The excitement in the air is palpable this week for the third major of the year, as our national open heads to the venerable and iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, CA for the 119th edition of the U.S. Open.
All the biggest names in golf will tee it up this week, as each of the Top 60 of the WGR will be in attendance, as well as a bevy of other qualifiers and even amateur champions from across the world. In an odd twist of scheduling, this year some of the players in field will have already played a tournament at Pebble Beach this year, as the AT&T Pro-Am was hosted on this same track earlier in February.
However, the Pebble Beach that those golfers saw then will look nothing like what awaits them this week, as the USGA notoriously sets up its U.S. Open tracks to be somewhat diabolical. Pebble Beach presents some of the most iconic and spectacular holes in all of golf, but the setup is going to provide headaches for all who tee it up this week.
When used on the PGA TOUR circuit each year for the Pro-Am event, the idea is to make the layout as accessible as possible for players of all standards, as amateurs tee it up for three rounds alongside the pros.
At the U.S. Open, the USGA’s emphasis will be to make the winning score as close to even par as possible- indeed, when Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open here in 2010, he was the only player in the field at even Par, with the averaging finishing score after four rounds being in the +13 range.
This week, this pristine coastal course which is tucked into the beach cliffs of the Monterrey Peninsula will play at around 7,040 yards for its Par 71 – down from the Par 72 for the pro-am – with one of the Par 5s changed to a Par 4 for the week. It is a Links course in both name and style, with undulating fairways, few trees, and a buffeting ocean breeze that drives in from the west which can make things quite dicey when blowing.
The fairways are quite narrow in nature, and the word on the ground is that the primary rough is absolutely brutal this week. Some are saying that it’s at least a stroke penalty if a ball burrows there. There is water in play on nine holes, and along with the Pacific Ocean breeze, the other key defense is the tiny Poa Annua greens – which are collectively the smallest green surfaces on the entire PGA Tour. Many are elevated, undulated, and extremely hard to hit. Pebble will also play play much firmer and faster at this time of year than it does in February.
Most players this week will not even be hitting driver off tee, because the layout dictates that driving distance, as a rule, is of irrelevance. The primary emphasis this week is going to be hitting fairways and staying out of the rough. There are lots of players this week in interviews saying that you will see plenty of irons off the tee, so you would like to think that the general Driving Accuracy percentage will be higher than normal – not that the lines off the tee are easy by any means.
Aside from the scornful rough, true danger lurks at Pebble Beach on approach, because these tiny greens while hard to hit, are also protected by hazards. Missing the green will make bogey a success.
Always a true test of golf, Pebble Beach will be a grind this week, which makes it a perfect U.S. Open layout, and that grind will be accentuated by high winds which are forecast for this week. Hitting low irons and woods off the tee will be a crucial approach, then on the second shot, players will be attempting to hit high approaches to land softly on fast greens, which provides quite the contrast in style from tee to green.
With a winning score around level par, this will be a stern test for all players involved, and generally should provide high drama come Sunday afternoon, befitting for one of the best tournaments, and courses in the world: the 119th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links!
Must-Have #1: Adam Scott
With the arduous test of the U.S. Open ahead of us, this week we turn to the veteran presence of 13-time PGA Tour winner and former major champion, Adam Scott. We have long learned that majors tend to bring out the best in class, and it’s hard to argue that this dashing lad from Adelaide, Australia has been anything but.
After a few years of adjusting to life after the anchored putter, Scott has seemingly hit his familiar stride in the 2018-2019 season, logging eight Top 20 finishes in his eleven starts this season, with four Top 10s. He has particularly been hot as of late, as his last four starts have seen him home with a formline of 2-8-18-12, with three of those starts coming in major tournaments (The PLAYERS, The Masters, and the PGA).
In fact, Scott has seen himself card Top 20 finishes in his last four major championships. He possesses five Top 20s at U.S. Opens to his name, and although he missed the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open here at Pebble, we feel that his game is in a massively better position to tackle that challenge this time around.
Simply put, he’s been playing some of the most superb golf of his career as of late, and it’s how he’s doing it that catches the eye when looking at the challenges of Pebble Beach.
Over his last 24 rounds, this former UNLV alum has ranked 7th in the field in Scrambling, 11th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, 14th in SG: Approach, 20th in SG: Around The Green, and 16th in Bogey Avoidance (something we feel will be very key this week with the course setup).
Must-Have #2: Henrik Stenson
It is rare that we here at DFI ever tout players in back-to-back weeks, but the stylish golf that we are seeing from this former Open Champion and FedEx Cup Champion over the last few months has us boarding the train once again.
When looking at key stats this week, this Olympic silver medalist has been jumping off the page. Any course that requires less than driver off the tee immediately plays into Stenson’s hands with his noted proclivity with long irons and his patented 2-wood.
He has ranked 1st in the field in SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds, 10th in Good Drives, 8th in SG: Ball Striking, 4th in Fairways Gained, 7th in Bogey Avoidance, and 31st in Scrambling. In short, this stylish Swede possesses the exact formula to succeed at a USGA tricked-out Pebble Beach. Find fairways, dial in approach, avoid bogeys= key to success.
He’s been playing some stellar golf as of late as well, carding a T8 at the RBC Canadian Open this past week. He’s made 10/11 cuts dating back to the start of the 2018, and also carded a T29 at the U.S. Open here back in 2010.
In looking closely, we have found that Stenson is losing almost all of his Strokes Gained by Putting… which would seem to suggest that if could just get hot with the putter- he could make a real run towards another major championship this week.
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