DAN REARDON: Pinehurst RIP
(KMOX) – Now that the 114th US Open is in the books, it is time for annual post-mortems.
Before you run out to buy your Kaymer jersey, let’s try to put his dominant win in perspective.
The 29-year-old German matched his win at the Players Championship by using the same formula. He took charge of the field the opening two rounds and managed the lead on the weekend. For all intents and purposes the US Open was over after his second day 65.
Does this mean we have the next Tiger, or Rory or Phil? My analysis says no. For four days at Pinehurst #2 we had the next Todd Hamilton. Historians might remember that Hamilton secured a major win at the Open Championship at Troon in 2004 with a virtuoso performance from off the greens. He used the skinned surrounds at Troon and a hybrid equipped putting stroke to erase nearly every mistaken approach.
Fast-forward to Kaymer this past week. The former PGA Champion hit a high percentage of fairways (76.8%), a representative number of greens (62.5%) but when he missed the greens, he eschewed conventional chipping to trundle long rolls with his putter. “Through my experience from the British Open, I’ve always done fairly well to putt off the green.” he explained. “And I think a bad putt like this is still better than a bad chip, especially with the runoffs. When you hit one fat, you are pretty much in the same spot again. If I hit a bad putt, I still have a chance to make our four.”
The numbers bear out the strategy. Over four rounds he one putted 35 times. Twelve of those one putts were for birdie or eagle. But where Kaymer separated from the competition was the twenty three times he one putted for par or bogey (only twice to save bogey).
Rarely did Kaymer figure out how to manufacture something from the “waste” areas. (I refuse to call rough that was landscaped and planted “native.”) Only six times did he miss a fairway and stay on a green, but thirteen times he found the fairway and missed the green.
On the Sunday before the US Open, I told Mike Kelly on the air that this US Open wouldn’t be about the driver and wouldn’t be about the putter. It would be about the irons and the ability to recover from around the greens. Kaymer won this US Open from off the greens.
The pack says Kaymer has three US wins on his resume – the PGA Championship, the Players Championship and now the US Open – he is elite. Elite? Yes. But maybe not an elite talent. Kaymer has only one more opportunity to use his recovery tricks this year, the Open Championship at Hoylake. For the remainder of the year in this country when he finds himself trying to save a hole he will need to demonstrate that he is multidimensional around greens where longer grass is the issue.
Was this no rough US Open a historical success in contrast with what has been typically associated with our national championship? A year ago at Merion the USGA was harshly criticized for taking the driver out of the game with the severe, non-graduated rough. This year the tee shot was reduced to an afterthought when it came to game management. I can think of no US Open of the twenty-nine I have covered where accuracy off the tee was less of an issue. An amazing 70% of the field found the short grass over the course of four rounds. The number of greens in regulation (56%) lagged that stat but one must remember the domed greens rejected good approach shots like Tim Duncan against the Heat.
The course never challenged from the teeing ground, perhaps invited recovery when the occasional miss came along and rewarded only the player(s) who figured out a way to score without being on the putting surface.
This was the year the US Open decided to borrow from the R&A in setting up their course, but they used anemic scrub areas, with capricious punishments, to “identify the best players” in the world. Pinehurst #2 is different. It is ruggedly attractive. In US Open annals I believe it is a one-off anomaly.
Here we go again about mediocrity. At the start of the final round a total of eight players were at even par or better, positioned to overhaul Kaymer if he faltered. Of those eight not a single player managed to shoot par or better. While Kaymer nursed a one under 69 to finish nine under for the championship, the contenders shot a collective twenty over par with the trophy on the line. Of the last eight twosomes that teed off Sunday afternoon at Pinehurst #2 not a single player matched or bettered par and the group was fifty-two strokes over. “These guys can play.” On the day there were eleven rounds in the red.
While the conversation for this week’s US Women’s Open is all about chewed up fairways, I think the focus should be on how chewed up the women will be around the greens.
The forecast is for no rain and temperatures daily in the mid to upper 90’s. You can shorten the course to accommodate the distance discrepancy between men and women touring professionals. You can adjust landing areas to avoided divot dense landing zones. But the greens will be the same or worse unless the USGA applies a heavy dose of water throughout the week.
By Friday night the team setting up #2 for the women’s weekend will be scrambling for a solution for respectability like they had to do at Oakmont in 2010. LPGA players today have the ball striking talents to effectively navigate the eighteen at Pinehurst. I know of no player(s) who can pull a Kaymer and erase their mistakes around the greens. And while the barren wastelands that border the fairways were less of an issue for the stronger men golfers, the explosions from the sand will be more adventurous and I fear less redemptive for the women.
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