Tee-Off Day at the Open

Shinnecock Hills will play at 7,500 yards, over 400 yards longer than it was when the Open was last held here
Kevin Kisner, for whom Duane Bock, second from left, caddies, teed off at Shinnecock’s first hole with the 12:41 group Monday. Jack Graves

The 118th U.S. Open tees off today at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton. By Sunday evening, the iconic course will have held the prestigious event five times in three centuries — in 1896, 1986, 1995, 2004, and 2018.

“It’s great to be back,” Lucas Glover said following a practice round Monday morning. Glover won the Open when it was played at Bethpage Black in 2009, a win that Bob Bubka, the well-known golf radio announcer and a native of Sag Harbor, had predicted, much to the dismay of Ireland’s bookmakers. 

“I hope my luck on Long Island will continue this week,” Glover said. “Shinnecock is such a beautiful course and it has been set up nicely for this championship.”

Shinnecock Hills will play at 7,500 yards, over 400 yards longer than it was when the Open was last held here. Nary a tree can be found on the classic Scottish links-style course, the present configuration of which dates to 1931. Thus it’s particularly tough when the wind is blowing, from whatever quadrant of the compass. Tall and thick, rough and firm, undulating, and sometimes elevated greens can add to a golfer’s headaches.

However, if the winds remain light throughout the four-day tournament, as predicted, the lion of a course could play more like a lamb. 

“If the winds are light, as they say it could be, the players will eat up the course pretty good,” Bubka said during a conversation in the vast media center Monday. “If that turns out to be so, I wouldn’t be surprised if the winner cards a 15-under-par score.”

Retief Goosen, 2004’s winner, by comparison, finished at 4-under.

Bubka’s favorite to win this time is Rory McIlroy, who was to have teed off with Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson from the 10th hole at 8:02 this morning. (That group is to tee off from the first hole at 1:47 p.m. tomorrow.)

Mickelson, 2004’s runner-up, a particular favorite on Long Island who will turn 48 on Saturday, and who lacks only a U.S. Open win when it comes to achieving a major grand slam, demurred during a press conference Monday when questioned as to the expectations he had for himself going in.

“My goal,” he said, “is not to try to win on Thursday — my goal is to stay in it Thursday, and to stay in it Friday so I’ll have an opportunity on the weekend. . . . The last thing I’m thinking about right now is trying to win. When you try to go out and win a U.S. Open you will lose it quick.”

He also said he trusted that the U.S.G.A. would play fair this time while acknowledging that there was always a fine line between a true test and “carnival golf,” and that it was easy to criticize.

In 2004, the undulating greens, the par-3 seventh’s in particular, became, because they’d been allowed to dry out, exceedingly quick. 

“The barometer for watering the seventh green on Saturday in 2004,” said Mickelson, “was did anybody make double or triple [bogey] in front of you. If nobody in the group in front of you did, the green did not get water. If your group made a double or triple, the green got water for the group behind you. . . . To have [a major tournament] left to something like that is disappointing. But I don’t mean to discount anything because I know what a tough job it is to find that fine line.”

The course had been set up very well, he said, “the best, in my opinion, that we’ve seen . . . all areas of your game will be tested. There are some birdie holes, some really hard pars . . . some fairways are easy to hit, some fairways are tough to hit. . . .”

“The chipping and short game around the greens are going to be a huge factor. . . . I feel the luck has been taken out as much as possible to where skill will be the primary factor. I think we’re going to have a great leaderboard and a great tournament.”

Other lesser-known golfers in the 156-player field are also relishing the opportunity to tackle the venerable course, no matter what kind of weather is forecast.

By day Garrett Rank, a 30-year-old native of Elmira, Ontario, who earned an Open berth in a sectional qualifier in Atlanta recently, is a referee in the National Hockey League.

“I’m fortunate and beyond thrilled to be here,” he said Monday morning on the practice range, where he had traded in his referee’s jersey for a golf shirt. “I have a wonderful job in the N.H.L., but to be here at Shinnecock is also a dream come true.”  

Tiger Woods, who has not won a tournament in a decade, is surprised at how well he has recovered in the past year from spinal fusion surgery, and has, as he told Newsday’s Mark Herrmann this week, regained his “playing feels.” Jon M. Diat