Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Bethpage Report

Yesterday, for the second Tuesday in a row, I headed out to Bethpage State Park. This time, however, I wasn't planning on playing 18 and we didn't get rained out. I love to play golf, but couldn't care less about the PGA Tour on a week to week basis. Like many of you, however, if I'm trying to take a nap on a Sunday, golf is the perfect backdrop. It's almost as if the announcers know you are trying to sleep.

That said, I love the US Open. I think I only like the British Open because it's on when you wake up in the morning and I'm not captivated by the Masters or the PGA Championship. But the US Open winds my clock. I love the fact that they take an incredibly challenging course and make it impossibly hard. Having the winning score end up around par every year is also a refreshing change from tour events like last week, when the winning score was -18.

As is the case with all of golf's majors, the early part of the week leading up to the US Open is reserved for players to play practice rounds, get a feel for the course, and fend of all the annoying autograph hounds. Despite the practice being explicitly forbidden by the tournament, even on practice days, it's still wildly prevalent.

Every time a player goes from a green to the next tee they have to walk past dozens of people sticking out US Open hats, flags, posters, shirts and other memorabilia for them to sign. It's the reason that Tiger sneaks out at 7am and only plays 9 holes. It's probably cool to walk away with a US Open flag with a bunch of signatures on it, but in order to do so, you have to constantly pester the players for them. Not my cup of tea.

My friend Mike got our Trophy Club passes on Craigslist for half of face value including shipping. Why they were $60 to begin with is beyond me, but we got a pretty good deal. We took the LIRR from Penn Station out to the Farmingdale stop. It was $14 a person, with shuttle service right to the course and took a little over an hour both ways. Highly recommended if you are going out to the course from Manhattan. I promise it's faster and less of a hassle than driving.

We checked out the driving range and short game area when we first got there. One thing that was truly amazing is that each player practices with the same kind of balls they play with. As a result, there is a staff of 3-4 volunteers at all times taking the balls off the practice green and sorting them by brand. The entire tournament is staffed by volunteers. It's too bad the USGA doesn't make any money off of this thing or there isn't $7.5M in prize money given away, cause you'd think that these poor schlubs sorting the fucking golf balls might deserve to be compensated for their efforts.

We walked the entire course in reverse, and below you can find some of the better pictures I took. You can check out the entire layout here.

#5 - 478 Yard Par 4

# 6 - 408 Yard Par 4

#10 - 435 Yard Par 4

#17 - 207 Yard Par 3

#4 - 517 Yard Par 5

What's amazing about #4 is that #7 is 525 yards... and it's a Par 4. Even for the pros, that's pretty ridiculous. At a certain point, it's not a two shot hole anymore. There are 3 par 4's over 500 yards at Bethpage. That ain't right.

The total length of the course as the players will take it on this weekend is 7,426 as a Par 70. To give you an idea, that's about 200-400 yards longer than most tour stops and about 1,000 yards or more than the tracks your average Sunday slashers call home. And most of those are par 72's.

I'd be willing to bet two things I noticed yesterday are going to lead to somewhat lower scores this year than when Tiger won the Open here in 2002. #1) It was wet. This might make it more difficult for your average Joe, but wetter conditions allow the pros to hold fairways and greens and they'd gladly trade the distance they lose off their drives to be hitting from the fairway and have their approach shots sit softly on the greens. #2) The rough is graduated. This means that right off the fairways, there won't be the six inch rough that vexed the players last time. The rough is still long, no doubt, but it's not nearly as punitive as it was in past Opens, namely when it was at Winged Foot in '05 the winning score was Geoff Ogilvy at +5.

I doubt I'm going to make it out for any of the actual tournament days, but it's probably for the better. As Malcom Gladwell said in a conversation with Bill Simmons a few years back, golf is probably the sport that has the most to gain by being televised live. You miss a ton when you are on the course but watching on TV, they can omnisciently bring you all of the best action.

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