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Congressional Country Club, a favourite of many of America's most famous politicians, will provide an exacting test when it hosts the US Open later this month

Home of the Brave T Courtesy of the USGA

he US Open is often described as the most difficult major to win. Unlike the Masters, which features a limited field, a maximum156 players will tee it up at the famed Blue Course at Congressional Country Club in Maryland this year – over half of whom will have made it through the rigours of International and Sectional Qualifying in the weeks leading up to the championship's June 14 start date. Then there's the course itself. US Open courses are man-sized affairs. The USGA's method of identifying the best golfer of the week has traditionally been to make the courses play at their very limit yardage-wise, while at the same time narrowing the fairways to exceptionally measly proportions. But unlike, say, the Old Course at St Andrews where there is at least some room to manoeuvre if the cut grass is not found, the US Open philosophy has been to penalise even the slightest misjudgement. More often than not, the only optional available to those missing landing areas has been the rather graceless hack back to the fairway. 50

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But these times they are a changing. Enter Mike Davis, the USGA's new executive director who, it could be argued, has more influence on whether the 2011 edition of the championship turns out to be a truly memorable one than any player in the field. Davis, a likeable Pennsylvanian in his mid-40s, was formerly the Open Championship director and his input over the past few years has gone some way to changing the perception of the US Open for the better in terms of its fairness and ability to produce a worthy champion. It was he who introduced the concept of "graduated rough" – which in layman's terms means that the penalty for missing the fairway is now determined by how HKGOLFER.COM

far a player hits it off line. Those just missing the landing area are now in theory much better off than those who hit it really crooked. It sounds basic enough but the simple ideas are often the best ones, and in this case Davis has earned the support of both the pros and the viewing public. The former like the fact that being a yard off the fairway doesn't necessarily mean they're left fighting for par, while the latter, fed up with the snooze fest that the US Open had become, are just happy to see the world's best being more aggressive in their shot selection than ever before. You can be sure that despite Davis' recent promotion, he'll be keeping extremely close tabs on how the Blue Course is prepared. HKGOLFER.COM

Make no mistake however: Congressional is still going to be as tough as old rope. Reigning US Open champion Graeme McDowell played the course for the first time at a USGA media day in early May and tweeted: "Congressional 7574 yards Par 71 US Open set up. No-one will break par." Once back in the clubhouse, his assessment was just as foreboding. "I'm hoping I got the wrong tee at eleven," he said, describing the 494-yard par-four, which features a creek down the right side of the fairway. "I can't really see much positive to say about that golf hole. If you're selling par-fours, I think I'm buying."

Blue Monster: The Blue Course, one of two courses at Congressional, is an undeniably scenic venue for this year's US Open, but it could prove to be one of the toughest courses in living memory. Defending champion Graeme McDowelll believes an over par score will win HK Golfer・JUN 2011

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Congressional Champs: Ernie Els (above) tasted US Open success for the second time in 1997 after holding off Colin Montgomerie by a stroke; Ken Venturi (right) won the first US Open to be staged here, in 1964, after defying extreme heat and humidity. He ended up recording a four-stroke win, helped by a fantastic 66 in the third round.

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It’s just as well McDowell wasn’t around for U.S. Open’s previous stops at Congressional because in many ways it’s a whole new golf course that, like Twitter, the social media of choice for McDowell and friends, is made for the new generation. The layout will be the second-longest in the championship’s history. If all the back tees are used, it will be some 350 yards longer than when Ernie Els won in 1997 and more than 500 yards longer than when Ken Venturi overcame the stifling heat for his 1964 victory. "We want the US Open to be a rigorous test," Davis said on the day. Congressional, which was originally designed by the relatively unknown Devereux Emmet, opened in 1924 and has been a favorite of many of the sport’s biggest names and some of America's most famed politicians (it's an easy drive from Capitol Hill), but, like many storied courses across the country, it has needed tinkering to keep up with the times. When Els won his second US Open title fourteen years ago, the course had a par-three finish – a rarity for a major tournament. That

NUMBERS GAME

The number of strokes that Ernie Els won the 1997 US Open by. The South African recorded a four-round total of 276 (four-under-par) at Congressional to hold off Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, who finished in second place. The only other time the course has held the national championship, in 1964, Ken Venturi won by four shots.

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The journey time, in minutes, from the White House in Washington DC to Congressional. Seven presidents on the United States have been members of the club – William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford.

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Courtesy of the USGA

The length, in yards, of the newly-configured par-four eighteenth hole at Congressional. The former closing hole on the Blue Course was a par-three, which will now play as the tenth. The layout will play over three hundred yards longer than it did in 1997.

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hole has since been rebuilt and is now the tenth, while the eighteenth is a monumental 523-yard par-four that slopes downward toward the water. Els and co played it previously as the seventeenth and the big South African is under no illusions how dangerous the elongated closer has become. "That will be some hole," Els said. "It might decide the winner. The green is right into the water, and the water comes around on the left and behind the green. You have to find the fairway. If you don't, you're going to have trouble hitting your second shot onto the green. In 1997, I was one of the few guys to hit the green and two-putt for par. The other guys missed and made bogeys and doubles." McDowell's belief that this year's champion will finish over par is perhaps a reflection of his own relative lack of length. The Ulsterman isn't counted among golf's power hitters – which wasn't a problem at Pebble Beach last year – and there are many other holes aside from the eighteenth that demand distance. The ninth, for example, is now a monstrous 636-yard par-five and will have the worst rough on the course in a gully right in front of the green. There is one concession in favour of the field: the 555-yard sixth will play as a par-five instead of a par-four. Par for the course, which was 70 on the two previous occasions Congressional hosted the US Open, has been raised by one. Changes to the course aside, the USGA has altered the championship's qualifying criteria too – and for the better. Last year Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler finished first and second at the Memorial Tournament two weeks earlier and made it into the top 50 in the world, but they had left their run too late because the fully exempt categories for the US Open had been settled prior to that event. The duo then failed to play their way via Sectional Qualifying, which resulted in a less than satisfactory situation: two of the most in-form players in professional golf were not in the field. Now, any player in the top echelons of the world rankings in the week of the championship will be exempted. Common sense has prevailed. Picking the US Open champion is never a simple exercise (see Archie Albatross' punting tips on page 67 for his thoughts on the matter) but it's worth noting that Tiger Woods, for all his recent troubles, has considerable Congressional form. His own tournament, the AT&T National, was staged over the Blue Course two years ago and the "Great One" recorded a gutsy victory. It's a different Tiger these days of course, and it's a different Congressional, but if Woods can prevail it would surely mark one of the most unlikely comebacks in US Open history. We'll soon find out. The wait is nearly over. HKGOLFER.COM

1106CongressionalHomeOfTheBrave  

HKGOLFER.COM 50 HK GOLFER・JUN 2011 HKGOLFER.COM HK GOLFER・JUN 2011 51 us open preview Blue Monster: The Blue Course, one of two courses at C...

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