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U.S. Open Preview | May 2003

Every green at Olympia Fields was completely regrassed to ensure consistency. Some greens were also expanded to their original shapes based on old photographs and descriptions, and in a few cases new nodes and shelves were built to give the USGA additional fiendish places to tuck pins. Eighteen, however, required only regrassing. A slippery patch of green at the back left and a tricky swale behind the mammoth bunker at the front right gave the USGA all the difficult cupping areas it needed.

Deciding exactly which hole location to use each day at the Open will be the task of Meeks and Moraghan with input from other USGA officials, but the process is much more involved than simply "doing a Dean Smith," as Moraghan put it—that is, working the four corners the way the legendary North Carolina basketball coach advised teams to work the court. "The key is the approach angle. Basically you want players standing on the tee to have to think about aiming for particular parts of the fairway to ensure they'll have a decent angle into the pin," Moraghan said. To add complexity to this daily geometry puzzle, Meeks and comrades will relocate tee markers before each round (up a little, back a little, left or right) in concert with that day's hole locations. The USGA also frequently makes other changes during tournaments to fine-tune the setup, such as watering or not watering the greens to control their speed and mowing or watering the rough. (Most famously, after the first round of the 1979 Open at Inverness, the USGA quickly planted a twenty-four-foot-tall spruce to the left of the eighth tee to prevent players from cutting sixty yards off the length of the dogleg by driving into the adjacent seventeenth fairway.)

The tee box the players will use on eighteen is not the normal back tee but one of the second hole's forward tees. This arrangement, not uncommon on compact old courses in Scotland, means that groups on the second and eighteenth tees will have to alternate, but it was the only way the USGA could devise to add enough length (about seventeen yards) to bring the fairway bunkers into play.

Those bunkers, like all the others at Olympia Fields, were deepened and steepened as part of the course renovation. "The existing bunkers were fine for a members course, but for the pros some were so shallow they hardly even constituted a penalty," noted Ward. To retain as much as possible of the course's original design integrity, only four bunkers were moved any substantial distance to accommodate today's longer hitters (in most cases, the tees were moved back instead) and only three new ones added—one of them on the left side of the eighteenth fairway, 300 to 310 yards from the tee. The new bunker serves two functions: The first is aesthetic. "The fairway makes a hard turn to the right just beyond the two original bunkers, but the turn didn't relate to anything visually," Mungeam explained. The second function, of course, is to give big hitters on the tee something more to think about. As for the large bunker on the right, it was redone a second time—just last fall—also to discomfit the long-ball boys. Olympia Fields added width, depth and two feet of topsoil to the berm in front of the bunker to make it harder for anyone to carry the hazard from the tee—a possibility Mungeam didn't even consider back in 1998.

As on every hole, once the greens and bunkers were completed, the fairways were recontoured and narrowed to an average of just twenty-four yards across. At Olympia Fields, this involved resodding, not just mowing, because the fairways and roughs use different blends of grass. But the good news for players is that the rough may actually be a bit shorter than at the Senior Open. "We've changed our tune," acknowledged Meeks. "We still want hitting into the rough to be a penalty, but we also want players to have a decent chance of advancing the ball, rather than no option but to hack the ball sideways back out into the fairway. Tough but fair, that's what we're after."

THE TOUGHEST U.S. OPEN PLAYERS

This chart ranks players' success per start in U.S. Opens since 1913, when Francis Ouimet won and the tournament came into its own as a major. With nine points given for a win, three for each top-three finish and one for each top ten, Bobby Jones averaged a remarkable 6.36 points per start. Jack Nicklaus had as many wins and more top tens than anyone, but his competitive Open career spanned a longer period than anyone else. (Starts after age 45, the oldest at which anyone has won an Open, are excluded.)

1. Bobby Jones
Starts 11
Wins 4
Top 3s 8
Top 10s 10
Overall Rank 6.36

2. Ben Hogan
Starts 16
Wins 4
Top 3s 8
Top 10s 12
Overall Rank 4.50

3. Tiger Woods
Starts 8
Wins 2
Top 3s 3
Top 10s 3
Overall Rank 3.75

4. Ernie Els
Starts 10
Wins 2
Top 3s 3
Top 10s 5
Overall Rank 3.20

5. Julius Boros
Starts 15
Wins 2
Top 3s 5
Top 10s 10
Overall Rank 2.87

6. Jack Nicklaus
Starts 29
Wins 4
Top 3s 9
Top 10s 17
Overall Rank 2.76

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