Winged Foot Will Provide a Psychological Test Like No Other
Collin Morikawa describes it as the most difficult golf course he has ever seen, Tiger Woods arrived and promptly announced that it is becoming increasingly difficult to win majors at the age of 44 and Rory McIlroy has warned the USGA about avoiding what he described as “goofy golf”.
Yes, it must be the week of the US Open, which this week is being staged at Winged Foot, a course that has a history for bringing the world’s best players to their knees. In other words, you can expect the field to talk up the course before the action gets under way and to start complaining about how difficult it is after they have played.
McIlroy has never played the New York course before and his first impressions have been largely positive, but he fears a tough course set-up could have dire consequences. And this being the US Open, you can bet your last pound on the fact that the set-up will be as tough as it gets, with thick rough, lightning-fast putting surfaces and inaccessible pin positions. Expect to see plenty of double-bogeys - and worse.
The USGA has often been criticised for its handling of various set-ups for the US Open, most recently during the third round at Shinnecock Hills in 2018 when certain pin positions were chosen without taking into account a strengthening breeze and a course that became drier and faster throughout the day. And then there was the shambles that was Chambers Bay.
Woods believes Winged Foot is "up there with Oakmont and Carnoustie" as the toughest courses in major golf, and McIlroy urged the tournament officials to avoid going "over the edge" when setting the course up for each round.
"This is the first time I've had a look at it," said McIlroy. "I played 18 holes on Monday and loved what I saw. It's hard, obviously, but I think it's very, very fair. When I played Oakmont for the first time, my initial reaction was, 'this place is impossible’.
"This course gives you a little more chance if you miss it, I guess. You can run the ball up on to the greens and maybe it's a touch more playable, but it's a tough track, and I'm still learning it as I go here. I've only played 18 holes here, but something would have to go seriously wrong to get into the realms of goofy golf. I think good shots here seem to get rewarded.
"Going back to Oakmont, it's a wonderful golf course, but I think the Oakmont set-up normally is right about on the edge, and if you just go a little further, then that can start to get a little goofy, where here it doesn't seem like that can happen. Certainly if you get it way too firm and you get some crosswinds and stuff, it can get pretty dicey, but from what I've seen yesterday and today, I expect that not to happen.
"It's cooler temperatures. I'm sure the course can get pretty firm, but it's a little different in September than it usually is in June, as well, I guess.”
Morikawa said that he dropped a couple of balls in the rough and struggled to find them and, when he did, realised that he would only be able to pull out a wedge and hack his way back onto the fairway. In other words, keep the ball in play off the tee - something that he does time after time.
McIlroy’s most recent victory in a major came more than six years ago and he says that his priorities have now changed having enjoyed time at home with his wife Erica, and two-week-old daughter Poppy.
"I think it just puts things in perspective a little bit," he added. "My career it matters to me and I care about it very much, but at the same time, it makes the hard days a little easier to get over. I'm not saying that I want to have hard days to get over, but yeah, you're a little more relaxed.
"When I say it's not the be-all and end-all, it's a major championship and I've grown up my whole life dreaming of winning these tournaments, and that's not going to change, but if it doesn't quite happen, I can live with that and go home and be very happy and leave what's happened at the golf course at the golf course.
"I think that's maybe something that I haven't done so well in the past is I haven't left my job at the office basically, I've brought it home with me, and I've let it affect my mood and how I am. I think having that little bit more perspective definitely helps."
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