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U.S. Amateur: 5 holes likely to make impact in outcome
BROOKLINE, Mass. – The Country Club will play at 7,310 yards and to a par of 70 for the U.S. Amateur, exactly 300 yards longer than it played for the 1988 U.S. Open, when par was 71. New tees have been added to lengthen the fifth, 10th, 12th and 15th holes. On holes 4, 6, 8, 10, 11 and 17, there will be no 3½-inch graduated rough, only more severe primary rough at 4 to 6 inches, increasing the penalty for missing the fairway on those shorter par 4s.

Daniel Joseph, who has been the assistant professional at The Country Club for the past six years, recently discussed five holes that could play important roles in both stroke-play qualifying and in match play.

No. 5, 494-yard par 4:

A new tee adds 55 yards to this hole, which played 439 yards for the 1988 U.S. Open. “[Designer] Gil Hanse has stretched this hole so that players will have the traditional length of shots into the green,” said Joseph. “Hitting the fairway will be a huge advantage, because it will be very tough to control spin out of the rough to this green, which slopes sharply from right to left.” Players who hit something less than driver from the elevated tee will likely face an approach of more than 200 yards , though there is room in front of the green to bounce a shot onto the putting surface.

No. 9, 505-yard par 4:

This hole, nicknamed “Himalayas,” is a converted par 5 that could be a critical match-play hole. “It’s probably a 265-yard carry to fly the hill on the right side,” said Joseph, referring to the rock outcropping that dominates the landing area. “A shorter hitter may need to aim for the narrow opening on the left side of the fairway, but it’s only a 10-to-12-yard area before you reach the rough and the fescue.” Joseph noted, however, that the prevailing wind helps the player, and those who fly the rock ledge could have as little as a 7- or 8-iron for their approach shots. The green is steeply pitched from back left to front right, and because it is fronted by a brook and several bunkers, players who miss the fairway off the tee may choose to lay up to a comfortable wedge distance rather than try a risky approach from the rough.

No. 11, 443 yard par 4:

Arnold Palmer made two triple-bogey 7s on this hole in the 1963 U.S. Open, when he endured the second of his three Open playoff losses in a five-year span. “Hitting this fairway off the tee is a good way for the player who is first up to put pressure on his opponent,” said Joseph. “Players need to hit either a straight shot down the left side, or a draw,” said Joseph. “We are going to see all sorts of clubs selected off this tee, from hybrids to 3-woods to drivers.” At about 270 yards out, the fairway bends sharply left, meaning that anyone who hits driver will have to play a right-to-left shot. Those who miss the fairway to the right will not be completely blocked as in past championships, because several trees have been removed. As on No. 9, though, they will face a second shot over water from daunting rough, and many will opt to pitch out to the fairway.

No. 12, 623-yard par 5:

“This is the most talked-about hole going into the championship,” said Joseph. “It’s an absolute bear.” It played as a 450-yard par 4 in past championships, and the par 5 that debuts with the U.S. Amateur features a testing tee shot. “It’s a strange angle off the tee, which points to the right, while the fairway gently flows to the left,” said Joseph. A large tree at the left corner of the fairway will also influence the shot. Joseph estimated that no more than 10 percent of the field will reach the upper level of this hole in two, which requires a long, accurate drive and a second shot that must carry about 20 yards of rough and a 30-foot-high ledge. “The shot has to be high enough and carry far enough,” said Joseph. “It will be a huge advantage for a player who can get up top in two.” That player will have a clear view of the green from less than 100 yards, instead of a blind, uphill approach of 150 to 160 yards from the lower fairway. The good news is that the tiny, two-tiered green is not too difficult. “I expect a lot of putts to be made on that green,” said Joseph.

No. 17, 371-yard par 4

“It’s a great risk-reward hole,” Joseph said. “In matches that get this far, what the first player does off the tee may very well dictate the other player’s decision.” Players may hit as little as a 4- or 5-iron from the tee, or pull out the driver. The famed Vardon Bunker still sits on the corner of the dogleg-left hole, and two additional bunkers now challenge longer hitters. “A player who carries the corner could have as little as 60 yards into the green,” Joseph said. “But the new bunkers are in the 275-to-280-yard range, and there’s a huge penalty if you miss it down the right side.” Deep rough, fescue and possible tree trouble await there, leaving a player little option but to pitch out. A front-right hole location is probably the most testing on the two-tiered green, although shots to the top level will also require precise distance control. “We could see a lot of shots spin back down off the shelf toward the front left corner of the green,” said Joseph.

ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur

The U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship, was first played in 1895 at Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island. The event, which has no age restriction, is open to those with a Handicap Index of 2.4 or lower. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. It is the pre-eminent amateur competition in the world. Applications are typically placed online, starting the third week in April at www.usga.org.

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