The Olympic Club’s Lake Course might seem short by typical USGA standards, but changes implemented for June’s U.S. Open promise to baffle some of the world’s finest golfers.
Although the course hosted the Open in 1955, ’66, ’87 and ’98, modern golfers are driving the ball further and further, so 357 yards were added since the last time the Open was in The City to ensure the event is the most rigorous tournament of the year.
“The test of golf for this Open is going to be extremely stern,” USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said Monday during a visit to the Olympic Club.
The most striking changes are found on the par-34 front nine, where significant distance has been added to the second, third, fifth and sixth holes. To make matters worse, the 533-yard opening hole will be a par 4 instead of a par 5.
“I am convinced that this will be the hardest start — definitely the hardest start in a U.S. Open,” Davis said. “The first six holes are going to be just brutal.”
On the back nine, modifications to holes 16 and 17 — the only par 5s on the course — have the potential to stir up drama. The big dogleg on No. 16 will be played as long as 670 yards, making it a true three-shot hole, and
No. 17 has the most arduous green on the course, presenting golfers with a set of tough decisions down the stretch.
“I personally think that you will see the U.S. Open won or lost on those two holes,” Davis said.
If distance wreaks havoc, competitors might get to shave a few strokes 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.”
On No. 6, 50 yards were added to bring the bunker (now 285 yards out) back into play, the green on
No. 7 was reduced from three to two tiers and the par-3 eighth hole has expanded from 137 to 200 yards.
Despite the added distance, the course’s 7,154 yards is still short for the U.S. Open. What makes it challenging is that it’s a tight course with numerous uneven lies and lots of trees. More than half of the holes have doglegs. On four holes, the fairway cants away from the dogleg, forcing golfers to really work their shots.
“This is one of the best shot-making venues we go to,” Davis said.
Several trees were also removed, making weather an intangible if the wind blows strong off the ocean.
But Davis doesn’t expect weather to play a definitive role like it did last year when rain at Congressional in Washington, D.C., produced record-setting scores throughout the weekend.
“We’re almost guaranteed to have dry conditions, which allows the USGA, not Mother Nature, to dictate,” Davis said.
WHEN: June 14-17
WHERE: Olympic Club, San Francisco
COURSE: Par 70, 7,154 yards
DEFENDING CHAMP: Rory McIlroy