U.S. Open golfers face unique challenge at Chambers Bay

Martin Kaymer, defending champion at the U.S. Open, has played zero competitive rounds at the venue for this week’s title defense: Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash.

That puts Kaymer, 30, among the vast majority of players preparing for Thursday’s opening round at a windswept, seaside layout along Puget Sound that features more holes with flexible par values (2) than trees (1).

The 7,795-yard public course, built on the site of a former gravel mine, features sloping fairways, upsized greens and vast waste areas that remind competitors of European venues that host the British Open.

“I think it looks like a links golf course with really good weather,” Kaymer said. “I believe the people from Great Britain ... that’s going to be an advantage. I think that you should look out for the Brits.”

Others disagree. One notable British golfer, Ian Poulter, dubbed the place a “complete farce” after a recent practice round. Phil Mickelson, a five-time major champion, acknowledged that Chambers Bay requires a steeper learning curve than most layouts.

Truth be told, no one knows what to expect from the eight-year-old course that will make its major championship debut as a par-70 venue for the U.S. Open.

“I think there are a lot more questions than answers right now, based on what feedback I’ve gotten from players,” said Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay, a former PGA Tour competitor.

“Players that have played there, especially in the [2010] U.S. Amateur, are going to be at a monumental advantage ... about how to position certain shots, how to play certain holes.”

That list includes Masters champion Jordan Spieth, 21, and other youngsters in the 156-player field. But for most PGA Tour veterans, Chambers Bay offers a fresh strategic challenge that excites USGA executive director Mike Davis.

“The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and having your caddie just walk it and use your yardage book, that person’s done. He will not win the U.S. Open,” Davis said. “I would contend that there is no way a player would have success at Chambers Bay unless he really studies the golf course and learns it.

“We don’t have anything that we play a U.S. Open on that’s remotely similar to this.”

Davis cited the “bold architecture” put in place by designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. as the genesis behind the USGA’s decision to exhibit “wonderful flexibility” with the course throughout the tournament.

Translation: Multiple tees will be used at nine of the 18 holes, with No. 1 and No. 18 playing as both a par-4 and par-5 during the event.

When No. 1 plays as a 496-yard par 4, the closing hole will be a 604-yard par 5. When the first hole is stretched to a par-5 covering 598 yards, the final hole will be shortened to a 525-yard par 4. The only other par-5 possibility on the course, No. 8, will play as a 614-yard par 5 in all four rounds.

“We weren’t trying to be innovative; we weren’t trying to be cute,” said Davis, whose decision to mandate multiple par values has been characterized as both by golf traditionalists. “There’s going to be some players who love the imagination, who embrace it. Others will chirp.

“It would not be a U.S. Open if we didn’t get some chirping. We accept that. In fact, we joke internally that if nobody’s complaining, we have done something wrong.”

Expect tournament officials to receive plenty of feedback from players about Chambers Bay, where the fairway at the par-4 13th hole is 105 yards wide because of the undulation. At past Opens, Davis said, level fairways have been as tight as 24 yards in width.

Barring heavy rains during tournament week, Davis said USGA officials expect the uneven terrain on fairways and greens to force players “to think your way around this golf course” and be creative with recovery shots when they find trouble.

“If it’s firm and fast, you have to think about what’s going to happen when the ball lands,” Davis said. “Some of these slopes are very player-friendly. You can use them to your advantage if you know they’re there and you plan that way.”

If not, a disgruntled golfer always has the right to chirp. This is, after all, the U.S. Open.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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