With rapidly evolving equipment, professional golfers are driving the ball farther than what was humanly possible 14 years ago when the Olympic Club last hosted the U.S. Open. But when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy tee off at the Lake Course on Thursday, they’ll confront a course that could be more challenging than it was in 1998.
USGA officials may have added only 357 yards since then, but changes throughout the course will ensure that it’s the most rigorous golf tournament this year.
“The yardage that was added will make Olympic play like it did in ’98 and back in ’87 and so on,” USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said.
Competitors will be tested right out of the gates when they confront a 533-yard par 4 on the opening hole. The hole was previously a par 5, but USGA officials flipped it with the par-4 17th, while adding distance to the second, third, fifth and sixth holes to create what some are calling the most brutal opening the tournament has ever seen.
“It’s probably the hardest opening six holes, maybe, in the history of major championship golf,” said NBC analyst Johnny Miller, a San Francisco native.
The most drastic change is the course’s sparkling-new eighth hole, which officials reconfigured to meet U.S. Open standards. The eighth is still a par 3, but it’s more than 60 yards longer (200 total) and features a narrow green with a false front.
Fifty yards were added to No. 6, bringing the fairway bunker into play at 285 yards, and the green on No. 7 was reduced from three to two tiers — making the uphill, 288-yard par-4 the most likely birdie on the front nine.
The most striking changes on the back nine were made to the 16th and 17th holes, the course’s only two par 5s. New tees were added to the 16th to make it play at 670 yards and the area to the right of the 17th green was shaved so that a miss takes the ball down a hill, making it a true shot-makers hole.
“You could see eagles, you could see bogeys and double bogeys, too,” Davis said.
Competitors will get a chance to shave a few strokes if they can stick the ball on the course’s new greens, which use bent grass to guarantee a truer, faster roll.
“Tee to green is harder than it has been,” Davis said. “On the greens, you’re going to see more putts made.”
But if the approach is off by even a hair, trouble could ensue on seven greens that have been shaved down to make the ball speed away on a miss.