We have a unique challenge in store as Martin Kaymer - 61.00 - defends his US Open crown at Chambers Bay in the second major of the year. A "Tricked up Links" with elevation changes is how Swede Henrik Stenson - 26.00 - describes the track. We've seen the usual grumblings from a selection of tour pros ahead of the 2015 renewal and talking points at Chambers Bay include certain tee boxes which are said to be positioned on uphill, downhill and even sidehill lies, while the huge undulating and bumpy greens have been getting everyone's attention.
Jordan Spieth - 10.00 - made the trip here for the 2010 US Amateur and failed to master the challenge, as did most. Jordan carded an 83 in the strokes and failed to qualify for the matchplay part of the tournament. Indeed, some matches were won with scoring that would have seen the 80 mark eclipsed. Jordan returns for revenge with an added weapon this year and that comes in the form of caddie Michael Greller. Michael is a former bagman at the course and even got married there. He'll know the Chambers Bay nuances more than any other.
There's been a lot of debate in the lead up as to how long the course will play and which style of golfer will have the best chance around Chambers Bay. From what I've researched, I'm firmly in the positioning and proximity camp. Phil Mickelson - 17.00 - talks about the "percentage shot" and how if you choose the right approach, you can score here but should you choose the wrong one, prepare to fail.
Michael Putnam - 351.0 - and brother Andrew grew up beside the Chambers Bay course and after to a recent interview with Andrew, it's come to light that fairways will be fiery and bouncy - further taking the length advantage factor out of the equation in my opinion: "The sandy soil drains well and almost guarantees that the course will be firm. Chambers Bay will play like an Open championship, requiring players to calculate how the ground will influence their ball". Ryan Moore is another originally from the Chambers Bay district and reckons the track can play like two different courses depending on set up and weather conditions.
The course - Chambers Bay
Chambers Bay has seen alterations since the 2010 US Amateur. Greens have been "reconstructed to accept shots from longer clubs" and the 7th was "lowered and moved forward to be more forgiving". Tee boxes were added and landing areas softened in spots. "They're strongly contoured, they're lightning fast, you can't even tell where the fairway begins and the green starts said course designed Robert Trent Jones JR. The USGA's Mike Davis talks about the "wonderful bounce" you get on the fescue grasses.
A unique test in more than just one way, Chambers Bay is a par 70 that can stretch over 7,900 yards. The course though comes equipped with numerous tee positions, while the pins can be adjusted accordingly on lengthy, large greens measuring nearly 9,000 square feet. The total length of the course can be adjusted between circa 7,400 yards and 7,900 yards. Wind and weather conditions will dictate the setup while the pars on some holes may even be changed to accommodate mother nature.
According to reports, the aim for the US Open is to have the stimpmeter reading 12', with "noticeable grain" on the surfaces. Grasses are all fescue and a "belt of fescue rough" a few inches long will feature on some holes, with taller stuff and the dreaded sandy waste areas and dunes awaiting the further errant. Fairways are extremely generous but traps await those electing to grip it and rip it from the tips. There will be a premium on finding the correct position in the fairway for optimum approach angle into the tricky pin positions on the mounded greens. Proximity to the hole and smart club and shot selection will prove key throughout the week. Approaches will often have to be played away from the pins in order to run it in close.
"They built enormous fairways, some over 100 yards wide, but full of trapdoors, false promises and awkward angles into impossibly complex greens"
Three from the pack
For me, this test has US Open specialist and 2003 winner Jim Furyk's - 36.00 or 9.00 - name written all over it. Number 1 on tour in proximity to the hole, Jim, while short off the tee, also ranks no. 12 in GIR% which tells you just how good he is with the long irons. He sits 9th in strokes gained tee to green and is just about to hit top gear. Furyk carded a T5 at Memorial with a GIR clip of 76.39%. This was on the back of a semi-final berth in the matchplay and a huge confidence boosting and five-year ending win drought at the RBC Heritage a couple of months back. The American is arguably the most accurate on tour currently lying 6th in driving accuracy and Jim can position the ball in the right areas. The veteran ranks 18th in scrambling, and off the record, he also has the head and smarts to grind out the week.
According to the USGA's Mike Davis, experience of Chambers Bay will be huge - "There is no way a player will have success here unless he really studies the golf course and learns it", and at the price, the aforementioned local man Ryan Moore - 81.00 or 18.00 - stands out. It's not only for the added advantage of knowing the nuances of the course though: Moore was back in top form at the Memorial last week and is one of the best iron players on tour. Ryan opened 67-67 at the very difficult Muirfield Village last week and recorded a T18 finish. Lying 31st in strokes gained tee to green in 2015, he finished the '14 season 23rd in GIR% despite a driving distance ranking of 129. He was also 23rd in proximity. The Tacoma native averages 10th in driving accuracy over the last 18 months.
Luke Donald - 101.0 or 21.00 - is gradually building his game back to where it once was and he's another player exactly in the same mould as Jim Furyk. Simmering currently, Donald was just on the edge of contention both in the Irish Open and at the St. Jude Classic last week. The Irish Open according to Ernie Els played similarly to how Chambers Bay will play and Luke was right there early on the Sunday in Ireland: "After 4 days here at Royal County Down it will make Chambers Bay look like it's on steroids". Donald then went on to US Open qualify, jointly topping the sectionals at the Bear's Club in his adopted Florida. The Englishman posted 3 rounds in the 60s at a tough TPC Southwind at the weekend to finish top 30. Although the stats don't really show it this year, Donald is renowned for his proximity with the irons and especially scrambling ability when on form.
Marc Leishman -126.00 or 26.00 - will be familiar with the Chambers Bay conditions having grown up on the Australian Sandbelt golf courses. Leish is a self confessed lover of windy conditions and fast greens. He booked his US Open spot with an up and down on 18 at Colonial which got him in as no.60 in the OWGR (last qualifying position) at close of play a few week's back so he'll feel like he's freerolling. Leishman was T5 at Memorial where he ranked 22nd in ball striking. Interestingly Marc is 2nd in approaches from 150-175 feet, and the big man leads the tour in putting from 10-15'.