How the shifty seventh holds the keys to US Open glory

After some farcical scenes in the 2004 tournament, our Golf Insider is predicting the hole will once again have a big impact on the outcome of this Major…

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Bust open the humidor and fire up the stogies, the US Open is back in New York.

The United States Golf Association will for the 18th time in the 118-year existence of tournament this week take its major championship to the masses and a course within reach of the great metropolis.

Whether it is an elite layout such as Winged Foot, north of the five boroughs in Westchester, or the more egalitarian municipal monster that is Long Island’s Bethpage State Park, no state has hosted more than New York.

Yet this week’s jamboree will be the first in the area since a rain-hit 2009 at Bethpage Black, when Lucas Glover shocked everyone to finish two strokes clear of fellow Americans Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Ricky Barnes.

This time around will see the seemingly traditional US Open-week combination of golf and cigar aficionados climb into their limos or clamber onto the Long Island Railroad at Manhattan’s Penn Station and head way out east to the swanky Hamptons for a return to another venerable course at Shinnecock Hills, near Southampton.

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The site of the second US Open in 1896, won by Scotsman James Foulis, the links-style Shinnecock is hosting the tournament for the fifth time after further visits in 1986 (won by Raymond Floyd), 1995 (Corey Pavin) and 2004, when Retief Goosen of South Africa held off perennial runner-up Phil Mickelson.

Yet Goosen’s victory is, alas, not the standout memory of that year’s US Open. In fact, the standout memory is one the USGA would rather everyone forgot and which CEO Mike Davis is absolutely determined to avoid.

Picture a baking hot summer on Long Island and the drying effects of the winds which whip in off the Atlantic on its southern shoreline and the end results for Shinnecock Hills were greens which were rock hard and lightning fast.

And when one of those putting surfaces was a Redan design, as the par-three seventh is, something had to give and that week that thing was fairness.

So-called for the Russian fortresses of the same name, which had slanted surfaces for better cannon fire and canted, or tilted, surfaces to roll the big guns into position, a Redan green has been described by renowned golf architecture writer Ron Whitten as like a coffee table with an inch sawn off its front left leg and two inches off its back left leg.

At the slick and speedy seventh green at Shinnecock in 2004, everything rolled off, no matter how impressive the shot and the USGA were deemed to have lost control of its course set-up. Now, it doesn’t take much to throw an elite professional golfer off course, but back then there was justifiable cause for complaint.

Not only would the Redan hole penalise errant shots onto its green, it punished the ones played the right way and then issued a double whammy by making putting virtually impossible.

The cigar-chomping galleries loved every second of the golfers’ misery, but the USGA intervened.

Suspending play briefly during the final round they ordered the green to be syringed and sprayed with water from hoses, while further mists were added throughout the day, much to the displeasure of some spectators.

It also hacked off some of the early starters miffed by what they saw as an unfair advantage for those that followed the waterings, but it would not have improved their standings at the wrong end of the leaderboard.

And interestingly, Goosen parred the seventh in every round while second-placed Mickelson, who was among several who putted off the seventh green in his third round, negotiated the par-three in three over and lost by two.

The USGA’s Davis is adamant there will be no repeat this week and while the course has undergone renovations since 2004, including adding distance and narrowing fairways to uphold the second major of the year as “the ultimate test” in the eyes of its organisers, the seventh remains as it was 14 years ago.

“I think everybody that either was here or watched it realised we had a situation where on some holes and particularly the seventh hole itself, you were watching well executed shots not being rewarded,” Davis said.

“In fact, in the case of seven, you saw some well executed shots actually being penalised and I can assure you that is not what the USGA wanted.

“Frankly, what really happened then was just a lack of water. There just wasn’t enough water put in and the plant, essentially the grass itself kind of went dormant, there wasn’t enough friction on the greens.

“There were parts I think we learned from and so I think we’re happy that we have a mulligan this time. It was certainly a bogey last time.”

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