Odds & Ends from the U.S. Open

By: Jeff Shelley

Cybergolf's Jeff Shelley is at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines this week. Here are some of Jeff's observations about the event.

The U.S. Open can be easily equated to the Super Bowl, the Indianapolis 500, a big NASCAR race, or any major sporting event that takes place outdoors, such as the Olympics, over a wide area. It's like a complete city has descended upon Torrey Pines, a 36-hole municipal golf course in La Jolla, Calif. This "city" boasts all the elements found in a community with 42,500 inhabitants - the number of tickets purchased for the sold-out event. Ticket-buyers include residents of more than 25 countries.

The site contains all the necessary infrastructure for the delivery of water (bottled); utilities, including electricity, sewer - in this case, fancy Sanicans discreetly hidden behind green fencing; housing - actually the corporate white-with-blue trimmed quonset-style huts with be-flowered outdoor decks and "addresses" such as Anhaeuser-Busch, Bumble Bee Foods, Charles Schwab and Comerica; dusty roads with scurrying golf carts and utility vehicles. There is even freshly painted green traffic signs telling fans and staff where the action is.

The concession prices - the "grocery store" component of this city - don't require buyers to dig too deep in their pocketbooks. Sure, there are $9 hamburgers, but a good Nathan's hot dog is $5, a beer is $6, $9 for a fancy Panini, Cokes are $3.25 and a bottle of water is $2.50.

As might be expected, the USGA flag flies high and often at the Open. Competing for the signage title are "Recycle" notices, which are nearly everywhere.

The U.S. Open, along with the British Open, is one of the most democratic athletic events in the world. Big-name golfers mix with not-so-big names, including amateurs, 84 of whom gained entry through Local and Sectional Qualifying to join those who were fully exempt into the field. A total of 156 players teed off on Thursday, though Brett Wetterich withdrew Thursday because of a wrist injury. In his place stepped in first alternate Andrew Svoboda, a 28-year-old pro from Purchase, N.Y. In 2005, Michael Campbell became the first non-fully exempt U.S. Open winner since Steve Jones in 1996.

In the same vein, the Open, and that's emphasized, finds old-timers like 55-year-old Bart Bryant, who gained entry as the 2007 U.S. Senior Open champion, and Rickie Fowler, a 19-year-old and the youngest player in this year's tournament. This is like having high school football players competing in the Super Bowl alongside all-stars from the Bacon Bowl police league.

Torrey Pines has its quirks, including a bottleneck at holes 2-6. Ameliorating the situation is that fans can swivel their necks and catch a lot of action on the greens and tees. When that gets tiresome, they can also peer over a rugged canyon for some amazing vistas of the nearby Pacific Ocean.

When players hit off the par-3s during their practice rounds, the areas in front of them were covered in green mesh to keep those areas from being divot-damaged.

My guess is that three of the hardest holes at the end of championship will prove to be No. 6, a 515-yard par-4 that usually plays as a par-5, and the 461-yard, par-4 seventh. Both of these dogleg to the right, with bunkers outside the turn. The sixth has the prevailing wind at its back, but a big tree off the tee makes a draw difficult, if not impossible. The seventh heads into the Pacific-propelled wind. I also think the par-3 16th will prove crucial. Not insofar as it being a birdie opportunity, but because par will be a good score. Anything over par on No. 16 could spell doom for a player near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon.

The practice green is a serious place. The players thoughtfully "roll the rock" as swing coaches, sports psychologists, caddies and agents lend their assistance for the hardest shot in the game.

The driving range finds players firing shots in all directions. A big-screen TV squats to the left of the practice area, showing the action on the course which, presumably, will keep players from missing their tee times.

The players' locker room at Torrey Pines is a temporary structure. A walk through it finds entrants in various states of undress; some eating sandwiches; wood-faced lockers with their name tags; a player getting a massage; guys on cell phones; and, not surprisingly, golf clubs scattered everywhere. If one finds the tools of his trade dysfunctional at anytime during this four-day extravaganza, there are plenty of replacements to be found.

Future U.S. Open Venues

2009 - Bethpage State Park (Black Course), Bethpage, NY

2010 - Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, CA

2011 - Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, MD

2012 - The Olympic Club (Lakeside Course), Daly City, CA

2013 - Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, PA

2014 - Pinehurst Resort, (No. 2), Pinehurst, NC

2015 - Chambers Bay Golf Course, University Place, WA