U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Pinehurst No. 2: A Unique and Challenging Test
May 25, 2017 | Village of Pinehurst, N.C.
By Bill Fields
Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 is one of the best designs in the United States, largely because of its most distinctive feature: the challenging turtleback greens.
“Pinehurst is its own kind of beast. I don’t think anything compares to it,” said five-time USGA champion Nathan Smith of the venue that has hosted three U.S. Opens and is the site of this year’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. “At Oakmont [Country Club], the greens are fast but there are consistent slopes. At No. 2, you get a lot of ‘potato chips’ going on out there. You have to hit in a specific part of the green or it’s running off.”
Smith and partner Todd White, winners of the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball in 2015, are one of 128 sides entered in this year’s championship. Each side will play one round at Course No. 2 and another at the Tom Fazio-designed Course No. 8 on Saturday and Sunday, with the low 32 qualifiers advancing to match play, which begins Monday exclusively on No. 2.
On No. 2 – a 1907 Donald Ross creation restored in 2010-11 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw – the number one strategic objective arguably is patience.
“You’d better be patient,” said 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey, of Greensboro, N.C., who is partnering with Todd Mitchell for the third year. “You can hit it five feet from the pin, and the next thing you know it’s 30 yards away. That happens quite a bit. It can be frustrating, but it’s the same course for everyone. You just have to play smart golf.”
No Four-Ball competitor likely has a greater familiarity with Course No. 2 and its unique demands than Don Padgett III, who estimates he has played more than 150 rounds on the hallowed ground. That includes tournament experience in multiple North & South Junior and North & South Amateurs, and for three decades several trips annually to the resort, where his grandfather, Don Padgett, was director of golf from 1987-2002 and his father Don Padgett II, was president from 2004-2014.
“Strategically, I’ve always played No. 2 thinking if you’re going to miss a green, miss it on line and short,” said Padgett III, 42, who was medalist in the 1997 North & South Amateur after winning an eight-hole playoff on No. 2. “Left or right, it depends on where the pin is and you can short-side yourself. Almost always, over [the green] is not good.”
A “good miss” is essential to success on No. 2 – whose putting surfaces became even more repellent after being converted to Bermuda grass three years ago following the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open – because it’s likely every competitor is going to miss a green or two.
“It’s a lot different than it used to be—the greens are firmer,” said Sandhills resident Sherrill Britt, who also had played No. 2 many times over the years competitively and recreationally. “You can put your ball in the middle every fairway, and if you hit 12 greens, you’ve hit it good. Since they’ve changed the greens, I maybe hit 12 in two rounds.”
Will Grimmer, 20, of Cincinnati, Ohio, who qualified for the 2014 U.S. Open, believes the inverted-saucer greens play mind games with players.
“They fall off in all directions, but when you get up on the putting surfaces, there is a lot more room than there appears to be,” said Grimmer. “Guys miss with short irons or wedges where they might not normally. It’s tough to commit to a certain line or certain shot, but there’s more green [to work with] than maybe you think from the tee or fairway. But you have to be disciplined. Sometimes you’ve got to play 10 or 15 paces short or long of a flagstick to get a level putt.”
If you do miss a green and end up in the closely cut surrounds, it’s decision time. Do you putt, use a hybrid, hit a chip and run or execute a flop shot? It comes down to the player’s imagination and comfort level.
“It’s fun around the greens because you have a lot of options,” said Padgett III. “I’ve found the last few years that I tend to putt more.”
Martin Kaymer used a putter successfully from off the green a number of times in winning the 2014 U.S. Open. Two-time U.S. Senior Amateur champion Paul Simson, of Raleigh, N.C., whose two North & South Amateur and six Senior Men’s North and South Amateur titles make him the most prolific winner in Pinehurst history, putts more often not from around the greens.
“I’ve tended to always use a 5-, 7- or 9-iron and hooded the face a little bit,” said Greg Earnhardt, Britt’s partner. “But that was a long time ago when my nerves were better. If you can putt it, that’s the play. The grain is always against you on the slopes, so that can make it hard to play a bump-and-run. The most important thing is to pick what you’re going to do and stick with it, whether you’re putting or chipping, so you can get a feel for it, how it’s going to react and be able to stay consistent.”
Although there is a premium on approach shots and short game on Course No. 2, neglecting accuracy off the tee can create plenty of issues after Coore and Crenshaw removed 35 acres of turf. They converting the landscape back to what Ross intended: sandy, natural terrain dotted with native vegetation in which players can draw a clean, playable lie, but also have a challenging one as well.
Britt contends that “you can probably get away with more now” off tee while acknowledging that “you can barely miss a fairway and be in a footprint.”
Grimmer concurs, given his U.S. Open experience. “I think it’s critical to hit fairways,” he said. “Some guys say the old Bermuda rough was harder versus the natural area. I didn’t miss too many fairways in the Open, but every time I did, I had a pretty junk lie.”
No. 2 will measure slightly shorter for the Four-Ball (7,161 yars) than the 2014 U.S. Open (7,562), but length will still be a factor.
“There’s a big difference on No. 2 in hitting a 6-iron into a green as opposed to an 8-iron,” said Earnhardt. “At a regular course, there’s not that much difference but on No. 2 there is. A higher, shorter approach can help a lot.”
The team format might afford players a bit more freedom, but only to a point.
“There will be times with a partner when you probably need to be a little bit more aggressive, but we all know what happens if you try to take on too much on No. 2,” said Padgett III. “Other than a handful of holes, you feel good making pars.”
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who contributes frequently to USGA websites.