to do to your ball, left or right."
Excited for Shinnecock Hills and @usopengolf ! An outstanding course which will be a great championship test! Like my #USOpen custom-made @TaylorMadeGolf bag? RT for a chance to win it. pic.twitter.com/H7MOAbN3Vu— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) June 5, 2018
5. Watch out for Tiger: Druga played a pair of practice rounds with Tiger Woods two weeks ago, and believes the 42-year-old great is going to win another major championship.
And Druga isn't ruling out Woods winning at Shinnecock, and the club certainly wouldn't mind having him win the Open.
"Everything changes when Tiger's in the mix," Druga said. "We have a number of stars right now: Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Ricky Fowler, Phil Mickelson. But there's nothing like having Tiger on the leaderboard. It really changes things.
"It's really different when he's playing, especially if he gets into contention. Then everybody is interested. Everybody wants to know how he's doing, what he's shot. All of a sudden, golf is really, really important again."
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.