Pinehurst # 2
by Coach Gary Overton

With all eyes of the golfing world on North Carolina this week, Pinehurst is again ready to host “the truest test of golf”. It has 51 fairway bunkers, 56 greenside bunkers, one water hazard and a thousand ways to drive a player crazy. Pinehurst No. 2 initially seems simple and it’s the type of course one plays with anticipation of having a better score next time out. What can’t be seen is the hidden secrets and difficulties of #2 that seem to rise up and catch a golfer in an unsuspecting moment.

This Donald Ross masterpiece which he coined as his favorite work and is compared in some ways to The Old Course of St. Andrews, gives one the feeling of playing on hallowed ground. Having played #2 on a few occasions, I can attest this through firsthand experience.

It's what 156 players are going up against this week when the U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst. Only six years have passed (a short turn around time by USGA standards) since Payne Stewart knew enough to solve its taxing problems over the last three holes and win in 1999 by one shot over Phil Mickelson. Such an unusual quick return only speaks well for the Resort and particularly for the fabled #2.

Pinehurst dates to 1907 when the course was much shorter but for this Open, Pinehurst will play at 7,214 yards — 92 yards longer than in 1999. Stewart, with a clutch putting performance on the final holes, was the only player to break par as he won his second Open title on famous greens, the most rigorous tests of Pinehurst.

First, though, you have to get to the greens. To make that more difficult, the USGA has narrowed the fairways from Pinehurst's normal average of 30 to 35 yards across to 24 to 26 yards. As usual, the USGA has made two par-five holes into par fours — the 467-yard eighth and the 492-yard 16th, probably the toughest hole on the course.

The key holes at Pinehurst are no different than they were in 1999, and the USGA has indicated it probably will keep the same pin positions, although nothing is guaranteed except problems once a golfer passes the fourth hole. No. 4 is a 565-yard par five, which is reachable in two. It was here I was once fortunate to witness a brilliant drive, stellar 3 wood and masterful 25-foot putt for eagle by Brian Bailey. For a brief moment Brian more resembled Craig Stadler than the WNCT sports reporter eastern North Carolinians love and admire. But that hole is followed by the 483-yard par-four fifth, another one of the toughest holes on the course, and it's big trouble.

The eighth doesn't give up a lot of even lies in the fairway and there's a chance to pick up a shot at the 175-yard ninth, easiest of the four par-three holes. The 607-yard 10th probably isn't reachable in two, and is followed by the 476-yard 11th, which has a new tee that makes the hole play as a slight dogleg left. The 13th is only 378 yards but has a narrow fairway.

The finishing holes are no bargain. The 16th was the hardest hole in the last Open, and it's likely that nothing will damage that reputation. Approach shots are probably going to be about 180 to 200 yards, and the first 20 feet of green should be considered a "false front". Professionals will be happy to take par at the 187 yard 17th as the hole is completely surrounded by sand.

The 18th is 445 yards, uphill and usually into the wind. This is where Stewart made the uphill 15-footer, after driving into the rough, to save par and finish his round of 70 one shot ahead of Mickelson.

It’s long been said The U.S. Open doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday and such was the case six years ago in one of the best Opens anyone can remember. Can Pinehurst duplicate the drama of 1999 all over again, only time will tell.

Here’s to all Dads, enjoy the weekend, and have a Happy Fathers Day.

Coach Gary Overton