Golf fans tuning in to the 115th U.S. Open this week will notice a couple of new things.
This is the first time the Open has been played at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash. And it is the first time that a major golf tournament has been broadcast by Fox, whose broadcast team includes two-time British Open champion Greg Norman.
While a lot of attention will be on players such as 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth, top-ranked Rory McIlroy and a long shot to win named Tiger Woods, many observers believe that the links-style course could steal the show.
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Players in the field have different opinions on the course. Ian Poulter called Chambers Bay a “complete farce” after a recent practice round, while Phil Mickelson seems to like it.
“I think that it’s a special course in that there’s a lot of different ways to play shots to a lot of different pins, and if you play the highest percentage shot, it’s not a hard golf course,” Mickelson told reporters at Chambers Bay. “But if you don’t know what that shot is, you play the wrong one, there’s a lot of penalty.”
Chambers Bay is a public course that opened in 2007 south of Seattle. It features grass fairways, undulating putting greens, big elevation changes and views of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains as well as the active train tracks that run between the course and water.
“Those who adopt it and embrace it, they like it,” designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. said of the course. “Those who are uneasy with the newness of it, we’ll listen to them, but they probably won’t make the cut.”
Unlike many other American courses, Chambers Bay lacks trees and water hazards. The only tree on the course, which sits next to the 16th tee, won’t bother any of the players.
The trouble that Jones created will come from sandy waste areas and the difficult greens.
“They’re strongly contoured,” Jones said of the greens. “They’re lightning fast. You can’t even tell where the fairway begins and the green starts.”
The greens have the same grass as the fairways, so the United States Golf Association has painted white dots around the greens to show where they are.
Conditions are expected to be unusually dry for the Pacific Northwest this week. USGA executive director Mike Davis said the combination of dry conditions and uneven terrain will force players to be thinking at all times and to come up with creative ways to recover when they do find trouble.
“If it’s firm and fast, you have to think about what’s going to happen when the ball lands,” Davis said. “Some of these slopes are very player-friendly. You can use them to your advantage if you know they’re there and you plan that way.”
Another thing that the players may have to deal with this week is changes in the course from day to day. Players won’t know until Thursday morning whether they’re starting on a par 4 or a par 5 because the first hole can be played either way. On some holes, the length can change by as much as 120 yards depending on where the tee box is. On other holes, the look from the different tees can cause problems because of a 100-foot change in elevation.
The course most days will play between 7,200 and 7,600 yards, with the higher figure used if it is as dry as expected.
While the Chambers Bay course is new to players, golf fans will be watching on a different network than they have in past years. Fox is at the start of a 12-year contract that begins this year. That means Norman will be the lead analyst instead of NBC’s Johnny Miller.
“I was always a big fan of Johnny,” Norman said. “He was very forthright in his thoughts and opinions.
“When you’re in that seat, you’ve got to give your opinion. It can’t be sugarcoated.”
Norman will work with broadcast partner Joe Buck, a Super Bowl and World Series broadcast veteran. Fox promises to give use new technological gadgets to enhance its telecast.
“We are fresh, we are new,” Norman said. “We have some different ideas and opinions about what we’re going to see.”
Star news services contributed to this report.
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