Taking the Right Approach Crucial to Success

Jordan Spieth played Chambers Bay in tough conditions during the 2010 U.S. Amateur and saw how challenging a layout it can be. (USGA/Fred Vuich)
Jordan Spieth played Chambers Bay in tough conditions during the 2010 U.S. Amateur and saw how challenging a layout it can be. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. - Look for an iron man to have the best chance to win this week’s 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

Iron will? Iron constitution? Well, yes, those are givens. This is the U.S. Open, after all, and mental toughness and discipline are always useful tools.

But good iron play figures to be a crucial element in a winning formula when the U.S. Open begins Thursday on this former gravel pit fashioned into a links-like test of shotmaking. At least that’s the general consensus as preparations began in earnest Monday for the 156-player field in the year’s second major championship.

“You really have to understand what you’re trying to do hitting into these greens,” said Morgan Hoffmann, who possesses the second-most competitive experience of any player at Chambers Bay, having advanced to the quarterfinals here in the 2010 U.S. Amateur before being eliminated by eventual winner Peter Uihlein (Byeong-Hun An was a semifinalist in that championship). “Even if you miss, you want to leave yourself in good spots. There’s different sections on each green, so it’s really important to be sharp with your irons.”

“If this stays dry and hard like a traditional links course, then I think you have to pay special attention to what you’re doing hitting into the greens,” said Shane Lowry of Northern Ireland.

“I’m focusing on getting my irons dialed in,” added 2007 USA Walker Cup competitor Billy Horschel, who two years ago had them dialed in splendidly in the second round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club when he hit all 18 greens in regulation. “This is a course where distance control, controlling trajectory, are going to matter quite a bit.”

Distance control on the ground is going to matter plenty, too.

“I will be paying a lot of attention to lag putting, trying to make sure I don’t give myself too many 6-8 footers, because those are going to be tough,” Horschel said.

Jordan Spieth agrees. The reigning Masters champion, who did not qualify for match play in the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay, understands that even well-executed shots might not lead to an advantageous result. “It’s going to be a lot about speed control … on and around the greens,” he said.

Spieth didn’t have much appreciation for Chambers Bay five years ago – and for good reason. In the second round of stroke play, he caught Chambers Bay on a blustery day and shot 83, one of many players who struggled that day.

“It's one of those courses that, after I get a couple more rounds on it, I'll really understand it more and appreciate it more than I do,” he said. “It's kind of … similar to Augusta in the fact that you just learn more and really appreciate the subtleties of the golf course the more you play it, which is rare to find.”

“This place is not all that dissimilar from Augusta in that you have to be very precise on where you’re going to hit your approach shots,” said Paul Casey, of England, one of several past Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup competitors in the field. “The difference is that you will have occasions at Augusta where you can get a green light and go at a hole. I’m not sure how many times we’ll step up to a shot here and hit it at the flag. But wherever you’re aiming it, you better be accurate and commit to it.”

While approach shots clearly will matter, so will, well, a player’s approach.

“I love the golf course,” said Hoffmann, who thought his affection for Chambers Bay might be more helpful to his prospects than his experience. “You have to really think your way around here, be creative. It’s a fun golf course.”

“I think one of the biggest factors is simply having enough patience,” added veteran D.A. Points, who survived a 5-for-3 playoff in the sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, one that finished in near darkness. “You can do well here with the right attitude.”

That’s always the case at the U.S. Open.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.