Fairways And Roughs Title

Thick fescue becomes sticky issue at Erin Hills

By PGA Tour News
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ERIN, Wis. -- Following concerns by some U.S. Open players that Erin Hills’ thick seedhead fescue was too penalizing, maintenance crews on Tuesday morning cut back the tall grass on four holes. That didn’t stop the discussion, though, especially since the decision was not met with universal approval. Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, two of the favorites this week, each said the generous fairways at Erin Hills were more than enough to compensate for the fescue bordering the original mown rough. They were surprised to hear the fescue has been reduced at hole Nos. 4, 12, 14 and 18. “We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here. If we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home. These are the widest fairways we’ve ever played in a U.S. Open.” Added Spieth: “I don’t think the golf course is unfair, by any means, because of the fescue. We have a wide enough area to hit it and you need to drive the ball well in order to win a U.S. Open.” The issue came to light on Monday after a social media firestorm that included Kevin Na’s Instagram video in which he tossed a ball into fescue, took two swings, then lost his ball. Others also worried about losing a ball on a shot just a few yards from the fairway. Justin Rose, who has a favorable impression of Erin Hills, noted that “this hay is more than a stroke penalty because there may be nowhere to drop it.” Physical concerns also were voiced. Jon Rahm noted that he didn’t want to practice any shots out of the fescue for fear of injury. “No need to injure my wrist this week before I tee off,” he said. USGA Executive Director Mike Davis acknowledged Monday that the fescue was “thicker than maybe we would have anticipated.” The wet spring weather in Wisconsin was a contributing factor, as was the irrigation pattern of the fairways. Some of the irrigation water sprinkled into the fescue closest to the fairways, thus creating the most penal areas. Paul Azinger, the 12-time PGA TOUR winner who is the head analyst for Fox Sports’ coverage this week, visited Erin Hills three weeks ago and said the fescue then was “brutal but manageable.” His reaction when he saw the course again two days ago? “Oh my god. That has really grown.” He described the fescue on the right side of the 12th hole as “impossible” and that the right side of 14 was “like a joke, dude. There’s Lyme disease waiting to happen in that.” But those areas are not reflective of the entire course, said one of Erin Hills’ architects, Dr. Michael Hurdzan. He noted that the majority of the fescue on the course was thin and wispy, with just 5-8 percent of the thicker variety. Hurdzan suggested the fescue was not any different than some native areas that players encounter at the Open Championship. “If this was gorse instead of fine fescue, we’d all say, well, it’s just gorse,” Hurdzan said. “But because it’s grass, somehow we feel it’s an unfair penalty. I don’t think we should.” Davis said the USGA had already cut back on the fescue within the last week, so Tuesday’s actions apparently were not the first time adjustments were made. But the timing made it seem like a reaction to the complaints. The issue might not be as polarizing if the fairways weren’t so wide. According to Davis, the fairways are 50 percent wider – and sometimes double the width – than generally seen at traditional U.S. Open courses. He noted that the 10th fairway could fit “three fairways at Winged Foot,” which will host the U.S. Open for the sixth time in 2020. In order to maintain architectural integrity, the USGA was determined to keep the fairways wide. But some of the holes will be playing into a crosswind, creating concerns that tee shots could still find their way into the fescue. “By and large, we feel that the hitting area for the holes is wide enough and it will be a good test,” Davis said. “If you hit it wayward, it’s penal – no doubt.” That’s fine with McIlroy. “I get that it’s thick or whatever, but it’s a hazard,” the 2011 U.S. Open winner said. “… It’s a U. S. Open. It’s supposed to be a tough test. And if guys can’t put it into play within a 50-yard zone, I don’t think they’ve got much to complain about.” Spieth acknowledged that the fescue created “essentially two water hazards – two hazards on each side of every single hole. You have a wide enough area in between to where it’s fair and yet tough. But if you hit it into that stuff, there’s a chance you just have to hit back to the fairway with pretty much taking a penalty stroke.” Azinger suggested the USGA might be more concerned than pace of play than simply making the course a less penal for players. Having walked to areas where marshals were attending fairways, Azinger noted that it would be tough to track a ball heading into the fescue, thus increasing the possibility of lost balls. “That’s probably as high a concern as anything because you have pace of play issues if you are losing balls,” Azinger said. “The marshals are handcuffed if that happens and you have a lost ball. That’s going to wreck the pace of play. I have to believe that that was what they took into consideration more than playability.” No matter the reason, Azinger was glad to see Na’s video. “He did the USGA and the U.S. Open a great service by drawing attention to the severity of what we got this week,” Azinger said. “People criticize Kevin Na but I thought he was brilliant.”


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