BROOKLINE, Mass. – To Anders Albertson of Woodstock, Ga.,
The Country Club presents a unique test.
“Usually we’re playing a short course with small greens, or
else we’re pounding drivers on a longer course with large greens,” said the
rising sophomore at Georgia Tech. “Here I’m sometimes playing a 5-wood off the
tee to get the proper angle or to make sure to hit the fairway. It’s better to
have a 5-iron from the fairway here than having a 9-iron from the rough.”
Albertson started on No. 9 in the unusual 1/9 tee start at
The Country Club, and played the daunting stretch of hole Nos. 9-15 in even
par, which the field played in an average of nearly 3.5 strokes over par.
“It’s probably the hardest opening stretch of holes I’ve
ever played,” said Albertson. “It’s so important to hit the fairway because of
the size of the greens.”
The Country Club’s putting surfaces average 3,100 square
feet, about 40 percent smaller than the typical green size of 5,000 square
“You really need to change your mindset,” said Justin Thomas
of Goshen, Ky., and the University of Alabama, who shot 75. “I hit a lot of
2-irons off the tee to make sure I hit the fairway; when you’re going at the
green with a 4- or 5- or 6-iron, you have to concentrate on just hitting the
middle of the green, not going for the hole.”
Thomas was enamored with the course despite his struggles.
“It’s probably my favorite golf course I’ve ever played,”
said Thomas, who was recently named to the USA’s 2013 Walker Cup Team. “It
rewards good golf; it was such a great setup. I short-sided myself on the first
hole and made a double bogey; when you do that, you’ve got to make sure you
make no worse than bogey.”
Michael Weaver, the runner-up in last year’s Amateur at
Cherry Hills, bogeyed his final two holes for a 4-over 74.
“There’s a lot less margin for error from the fairway,” he
said. “Usually there’s one side you can miss it on, and one you can’t. If you
play to the center of the green, you’re not going to have more than a 30-foot
Randal Lewis of Alma, Mich., the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur
champion, fell victim to another danger of the small greens in his round of 80.
“You can’t go over these greens,” he said. “I thought the
course would play in my favor, but I struggled with my wedge play. I was just
over the green on No. 2 and just over the green on No. 7, and I bogeyed both of
The metaphor for his day was the 505-yard, par-4 ninth hole.
“I play it as a par 5,” he said. “I hit my third shot to about 20 feet, but then
No Caddie, No Problem
Competing in a national championship is a tall task for
anyone, especially when the host course measures more than 7,200 yards and has
hosted 15 USGA championships, as is the case this week.
The benefits of a caddie who knows the golf course and can
alleviate the burden of carrying a golf bag for 18 holes seem to be obvious in
this situation, but Neil Raymond doesn’t see it that way. The 27-year-old Englishman
carried his own bag on Monday morning at The Country Club, and got around the
venerable track just fine, firing a 3-under 67 that was the low score of the
day at the course. For him, playing without a caddie is a common practice, and one
that he prefers.
“If I’m going to have a caddie, I’m going to want to have
one that knows my game pretty well, and no one knows my game better than me,”
said Raymond after his round on Monday. He is competing in his first U.S.
Amateur after earning an exemption by being in the top 50 in the World Amateur
Golf Ranking. “I did a bit of caddieing for my friend for a couple of years on
the European Challenge Tour. I’d say I’m a pretty knowledgeable caddie, so if
I’m a player and a caddie, it’s a perfect mix for me. That’s just the way I’ve
Raymond’s approach seems to be working quite well of late.
The 2011 and 2012 winner of the prestigious Brabazon Trophy in England, Raymond
also collected the St. Andrews Links Trophy this June. A late bloomer who plans
to turn pro later this year, he was clearly pleased with the start of his U.S.
“It’s up there, about as good a golfing memory as I can
have,” he said of his round, which included five birdies against a pair of
bogeys. “I’ve won a tournament at St. Andrews, which is pretty high up there,
but shooting 67 on a golf course like this, it’s going to sit with me for a
very long time.”
Easy Birdie? Not So
The Country Club’s unique setup at this week’s U.S. Amateur
offers competitors just one par 5, and while it may offer a reasonable chance
to make birdie on this demanding course, players may want to be cautious in
their approach. The hole, which measured 605 yards on Monday but can be
stretched to 623, was the sixth-easiest on the course, but still scored well
over par (5.244). Competitors made twice as many bogeys or worse (52) as they
did birdies (26).
No. 12 requires players to make a tough decision after
hitting their tee shot, should they put it in the fairway: Lay up to about 150 yards
short of the green, or hit a long iron or fairway wood uphill to try and have a
go at the green. Bunkers and fescue await those who choose the latter option
and come up short, while players who miss the fairway are generally only left
with the first option. Even those who have the length to get home in two know
that the odds are against them.
“I hit a driver down the right side, and I had about 280
yards uphill, but downwind. If I could draw it around the bunkers I figured I
could put it in the bunker right next to the green and make birdie,” said
Charlie Danielson, one of the few players who was able to reach the green in
two shots on Monday. “I guess I hit it perfect; I’m not sure where it landed,
but it ended up about 20-25 feet [from the hole].”
The Country Club was set up at 7,246 yards for stroke-play
qualifying, a bit under its maximum length of 7,310 yards, and the par-70
layout played to an average of 76.49 strokes (compared to 73.94 for Charles
River, also a par 70).
Not surprisingly, the two holes at The Country Club that
played as par 5s in previous USGA championships and were converted to par 4s
were the two toughest of the day. No. 14, at 507 yards, played almost a full
stroke higher than its new par (4.89). The ninth hole, a 503-yard hole that
half the field started its round on, played to a 4.78 average.
No. 9 and No. 1, a 476-yard par 4, yielded only
four birdies apiece. No. 14 was the hole with the most big numbers, chalking up
18 double bogeys and 10 “others.” On the flip side, the 311-yard, par-4 sixth
hole was the only hole on the course to play under par at 3.95 strokes.