Love me tender, love me true,
All my dreams fulfill.
For my darlin’ I love you, and I always will.
Elvis Presley turned those words into one of his bushel full of gold records a long time ago, yet the theme might very well provide the key to success in the U.S. Open golf championship that begins this week.
Don’t believe that? No one could blame the Doubting Thomas golfers who will be presented with a different sort of challenge. The stories emerging from Chambers Bay make the public course near Tacoma, Wash., sound like a house of horrors, perhaps an offspring of Attila the Hun.
There are reasons, good ones, that fear becomes the watchword of the week and players will tiptoe to the first tee.
Reports of the United States Golf Association officials “losing the golf course” in the 2010 U.S. Amateur still cause nightmares among the luckless competitors who drew afternoon starting times in that championship.
“If you like the game of golf to beat you up, I suggest you play Chambers Bay every day,” former South Carolina star Wesley Bryan says, remembering the baked terrain that made stopping the ball on the greens almost impossible in the 2010 Amateur.
But, Todd White suggests, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
“Chambers Bay is so different from what most players expect in a golf course,” the 2013 U.S. Walker Cup player from Spartanburg says. “There’s intrigue in playing there. Creativity is involved. You have to adapt.”
Golfers who embrace Chambers Bay, he says, will have the opportunity to thrive.
But fight the course, he says, and the beauty becomes a beast.
TOUGH IN 2010 AMATEUR
The USGA in general and executive director Mike Davis in particular strive to take golfers out of their comfort zones, and Chambers Bay provides multiple opportunities. There are alternative tee boxes, both the first and 18th holes can be played to par 4 or par 5 and the weather is unpredictable.
Those who blow into town Monday and expect to solve the nuances in a practice round or two will be sadder but perhaps wiser, Davis said in a tournament preview. Some PGA stalwarts scoff at the suggestion, but even the best players in the world will face a steep learning curve.
Some of the South Carolina contingent who played in that 2010 U.S. Amateur – White, Jacob Burger, George IV and Wesley Bryan – agree. White speaks from the side of success; he shot 69 in qualifying for the match-play portion of the championship. The others fared less well and have hair-raising tales to tell.
“I ‘attempted’ to play,” George IV says in qualifying his participation. “One word: brutal. The course played so firm and so fast, and (officials) lost control of the course in the afternoon. The course was hard – but fair and playable – in the morning.”
The USGA used the 2010 Amateur to test possibilities on the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that opened in 2007, and “we were definitely guinea pigs,” Wesley Bryan says. “I’m sure they will adjust some things based on the complaints, but the golf course will be challenging.”
The Amateur, played in August, came during the hottest time of the year, thus the baked conditions. White wonders what the weather will be for the Open in June.
Just don’t make keeping the ball on the green impossible, Burger says.
“I hit one of the longest drives ever on the first hole (his 10th of the round), about 400 yards,” he says. “I had 85 yards to the pin and hit a lob wedge to a couple of feet from the hole.”
A tap-in birdie?
“People around the green said the ball almost stopped and they could read ‘Titleist’ because it was moving so slow,” the Orangeburg native who played at Clemson says. “Instead of a short putt – or even a putt – I had a 70-yard pitch for my third shot.
“That’s just not fair.”
Fair or not, that’s the challenge of links golf, and Chambers Bays “is a true links course,” White says. “The players who are successful are not going to get their yardage to the pin and fly the ball at the hole. They’re going to have to consider different ways to play. They’re going to have to know how the ball will react when it lands in different places.
“That’s what I mean by adapting. All that is unique to the Open. That’s why creativity will be important. It has the potential to be a great Open.”
Well, the doubters counter. Maybe.
FROM MONSTERS TO KITTEN
Another word to the wise: those who think they have solved the riddle of Chambers Bay one day could be in for a surprise the next. Ask Wesley Bryan. Ask Jacob Burger.
After two rounds of stroke-play qualifying, one on Chambers Bay, a large number of players tied for the last few berths in match play.
“It was something like 14 or 15 guys for four or five spots,” Burger says that started on Chambers Bay’s 10th hole. “Wesley and I were in the first group out (in the playoff) the next morning.”
Surprise. The fire-breathing monster of the previous afternoon had turned into a challenging, fair and playable golf course.
“They told us they had watered the greens,” Burger said.
“They just didn’t tell us how much,” Wesley Bryan says, “and I played like I had found out how the day before, be short of the hole.”
His wedge second shot designed to do just that, be short and let the ball roll to the hole, instead spun off back the saturated green, and his match-play chances disappeared instantly.
“I guess they realized they had lost the golf course the day before,” Burger says. “(Some officials) apologized after we finished.”
The firm and fast conditions – and players not used to links-style golf – are only part of the puzzle. Burger said the layout sits on the side of a cliff with no protection from wind gusts off adjacent Puget Sound.
“There are so many different ways to play the course, so many different angles,” Burger says in echoing Mike Davis’ suggestion that Chambers Bay cannot be solved quickly.
The fairways are wide, especially generous for a U.S. Open, “but you’ve got to hit your spots,” Burger says. “The lines of play are critical.”
George Bryan IV agrees, pointing out, “There are so many ways to play the golf course. I would love to play if for fun every day. There are endless opportunities.”
“That’s different,” he says. “I’m anxious to see how the USGA sets up the course. Hopefully, it’s not like (2004 at) Shinnecock when the course really got away from them. You don’t want to see a tournament that way.”
“Be patient, and don’t let (tough) conditions get to you,” White says. “It’s unique. Adapt.”