PEBBLE BEACH, CA. (Reuters) - Hitting a driver long and straight is one of golf’s special skills, but not one that will be on display very often at this week’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where the biggest club in a player’s arsenal will likely be used only sparingly.
The famous coastal California course presents a starkly different test than Bethpage Black, the site of last month’s PGA Championship, a long course where hitting driver was an absolute necessity on all but a few holes.
At 7075 yards, Pebble Beach is relatively short by modern standards.
Hemmed in by houses and a road on one side and a large water hazard otherwise known as the Pacific Ocean on the other, there are very few tees that can be stretched from their current locations.
Which means that most players will likely be hitting three-woods, hybrids and even irons at many of the par-four holes this week in an effort to find the fairways and avoid the punishing rough.
As Tiger Woods said on Tuesday: “The golf course is not overly long but it’s tricky.”
Two-times defending champion Brooks Koepka hits his drives about 15 yards further than Jordan Spieth, but they both have the same plan to use their biggest weapon only three or four times each day.
“I think there’s a chance you can only hit three or four drivers in a round,” said three-times major champion Spieth, adding that the number might jump to six or seven depending on where officials place the tees.
“You don’t necessarily need to hit (driver) around here,” Spieth said.
“You need whatever is going to be in the fairway. The rough is pretty gnarly. So anything that puts the ball in the fairway would be massively important.”
But even without hitting driver, long hitters might still have an edge - at least that is what Koepka argued.
“Guys might be hitting driver. I could hit three-iron or three-wood and it’s easier for me to put those clubs in the fairway,” he said.
“I’ve got a shorter club, it’s easier to hit it on line. I should technically be more in the fairway than the guy who is hitting driver.”
“That’s the way I’m spinning it. I’ve got more of an advantage with a shorter club. I’m going to be the same distance they are, and I’ll have less club in (with second shot) than they will, but I’m hitting a lesser club off the tee.”
Justin Rose, the 2013 champion, said the fairways were generously wide, making it clear there was little excuse for missing them.
“There is some camber and tilt to the fairways, but they’re still generous enough,” he said.
“There’s obviously a premium on having to hit the fairways, but you have a decent chance to hit the fairway.”
Reporting by Steve Keating; Writing by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Toby Davis