What Can Brown do for You?

By: Tony Dear

Last week Larry Gilhuly, the USGA Green Section's Northwest Director who has worked with course superintendent David Wienecke for two years to prepare Chambers Bay for this week's U.S. Amateur, told me the course would be running fast and firm, and added that Wienecke had done everything the USGA asked of him in bringing the course up to speed.

He wasn't joking. Chambers Bay looks a lot like Hoylake did for the 2006 Open Championship when Tiger Woods took advantage of bone-hard fairways by hitting 2-irons off the tee to position the ball just so.

From the top of the hill that overlooks the course, Chambers Bay looks all but dead, a dehydrated blanket of brown that shares many of the same characteristics as concrete. So brown is it in fact, you can barely distinguish between tee, fairway and green (or rather putting surface).

Though most of the players, and indeed gallery, admit to be being completely unfamiliar with such conditions (I overhead one gallery member say "It doesn't look like a proper golf course"), Gilhuly couldn't be more pleased. There was a point during Monday afternoon when he was more than a little concerned the course could be drying out too fast and become more or less unplayable, but his worst fears weren't realized and, though some big numbers were recorded there, Chambers Bay's growing reputation remained intact.

Wilson Watch

Much of the talk in the media center on Tuesday centered around Jeff Wilson's amazing round of 62 at the Home Course the day before. I watched the leaderboard closely on Monday and decided fairly early that no one was going below Patrick Reed's stellar 68 at Chambers Bay and maybe a couple of players might get to four perhaps 5-under-par at the Home Course.

When I logged on late in the day and saw the leaderboard with Wilson seven shots clear of the nine players tied for second on 3-under, I did a double-take and assumed it must be an error. Then I read the story of how this 47-year-old reinstated amateur and car dealer had holed a full pitching wedge at the ninth (his 18th) to finish his round with two eagles in a row.

Wilson faced a much stiffer test at Chambers Bay on Tuesday and admitted that because qualifying for match play was his only concern, not winning medalist honors, he did think about what number he could get away with. "You have a 62 up there and you ask yourself what's going to make match play," he said, before adding, "I can shoot 84."

As it turned out, Wilson did indeed win medalist honors - for the fifth time at a USGA event - after shooting a 3-over 74.

Six From Sixteen

Though all 312 players did manage to finish their second rounds on time, the match-play bracket remained incomplete Tuesday evening as 16 players were tied for 59th on 149, plus-6, meaning a playoff would be necessary to determine the final 64 who will advance. There was no time for it Tuesday so the 16 returned to Chambers Bay at 7:15 Wednesday morning and go off in fours starting on the 10th hole. If necessary, they will continue on to the 11th, then move across to the 16th, 17th and 18th holes and keep playing until the final six emerge.

Home Field Advantage

Of the eight Washingtonians in the starting line-up (a number that included four who live within an hour of the course), only three remain. Cameron Peck led the way for the home-state contingent shooting 72 at the Home Course on Monday and a 73 at Chambers Bay. The 2008 U.S. Junior champion from Olympia, who will be starting his sophomore year at Texas A&M shortly, finished the stroke-play section tied for 24th. Joining Peck for match play are University of the Pacific graduate T.J. Bordeaux (146), who lives four miles from the course and has enjoyed the biggest galleries of the tournament so far, and Jared Bossio (147) of Olympia who plays on the University of Idaho team.

The biggest disappointment for local fans was Andrew Putnam's lackluster performance. Monday's horrible 84 at Chambers Bay, which he can walk to from his home in less than 10 minutes, obviously gave the Pepperdine golfer too much work to do at the Home Course on Tuesday. "I hit the ball really bad today," Putnam admitted after his 13-over-par round. "And on a really hard course that equals a really bad score."

You can't argue with that.

Experience vs. Youth

Six of the 32 first-round match-ups won't be known until the playoff is completed Wednesday morning, but among the 26 matches that are known, one in particular stands out. At 9.50 a.m., 51-year-old Tim Jackson, who was low amateur at the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee last month, will go out against 22-year-old Scott Langley, who four months ago won medalist honors at the NCAA Championships, in a clash of the ages.

Other matches of interest, to me at least, will be University of Washington graduate Nick Taylor vs. Chan Kim and University of Washington recruit Cheng-Tsung Pan against Sahalee Players champion and Walker Cup player Peter Uihlein.

Just for the Love of it

I'm staying at the home of Andy Soden this week. Soden, the former golf director for the city of Seattle who controversially lost the job nearly a year ago, started his career as a superintendent and is volunteering this week as part of David Wienecke's crew. Soden has been getting up at 3.30 a.m. to be at the course by 4.30.

While there, Soden's tasks include hand-watering and mowing the greens, raking bunkers and replacing divots. He works for three hours, goes home to sleep, comes back to watch some golf and begins work again at the close of play, returning home at about 11 p.m.. "It's been great fun so far," says Soden, who worked with Wienecke at Lake Oswego in Oregon 32 years ago. "It's hard work but it's such an important event for our region, I wanted to get involved."

Thumbs Up for Chambers Bay

To my knowledge, not one negative comment has yet been uttered about the host venue. Plenty of players have said how tough it is, but no one has said it's unfair. Mind you, these players aren't mollycoddled tour pros who moan about the slightest inconsistency in the sand, but a bunch of teenagers and college golfers who probably have that in their future but, for the moment anyway, are just happy to be playing one of the world's top 100-ranked courses.

Here are a few quotes:

Nick Taylor: "It plays so tough . . . if the wind blows anything can happen.

Andres Echavarria: "It tests every aspect of your game. The greens are hard but fair. It's a great test of golf. Definitely the best player is going to win."

Patrick Cantalay: "It's good, it's tough, it doesn't give you anything. It can be a great match-play course. You are never out of a hole. It should be good."

Lion Kim: "If this isn't the toughest course I've played, it's right up there."

Drew Kittleson: "It's extremely difficult and I'm sure it will make a great venue for the U.S. Open."

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it increasingly difficult for him to focus on Politics (his chosen major) and, after dropping out, he ended up teaching golf at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a "player." He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own web site at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.