Transcript: Mike Davis At The Olympic Club
February 27, 2012
JOE GOODE: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for coming out on such a beautiful day here in San Francisco. For those of you who I did not have an opportunity to meet, I'm Joe Goode, managing director of communications for the USGA.
We wanted to try something a little different this year and provide an advanced opportunity for the media that covers the U.S. Open, so hopefully this is an added bonus well in advance of our April 30th media day to talk to some of our key leaders about this year's national championship.
So this afternoon for a few minutes, Danny Sink, our championship director, will talk about operations where we are there, where we are in terms of corporate sales, tickets and hospitality, and then USGA executive director, Mike Davis, who had an opportunity to walk the course today, will talk a about where things stand with course set‑up. With that, let me turn things over to Danny.
DANNY SINK: Thank you, Joe. And thank you everyone for coming out today. As Joe mentioned, this is an idea we thought about to help give you guys a guide to what's coming up for the U.S. Open. Looking at my calendar this morning, we're 104 days until the Monday practice round of the U.S. Open.
So we're quickly approaching the challenge, and we couldn't have a better group of folks to work with here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Really, that starts with The Olympic Club itself. There are over 5,000 members of the Olympic Club, several of which are in this room here today, and we'd like to just thank, once again on behalf of the entire USGA and The Olympic Club for hosting us and inviting us back for our fifth U.S. Open here.
We've got about 5,000 volunteers that have volunteered their time in advance of the championship to help us out during that week of the Open. And truly as the USGA goes, our volunteer committees go as well. We're a volunteer‑run organization. We have thousands of volunteers that work all across our platforms and all of our different championships, particularly with the U.S. Open. Just the participation and excitement of the local regional community from a volunteer standpoint has been overwhelming.
We'd like to thank the club and the volunteers all from the club. We've got about 1,200 Olympic Club member volunteers, which is a huge percentage of our volunteer force.
Secondly, we're in the city and county of San Francisco and have been working with city and county officials including Mayor Edwin Lee for years on the U.S. Open, and without their support and help to get us to where we need to be, we couldn't do it.
In addition, we're in San Mateo County. The property is split in half between the counties. San Mateo County has been on board since day one helping us with the championship, and they've been very helpful as well. Joe mentioned ticket sales, we expect to sell out our championship for the 26th consecutive time, and we're well on our way to that sellout. We're at about 80% of ticket sales right now. We've got less than 1,000 tickets left for the Saturday and Sunday championship rounds of the Open.
As I said, we anticipate a sellout, so we want to encourage everyone to go to USOpen.com to buy their tickets today.
From a corporate standpoint, really the corporate involvement in San Francisco and the entire Bay Area has been overwhelming at this point. We're close to being sold out on corporate. I anticipate we'll be sold out very soon. We're over 95% sold with our corporate clients on the golf course helping us out with the corporate sales as well.
So we've really got a good team. We've got a lot of good fundamentals in place. Logistically, parking and traffic has been a big point we've been working on since the day we got here a few years ago. We're going to make sure it's a great championship for everyone involved, and thank you all for coming out.
MIKE DAVIS: Okay, I figured we could take some questions at the end, but first of all, let me say thank you to all of you for partaking today. I think for us, as Joe said, we've actually never done this before, but it's about this time of the year, usually February or March where wherever the National Open goes, we tend to get a lot of questions in terms of, okay, tell us some stories about the golf course, about what's going on with the admissions, corporate, where are we going to park? So given that I was coming out, we thought it was a good time to say how can we help you with maybe some information for Open, because I believe you, and I know Joe would feel this way too, you give us so much support in terms of local information to those attending on sight. So I think to the extent that we can help you, we're here to do that.
I thought also we'd give you maybe a little advanced notice on some of the things that we're going to set. That is going to be my focus today is what's going to happen inside the ropes for this year's Open.
This is the fifth time, I think everybody knows, that we're coming back to the National Open. It started in 1955, and my predecessor's predecessor, which was Frank Hannigan, I read a quote of his, and he said something always magical seems to happen at Olympic.
If you think about it in a lot of ways, at least with U.S. Open, Olympic is remembered more for the legend of who didn't win the Open as maybe who did win it. That doesn't mean we didn't have great champions. We do look back to say '66 you remember with Arnold Palmer with that seven shot lead with nine holes to go, but you forget how good Billy Casper was. He was one of the greatest players of all time. And I happen to think at least in the somewhat modern era, he's most underrated golfer of all time.
You look at what happened in the 1981 U.S. Amateur here with Nathaniel Crosby, now if that's not magical, I don't know what is. So it's great to come back.
I know, other than the flight across country, I love coming to coastal California. There is something magical about it. First of all, in June it's great weather, and I'm going to talk a little more about that in the course set‑up section.
But coming to San Francisco is great, the travel to the U.S. Open, whether it's domestic or international, people love coming to this city, the hotels, restaurants, it's just great to be here. It seems that every time we come, the city does a wonderful job hosting it. And I hope the invitations keep coming from The Olympic Club coming back to the Open.
As I mentioned today I really want to talk about golf course set‑up, some of the characteristics, at least in my view of The Olympic Club versus other U.S. Open venues. I'll talk a little bit about some of the set‑up steps, and then to the extent you want to go into some of the detail, I'm happy to do so. And before I get started, I'd be remiss if I didn't say two things. One, we've got the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship this summer at Lake Merced. Again, to come back is wonderful, and it's great for that club to be hosting it just like it is The Olympic Club, and second thing to my left that Jim Williams is a member of our board of directors and he's from San Francisco and certainly a great friend of golf, and a great golfer too. In fact, Jim had a couple of good days of qualifying, and he might be playing in this. So it's great to have Jim here. Let me start out a little bit with course description. The course was open in 1919, and a guy named Sam Whiting designed it. Then before the '55 Open, Robert Trent Jones Sr. did some work on it. I think he did a work over at (No microphone) for two years, I believe. Then I believe the club had some affects here and there.
But the last big work, which, if anybody that's been around here the last few years know, it's Bill Love that's been the architect that's done this work, and he's done a marvelous job, I think. I've yet to hear anybody that's even remotely neutral on his work. He's been a great guy for us with all the work too.
The golf course for open is going to play 7,154 yards for the Open. That's a par 70. That is actually 357 yards longer than in 1998. I went back in the record book and was looking and what's amazing is in the 1955 Open, we played it at 6,727, and it only went up to 6,797 in '98. If you think about that, those even today to play this thing under 7,200 yards on the U.S. Open, it's short on scorecards. But it won't play short.
Those of you that live here know that we're at sea level here, and with the cold, moist air that you've got, the ball just doesn't go as far. So I think that is a very deceiving yardage, and a yardage that I don't think ‑‑ in fact, I know we'll not be playing that full yardage on any given day. That is the theory as long as we can play it.
In terms of the course itself, when I try to think in my mind how does Olympic play differently than other U.S. Open venues? I really think that this is one of the best shot making venues we go to.
If you think about it, and I say that for a couple of reasons ‑‑ more than a couple. Several reasons. One is you've got more than half the holes that dogleg. When you've got doglegs for Touring pros, that absolutely adds an added dimension where they have to pick a certain angle and hit at a certain distance or they run through the fairway or don't make the fairway, whatever the case might be.
Another thing is you've got at least four holes that are very unique to Olympic's course that you have a dogleg going one way, and a fairway that goes another way. What is interesting about that is the fourth hole, fifth hole, ninth hole, and 17 doglegs a little bit. But in those cases, you really do need to be able to work your golf ball. It's something you don't see on TOUR much anymore. Guys purposely trying to work it one way or actually both ways.
I think here when you get firm conditions and we will have firm conditions, if you're trying to play a left to right shot on the fourth hole, it's never going to work. Or if you're trying to play a left‑right shot on the fifth hole, it's not going to work, and I can keep going on and on. So I think being able to maneuver your ball is really a great advantage for open.
Another thing is people don't talk much, but here at Olympic, you've got a lot of holes where you've got unlevel lies and you've got elevation changes. For the average player, that makes golf harder, but it makes it harder too for the elite player. They're simply not as accurate off an unlevel lie with a pitching wedge as they would be off a flat lie.
Another thing about Olympic, at least in June, is that we're almost guaranteed to have dry conditions, which allows the USGA, not Mother Nature, to dictate the set‑up. And that is, let me tell you, especially after seeing last year at Congressional where Mother Nature really was the driver and we just kind of watched, that is a huge advantage. We can get it firm enough where ‑‑ firmness does a couple of things. One, the players have to think about what happens when the ball lands, and that is not just on the greens. But that's fairways, that's when you miss a green. So it certainly adds an element and dimension that makes it tougher.
Also here at Olympic, I would think in June we'd get some wind. It's not going to be a Pebble Beach wind or Shinnecock Hills wind, but we'll get some wind. Where you've got wind, it's not just pulling out a club for a certain distance. They've got to factor in their trajectory, factor in how hard the wind is blowing. And there are sometimes at Olympic you really don't even know how much the wind is blowing. I think that is one of the reasons the third hole, the downhill par‑3 is so hard. You're sitting on that tee and kind of protected by the land and the trees and you hit your ball, and all of a sudden it's above the trees and you watch it go. So there is some local knowledge just to the wind about this golf course.
Then trees. Trees affect this venue more than any we go to. If we go hole by hole, there are probably 10 or 11 holes here that the trees significantly either impact a tee shot or they impact when you miss a fairway, having to somehow, some way create a shot that you otherwise wouldn't have to have. So I think that's another thing.
I mentioned coming to California, being able to get the course firm and fast is a real advantage. I talked about the firmness. But the fast part of it, we try to do for every Open. By that, get the fairways fast enough that when the ball lands, they've got to think about what happens. Not only where it's going to bounce, but just where graft's going to take it. With the unlevel lies you've got here, there are a lot of holes where you're playing down the left side of the fairway or right side, knowing that your ball's going to roll somewhere.
If you look back to the '87 Open, I wasn't here, but I remember watching it on TV, that 17th fairway got too fast. You literally have guys playing off the left side, and graft took their ball the whole way down. It's a little different now in the sense that there is more ryegrass on these fairways than there used to be. When poa annua gets real dry, think about Shinnecock last round in 2004 with the U.S. Open, it looks like a plant, versus ryegrass doesn't do that as much. That's why in '98 you didn't see as much of a problem with balls holding on fairways. But that's something that I can assure you we'll be watching carefully to make sure that it doesn't get too bad on the fairways.
The other thing that fast conditions do on the putting greens, it will certainly bring the conditions, the undulations, the lies the faster they get. And the greens will be somewhere between (No microphone) I use the operative word, I think, but they'll be somewhere between 11 and a half, 12 and a half in the stint meter, and I think that's a very good speed for Olympic's greens. They won't lose good hole locations, but at the same time they'll be very, very slippery. If you miss a green, you'll really have to think about it.
Another thing we're doing this year on the set‑up ‑‑ and I will get to the point and talk about what's different in 2012 versus 1998 ‑‑ one of the things you'll see that you can see right now, definitely as the spring goes along, they'll start taking it down, and 7 of the 18 green complexes, that's not done here at Olympic. What that does is a few things. It really brings graft back into play. If you miss a green, ball's are going to roll away from it.
So when you're playing into that green, it really, truly makes it harder. But when you miss the green and you're in one of those areas, it gives the players an option. They might pitch the ball, pump and run it or even putt it. So I think strategically where some of these closely mowns are located, in some cases it might make it easier. But I would argue in most cases it's actually easier. It's probably going to make it more difficult because it's going to get the balls away from the green. Otherwise it would have hung up in the rough and been much closer. You talk about the front nine, back nine. I know most of you know we decided for this Open to flip the par on the first hole to the 17th hole.
So for the first time, the 17 will play a par‑5 for a championship, and played as a par‑4 all the way back to the '55 Open. But we decided to flip the first hole, which is always played as a par‑5 to a par‑4.
Now go back and look at the date on the scoring. It's really interesting because those two holes basically played exactly the same in terms of their stroke average. Last go around, they played to a 4.7 stroke average.
So what we've done is made 17 a little bit more difficult, and I would argue made 1 a little bit easier. But back to the front nine, and I'm going to talk later on why we did that. But the front nine versus back nine, that's going to make the front nine a par 34 and the back nine a par 56.
So I was going through my mind before I came today. I am convinced that this will be the hardest start in the U.S. Open. The first six holes are going to just be brutal. I would contend if you play the first six holes two over, I don't think you're giving up anything to the field. But then if you think about the last five holes, potentially, those are the holes that you can make up on. We can see some big swings in scoring, which I think is a very neat thing that we're big fans of. You create holes where there are some options and risk‑reward.
I would say the last five holes, potentially, you might have to play them 2‑under to keep up with the field. Some of that depends on how firm the conditions are and how much wind and so on. But this start at Olympic is going to be really tough. There is absolutely no let‑up until you get to the seventh hole, which is a short, in some cases, drivable par‑4.
If you think about the back nine, we potentially could see a U.S. Open where the last five holes are finished with somebody hitting wedge on every hole. That may not happen on 17 because they may go for it in two so they're not really hitting a wedge approach. But if you think about this U.S. Open, it's unique. You go back the whole way to the 14th hole, and that's going to be a lofty club coming in. Most of them will want to driver off of it. And you've got a very short par‑3 where depending on the whole location with the tee markers, you could see some guys hitting wedge. 16, the par‑5, you could see a wedge coming in. 17 if they lay‑up, and 18 a wedge. So it's interesting. But that doesn't mean it's going to be an easy finish. As we all know, those can be very tricky holes, too.
I think what I'm pleased about is overall I would say this test of golf or this Open is going to be extremely stern. I think it's going to be in some ways because we have a much better idea about Mother Nature, I would look at this and say I have a much better idea of how difficult the course will be versus last year at Congressional or next year at Marion, or the following year at Pinehurst just because weather plays a bigger swings in weather at those locations.
Talking about changes from '98 to 2012, if you haven't been out there, the club rebuilt its putting greens several years ago. Not several, two years ago, two, three years ago? '08‑'09. They did that not for the U.S. Open, they did that because of a problem that is particularly problem in coastal California with courses with poa annua. And bentgrass can handle nematodes much better because it's got longer roots. The by‑product of that is you will see in this U.S. Open more putts made. I'm absolutely convinced of that because we all know as you get later in the day on poa annua. Poa annua's literally hundreds of different types of bluegrass that grow at different rates. So they're great in the morning, but in the afternoon, they start to get bumpy because they grow differently.
I made that comment last year at Congressional that they had new bentgrass greens, and you saw a ton of putts made. So I think these greens are so good here that even though tee to green, Olympic is harder than I think it has been. On the greens you'll see more putts made than historically we've seen for the last four Opens.
I think everybody knows we have a new 8 hole. It's a beautiful hole. It fits and it's going to be from a spectator standpoint incredible because we have that whole hillside that will be covered with spectators that helped us logistically from the last go round as tight as it used to be with 7, 8 and 9 all together. It's a bit of a walk from 7 green back to 8 tee. But we really have a great hole. I would say that the old 8 hole was probably for a championship one of the weakest if not the weakest hole that Olympic has. They played next to the easiest hole on the entire course. So I think the club did a wonderful job at building that new hole.
Another thing, and I mentioned that we've added 357 yards, and it wasn't just to add distance. A few of the holes, ask I'll take 6 as an example. That's a hole that is probably 50 yards longer than it was in 1998. Say, okay, four or five more clubs in. But the key is it brings that bunker back into play that hadn't been in play for decades.
If you go out and study it, the players have to make a choice off the tee do they want to hit driver? If they do, they either have to carry the bunker in the drive zone or squeeze it up in a tight area to the right of that bunker or lay back. So it's doing more than just distance. It's going to make them think.
There are other holes.
Q. What is the distance to the bunker there?
MIKE DAVIS: Distance to the bunker is about 285, so you have two players in the field. It's probably a 295, 298 carry over, maybe slightly downhill. But a few guys can do it, but I would say most couldn't. So it's right in their wheelhouse.
You've got a new tee at 16, the par‑5, the big dogleg that we're going to play that Sundays at 670. The reason we did that is we really felt that that would make it a true three shotter. The wonderful thing about that hole is that from the back, if you miss any one of your shots, it's awful hard to catch up.
If you miss your drive in the rough, now you're trying to hit it around the corner. But we won't play it back there every day. But it will certainly play like it did, I think in my opinion, when Hogan and Palmer played it back in '55, '56. It will be a big, big par‑5 for them. Now with back‑to‑back par‑5, 17 being, I think you will see the U.S. Open won or loss on those two holes. I think you'll see a bigger swing in scoring. We may see some eagles on that. We'll set it up that virtually every player in the field can get home if he wants to.
But if you've been out there and looked, we've shaved the area to the right of the green now that green is a little different. 17 green is the most severe green on the course. It slopes hard left to right, kind of back left to front right, and a miss to the left of the green is absolutely dead. The speeds will have it. There is no way you're going to get it up‑and‑down. A miss to the right used to be on the play on that. Well, but now it's a par‑5, 142. It's shaped where the ball's going to be taken down a big hill. You'll have a shot, it's just you may have to punch it into the tree or pinch it between limbs. But even so, it is a scary little shot.
So the idea is play it short enough and dangle the carrot saying if you want to go for it or not. Even if you lay‑up and say I'm not taking that risk, it's not as if it's a really easy lay‑up, then you're left with whatever, a 30‑, 40‑, 50‑, 60‑yard pitch off a severe left to right slope. I think that 17th hole, I'm going to try to park my cart and watch that hole. Probably hide when I'm doing it, but nonetheless. I think it's going to be a very, very exciting hole.
We will also ‑‑ I talked about the closely mown areas. We'll graduate the rough from 1998. That's turned out to be when you look at the data, it's been a good change, because the further you hit it off line, the worse the penalty is. But the other thing it's done for our Opens is that it's allowed players who just missed the fairway by five, six, seven paces, they now can go for the green. They can use their shot‑making skills.
Particularly with dry conditions, what you've seen now is they can make a par or even a birdie and bring another shot. But it brings double bogey into play, and we didn't see much of that before.
So just again, we're trying to get players options. Trying to let them show their shot‑making skills. I think what it really does is it widens the scoring. Those that are really playing well can benefit from it. In terms of the goal for our setup, I think everybody knows in the room, we really genuinely want U.S. Open, just like our Girls' Junior and our Women's Open to be the toughest test of the year. Sometimes that works, other times, like last year it didn't work.
But that really is our goal. We want to test every part of the game both physically and mentally. So we want every, whether it's putting or driving the ball or approach shots into the greens, or recovery shots, we want every aspect to be a stern test, but fair as well. By that we don't want to see well‑executed shots penalized. When setting up a course as tough as the U.S. Open, it's really splitting hairs sometimes of not actually doing that. Our goal is to test the players mentally, physically, and test their shot‑making skills.
Also in recent years, I would say that there is a secondary goal that we really want to provide some excitement particularly coming down the end. That's why you're seeing U.S. Opens generally not play harder every single day. And we're maybe loosening up a little bit on that final Saturday or Sunday to see some swings and scoring.
It used to be Thursday ‑‑ and this is considering weather being equal. It used to be Thursday was easier than Friday, Friday was easier than Saturday, and by the time you got to Sunday, it was just a blood bath. Now we're trying to ratchet up the noose a little bit on Thursday, Friday, so we can do some things and give the players a bit more options on Saturday and Sunday. So you'll see it.
I go back to the 17th hole and I think that will be a great example of we'll see some wild swings in scoring there that we want to see.
If you think about it, one of the reasons people love the Masters is what can happen on that back nine. You think about what can happen. Well, you can see eagles, you can see bogeys and double bogies too. So you see these wild swings in scoring, and I think a hole like 16 or 17 has the potential to do that.
I guess that I think a natural question that a lot of people have had is Rory McIlroy set the scoring record last year. So 111 U.S. Opens were played, and he not only broke the scoring record, but he broke it by a good bit. How does the USGA feel about that, and I'll give you my opinion on that.
We have a great, great champion in Rory McIlroy. I don't care what the conditions were. Rory would have lapped the field, whether it was firm and fast or soft the way it ended up being all four rounds of Congressional.
So I think we were very, very pleased about Rory as our champion. But I think the one aspect we weren't overly happy on is that because it was so soft, which was no blame to Congressional, we just got rain every single night. When you give the elite players a chance to have soft fairways and soft greens, they're going to shoot more. So what ends up happening like that, is there is a lot more margin for error when it's like that.
So personally the fact that the scoring record was broken, I don't care about that. But I wish Congressional would have played a little more like Congressional could have played.
With that, I'll turn it over to questions. And I want to thank everybody at The Olympic Club that's invited us. They've been wonderful to work with. The city of San Francisco has been great, and Danny can go into how supportive the county has been. This is a great area for us to come. With that, I'll open it up for questions.
Q. Can you talk a little about the bunkers? Have you added them? It doesn't seem like the bunkers are that threatening to players as they used to be. How many do you have and what are you doing with them?
MIKE DAVIS: That is a good question, because bunkers by definition are a hazard. One of the things we've done in the last five or six years that I don't think the players necessarily like, but I suppose they understand it, is we have personally tried to soften up the sand in the bunkers so when they hit the shots out, they just can't spin the ball like they normally would. You get a lie, occasionally you get a fried egg that we would say is part of the game of golf that we as recreational golfers have to face those. Why shouldn't the TOUR pros from time to time?
I remember looking back at Torrey Pines and that data sticks in my head. If you missed a green at Torrey Pines and you were in a bunker because it stayed dry that week, you actually had a better chance getting it up‑and‑down if you were in the rough around the greens than in the bunker. And that's what we're, at best case, we'd love to see it where you'd get in a bunker and it's an equal penalty for rough around the greens. Ideally, you'd like to have it even more severe.
But the bunkers are so well maintained week to week on TOUR that you're actually right. If they miss a green, they want to be in a bunker week to week.
Q. Mike, I hear a lot of people ask questions about what a winning score would be. I don't know how important a score is to you. I think to fans it's important. Do you have a score in mind? If so, what do you think it might be?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, I would say this, that we don't here at the USGA have a score in mind. Mostly because I don't think we're good enough to control the scores. I would argue that even here where we're going to get dry conditions. Are we going to get the marine layer all four days where you don't get much wind? Or will it clear some and you get a one or two‑club wind? Really in the course of four days, that could make eight, nine, ten shots different.
Congressional is a pretty good example that if we had a firm Congressional, you literally could have seen a 20‑shot differential of the winning score. That's how much Mother Nature can affect things. But having said that, it is a trademark of the U.S. Open that we want to retain and want to be difficult.
So if 15 or 16 under would win here at The Olympic Club, I would argue that that played easier than what we would have thought, and it would have meant that there were a lot of shots not as difficult as what we would have wanted.
Do we shoot for even par to win? No. But having said that, I think at the U.S. Open, par should be a good score. That may be 6‑under wins, 10‑under wins, or 5‑over wins. I will tell you this is going to be a very difficult task. Unless I'm completely missing something, I think whether it's 4‑under, 4‑over, this is going to be a very difficult test, and wind is going to be probably the big unknown here.
Q. In your estimation, how much has equipment changed since '98, and what changes may have been necessary as a result of it?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, in '98, most of the players were still using a wound ball back then. So they weren't using the harder two‑piece ball. But they were using the big heads, bigger than they're using now. But they're certainly hitting the ball further now than they did in '98. That's why I figure the yardage that was added in a lot of ways I think will make Olympic play a lot like it did play in '98 and back in '87 and so on.
I would say some of our fairway contours and the closely mown's around the greens, I would argue that in some of those cases that's going to make it harder than the previous four opens.
But I'll say again, I think the putting greens, you'll see more putts made in this U.S. Open than in the past. So that may be a little bit of an equalizer.
Q. Throughout '98, it's undergone changes, what do you expect that to be like?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, I think the green at 18 will still be ‑‑ there will still be a little bit of scariness to it. But you're not going to see the green like you did, and not going to see a hole location like you did in '98. But there was a fear. When you played that hole before, you always wanted to be below the hole. You didn't want to be hole high for the side because you're going to have a pretty severe putt.
When I look at that now, there is decent slope back to front there, and it's a little flatter in the back than it is in the middle and the front.
So you still want to be below the hole. It's such a tiny little green, that if you miss the green, it's always going to be tough up and in. But I don't think it has the scariness to it that it once had. I would say that 17 is a much scarier green now than 18.
Q. Is that okay? It's a short par‑4 finishing hole. Is it okay?
MIKE DAVIS: Good question. If the green hadn't been changed at all, we would have gotten by fine with this U.S. Open. So it's interesting. I'll give you another example out there. I'm not sure it's good, bad or indifferent. But I don't think it's as scary.
I'll give you another one that got changed that absolutely made it easier for the U.S. Open, but I wouldn't suggest it's as bad, is the 7th green. It went from a three‑tier green back to what it originally was, which was two‑tier, and I can tell you that is going to make that hole substantially easier for the U.S. Open. More so than the 18th green. When you got on the long level with the green speeds we had at the U.S. Open, forget it you weren't going to two‑putt it.
So I would look at the change to 17 and 18 green as changes that maybe made those holes a little easier from a championship position like the holes architecturally.
The other change, think of the difference in the 8th hole, the par‑3. That's going to make it at least a quarter, probably more so difficult for the field. So I think it balances out a little bit.
Q. What do you think about 18 as a finishing hole beyond the green? It's unique to have a 334‑yard finishing hole.
MIKE DAVIS: I love it. Look back at what's happened on that hole in the past. You know, what Palmer did in the playoffs, what Ben Hogan did in the playoffs. I love the fact that you may have a guy hitting 5 off the tee or may be hitting 3‑wood. It's an exacting shot. The other thing that allows us to do is walk down there and look at that fairway. It's not very wide. If you stand on that tee, it's not as if you get a good look, so there is a little bit of semi blindness to it.
So the green, we know we're going to have short shots in and they're going to be hitting 5‑irons in there. I love the fact that you have a short little hole. That is one of the things that's neat about us going to different venues for the U.S. Open, you have all these great different ‑‑ look at Pebble Beach. One of the great finishing holes in golf. Look at Oakmont. They're all different. But I think that's one of the beauties of the National Open.
Q. You control what you can control and that type of test involving being under par (No microphone)?
MIKE DAVIS: It's much easier to control things here. So I think that what happened at Congressional with bad luck at weather, that could easily happen to us next year at Merion. I mean, we're in Philadelphia. It's right on the edge of getting to that time of the year where it gets steamy there.
I will tell you next year if we got four days of dry weather at Merion, over par can win. And this is a golf course that isn't even 7,000 yards long, but that's how hard it can be. If you give it four days of soft conditions, you can't find a course in the world that these guys ‑‑ they're that good right now that they can play aggressively all the time. When it's firm, they have to play much more conservatively.
I actually like the fact that we're coming back here the year after Congressional when it got soft, because I know we're not going to have back‑to‑back years where Mother Nature gets us both years.
Q. Is that par‑5 longer?
MIKE DAVIS: Good question. I don't know the answer. I doubt that we have, but I don't know the answer to that. In a U.S. Open, probably not, because I'm trying to think if we've been anywhere in elevation.
Q. 13 at Torrey wasn't that far, was it?
MIKE DAVIS: 13 at Torrey, no.
Q. Is that pushing it? It is probably is the longest. Are we not far from a par‑5, 700 in a U.S. Open?
MIKE DAVIS: Good question. I never really think about the yardage on whether a course ends up being 7,500 or 6,900. It's more trying to get each hole to play how we want it to play.
The reason we did that with 16 is we thought here you're going to have 17 which is going to be a really short risk‑reward par‑5. To have a par‑5 that isn't just long, but the fact that that 15th hole just continues to bend left, when you put it back further, it requires a player to maneuver left, and you just can't afford to miss the shot there.
If you miss it in the rough on 16 with a tee shot, now you're having to hack out of the rough, and you know that you're going to have to cut the corner a little bit. I think in that hole's case, it didn't have anything to do with the yardage. It had to do with where we wanted the drive zone to be and where we wanted the second shot location to be so they'd have some type of mid‑iron in for the third shot.
Q. So can you envision anyone conceivably hitting that in two?
MIKE DAVIS: From the back tee, no, no. But for the U.S. Amateur, we actually moved it up to the 560 tee, and it was a blast to watch them play because they tried to get there in two, but you had to snap it around the corner. If you didn't curve your ball right to left, you hit it through into the rough, and now it's not going to be the rough that you want to deal with.
I wonder if we're going to see some of the Touring pros play a 3‑wood from the 670 tee, just because they can't get there ‑‑
Q. In two anyway, right?
MIKE DAVIS: Right. But it's just short to get it in play, but we'll dangle the carrot.
Q. Do you see it 670 one day or more?
MIKE DAVIS: Probably two days. At least two days, I would say.
Q. What would be the distance?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, there is a tee at 560 if we went way up. Then there is a tee that is 630‑ish. So all of them with those up tees, again, back to the point I made earlier, you really have to pick your distance with a certain angle where you're going to hit through the fairway, and if you cut. There are trees on the left; it's easy to hit a tree off the tee on the left.
Q. How much tournament ready is this course now?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, it's not right now just because this time of the year with less sunshine they really have to baby it. The grass heights are much higher. So it's not even close.
It would be like saying if we were to go to the course right now on the northeast it's frozen, how close is it? Not close.
Q. But your plans are to play?
MIKE DAVIS: Correct. The fairway lines are there right now, but the grass heights are not. Pat Finlen is a wonderful superintendent. He will start to gradually work on those. I think when we come back for the media day in late April, you'll see it closer. And each week it will be.
Q. Talk about some of the rough line changes like what the 14ers, like no rough to the trees and put the bunker on 6. The fairway bunker is going to be no rough up to the bunker. That is really taking holes that maybe didn't have as great a challenge, but really adding a lot of challenge based on those mowing patterns, left of 2 is going to be very exciting.
MIKE DAVIS: That's right. I was thinking about this before. All 18 holes there is something different on every single hole than there was in the last Open. That doesn't mean the last Open wasn't good. It's just it's a little bit different.
So in the case of number two, you're absolutely right. We have taken the fairway further, players left, to really bring that slope into play. If you're not careful, you can run it over the hillside, which we thought was kind of a neat feature.
The drives that you talked about on 6, taking the fairway right into the bunker. Absolutely, that was talked about. That bunker is right in their Wheelhouse. 14 is a short hole, but it's a dogleg left par‑4, and if you look back at photographs from many, many years ago, it used to be basically just fairway the whole way into the woods, which is a lateral there. We just decided to take that back to what it used to be.
Now when you're on that tee, you have a chance and an opportunity to lay way back and hit maybe 170 yards into that green or you can move up and try to get your ball right to the top of the hill. But if you do that and you work at all to the left, you'll have to have that punch shot.
Taking the fairway all the way into the trees is if you got your ball into there, you could try to hook it out and hit a punch shot that you could never do before because you were in the rough.
I think where possible, what we tried to do is really take the wonderful features, in this case, of The Olympic Club and accentuate them. So that would be an example of trying to take some existing architectural features and say how can we really utilize those.
Q. When you consider changes of a golf course like this, do you talk to members that play it regularly to find out this is what I'd like to see happen? I mean, do you hear from them and maybe take into consideration some of the things they say?
MIKE DAVIS: Absolutely. Whether it's members or superintendents, we absolutely will do that. The 14th hole, as I just mentioned, I remember years ago mentioning why didn't we move that fairway over to the left to utilize that feature and give the players a chance to punch shot or hook? I never knew it used to be there. And one of the members said oh, that's how it used to be. Why did they ever change it? Because we changed it for the previous Open, and now we're changing it back.
When we go out, as an example, and do the hole locations and I come here in late April for media day, I'll come a few days early and we'll go out and do the preliminary hole locations. Often times we'll use the host pro. We'll go with the superintendent, or somebody else that is really knowledgeable and just get their opinions on, what do you see on this hole? It would be foolish for us not to do this kind of thing.
It doesn't mean you have to do exactly what they want, but it's good to get that knowledge.
Q. How much of the hold out from '98 do you study the hole locations and say we're satisfied with the way the hole played or not so satisfied?
MIKE DAVIS: We definitely go back and look at the data. I go back and look at how it's played, and I often times go back and get the video from previous Opens and just watch it. I can't do that ‑‑ there is probably some video of '55 in there. But I often times will ask people to get me the tape and the months leading in I look at it again. It's helpful.
With hole locations I don't do so much of that because I figure that is such a subjective thing. Though when there are historic hole locations we'll absolutely do some of that. We'll say this is where it was in the final round of the '55 Open or '66 or whatever the case might be and go from there.
One of the things that going back in time tells you is there are certain things you don't want to see happen. I mean, if we had never played an event here, I'm not sure I'd be as in tune with what potentially could go wrong with the fourth drive there, and the 17th drive zone with balls not there. So you learn from stuff like that.
Going into the week, I always have a check list. I literally look at every hole and say what could go wrong on this hole? Sometimes very little, but sometimes a lot. Setting up a course, I'd never been involved with one where I didn't make multiple mistakes. It's just it's some guesswork. You miss it with Mother Nature sometimes. You think what's going to happen doesn't happen and vice versa. So it's an interesting process.
Q. I remember Payne at the Saturday round in '98 hit a wedge or 9‑iron out of a sand‑filled divot and had some things to say. So when you fill in those divots ‑‑ actually all of it can be brought under repair temporarily ‑‑ but is there anything you can do?
MIKE DAVIS: We do look at those kinds of things, and that's why our divot mix calls for at least 50% organic matter, so it does firm up a little bit so they aren't just 100% sand and there are little bunkers all over the place, so we look at those versus back in '98 they were probably virtually all sand.
Q. You mentioned in '98 they were new holes. Why do you think that works I assume part of the motivation and the club's motivation is you can't have two short par‑3s, which 15 clearly is and that was as well previously. What are your thoughts on the new number 8?
MIKE DAVIS: I will say when you stand back there and look at it, it looks like it's been here for years. They did a marvelous job making it look like an Olympic‑sized hole.
I think the green is certainly respective to a 20‑yard shot to the back tee. The direction of its play is good. Logistically it took the worst area on the entire course logistically and made it one of the best areas now in terms of crowd.
So those are all good things. The only thing you might say is okay, you added a 175‑yard walk from seven greens back. But that's what we look at and say that's going to take a couple minutes that we'll lose on pace of play, but that is the only negative I can see. I think it's a marvelously designed hole.
There are a couple limbs on the one tree that I'm a little worried about that we may have to take care of. Other than that, it ought to be a great hole.