Gary Woodland plays his shot from the 12th tee during a practice round prior to the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco on 5 August 2020.
Winged Foot will be Winged Foot, and that should be all it takes to produce a classic US Open golf championship in a year upended by Covid-19.
“This place tests every single aspect of your game,” Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy said of the Winged Foot West course in Mamaroneck, New York, where the 120th US Open tees off on Thursday in its unusual September time slot. “It’s all pretty tough.”
Tough enough that the US Golf Association, which prides itself on a national championship that is a “searching test” of every facet of a player’s game, will leave it up to the course to determine the champion, with no gimmicky set-up strategies.
“We will let Winged Foot be Winged Foot,” said the USGA’s head of championships John Bodenhamer, who added that he was inspired by comments from course architect AW Tillinghast, who was asked if the USGA would try to toughen up the course for the 1929 US Open.
“We’re not going to outfit Miss Winged Foot in any different way than she otherwise would be,” Tillinghast said. “No fancy clothes, no special jewelry … just wash her face up for the party, and she’ll be good enough.”
Narrow fairways and rough ranging from three to five inches place a premium on accuracy off the tee. Subtly sloping greens make keeping the ball below the hole crucial.
“The golf course is in front of you,” said Gary Woodland, who finally has a chance to defend the US Open title he won in June of last year at Pebble Beach.
“There’s no tricks to it. You’ve just got to step up and hit good shots.”
McIlroy said he arrived at Winged Foot primed by stories of Opens past: the 1974 “Massacre at Winged Foot” won by Hale Irwin and the 2006 meltdowns of Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie that opened the door for Australian Geoff Ogilvy to seize the title with a five-over par total.
“It’s hard, obviously, but I think it’s very, very fair,” McIlroy said. “Something would have to go seriously wrong to get into the realms of goofy golf.”
McIlroy will open off the 10th tee on Thursday at 08:07 (14:07 SA time) alongside Australian Adam Scott and England’s Justin Rose.
At the same time 15-time major champion Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and newly minted PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa will tee off on the first hole.
Woodland will play alongside 2019 British Open champion Shane Lowry of Ireland and US Amateur champion Andy Ogletree, teeing off at 13:05 (19:05 SA time).
World No 1 Dustin Johnson, aiming to crown a dazzling return to form with a second career major title, will play alongside fellow Americans Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau.
While USGA chief executive Mike Davis said officials had even looked at ways to make the golf course “a little bit easier,” straying from the fairway will be punitive.
Woodland said he was practising chips on Saturday and “lost a ball for about five minutes – and it was right in front of me.
“We didn’t find it until we stepped on it,” he said.
With no spectators to trample down the rough – or offer clues to the whereabouts of errant balls – volunteer marshals will be on watch.
“So beware,” Bodenhamer said. “If you get it outside the rope lines this week, it’s going to be significant.”
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