Congressional Not Quite As Long As It Appears

There’s been plenty of talk about the length of Congressional’s Blue Course, which has a scorecard yardage of 7,574 yards. There hasn’t been enough mention that the yardage figure is misleading because the course won’t play to its full length in any round.

You would think that the course setup philosophy of the USGA’s Mike Davis had been well enough established by now for people to realize that. Since taking over the course setup reins in 2006, he has established that moving tees around is part of his modus operandi. The new back tees on eight holes at Congressional serve to bring landing areas back into play and to put similar clubs in players’ hands as they had in the 1997 U.S. Open. But they will not be used in every round; one of their main purposes is simply to put more arrows in Davis’s quiver.

When defending champion Graeme McDowell played the Blue Course last month he played it from all the way back on every hole. Moreover, it was on a day when the fairways were damp. After the round, he tweeted, “Congressional 7574 yards Par 71 US Open setup. Nobody will break par.”

The latter statement could turn out to be true, but whether anyone breaks par is more a function of the firmness of the greens than the length of the course.

Talk about course length has also led to talk about the necessity of hitting the ball a long way off the tee. But the notion that only long hitters can handle a long course is misguided. The longest U.S. Open course in history was Torrey Pines at 7,643 yards in 2008, and short-hitting Rocco Mediate took Tiger Woods to a playoff there.

Of course, Torrey Pines never played to its full length, either. In some cases, Davis might move up the tee markers on certain holes by 10 yards or so because of wind direction or wet conditions. Other times the goal is to give players different strategic options.

“The new teeing grounds give us nice flexibility for playing holes different distances on different days, and showcasing different architectural features,” Davis says.

Here are some examples at the Blue Course:

9th hole: This is a true three-shot hole at 636 yards with a green that sits high above a rough-covered ravine. But in one or two rounds, Davis plans to move the tees up enough to make it reachable in two shots. “If they go for it and come up short, it’s going to be a really tough shot,” says Davis.

12th hole: Using one of the tees on the 15th hole, and taking out one tree that blocked the way, enabled this hole to be stretched to 471 yards and force players to hit a driver. But on one or two days, they will play the hole at 400 yards. This will give the players an option of turning a driver right-to-left around the corner and getting close to the green or laying up off the tee.

16th hole: At its full length of 579 yards it will be reachable in two for many players. But on the weekend there’s a good chance the tees will be moved forward enough to make it more tempting for more players to think about having a go at it.

Par 3s: The one-shot holes are likely to vary in length from day to day, with more difficult hole locations used when they play at a shorter distance.

18th hole: Actually this hole will likely play at or close to its full 523-yard length every day. That’s 43 yards longer than 1997, necessary because it’s so downhill that players were hitting 9-irons and wedges at the PGA Tour’s AT&T National at 480 yards. But this is an example of accuracy being perhaps even more important than distance even on a long hole. There’s a downslope in the landing area, so a drive in the fairway gets a lot of roll. But a drive that lands in the rough doesn’t get that hop forward, so a long hitter’s inaccurate drive might end up shorter than a short hitter’s accurate one. And a longer approach shot from the rough to a green guarded by water on three sides is a major challenge here.

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