With the world's best players set to take on Congressional's Blue Course during this week's U.S. Open, The Washington Times' Dan Daly sat down with club pro John Lyberger for a hole-by-hole look at how the course should play. It's a par 71 that will measure from 7,200 to 7,300 yards, depending on where USGA executive director Mike Davis puts the pins and tees. The front side is more forgiving than the back, Lyberger says, "so if you can pick up some birdies there and play the back nine level par, you're doing all right."
1 (402 yards, par 4) — One of the most benign opening holes you'll ever see in the Open. If you've got some jitters — and how many players don't? — No. 1 should calm them a bit, especially since a driver may not be necessary. Bunkers pinch the front of the green from either side, but there are no major complications.
Lyberger: "A great hole to make a birdie on. If you hit the fairway and get your ball far enough down there, you should have a 100-yard shot to the green. These guys are so good with their short irons and wedges that they should be able to stick it in pretty close. Worse case, you'll make par."
2 (233 yards, par 3) — OK, the party's over. Now you're dealing with the longest par 3 on the course, with bunkers that once again squeeze the green. In 1997, Ben Crenshaw used his driver here all four rounds.
Lyberger: "It's uphill. And with a little wind in your face, it's probably going to play [like it's] 255 to 260 to the hole. If you can fly it 240, 245 to that opening up front, it's going to leave you with a ball that's going to roll out to that back hole location."
3 (466 yards, par 4) — A new tee box has turned this hole into a slight right-to-left dogleg. From the fairway, you're hitting uphill to the green.
Lyberger: "All the new tee boxes are slightly off-center, so the days of just banging it out there and hitting the ball as far as you can are gone. The players are forced to shape their shots."
4 (470 yards, par 4) — Another new tee box makes this hole 40 yards longer than it was in 1997. Also, the fairway has been moved farther left to create more of a dogleg.
Lyberger: "You really want to hit your approach to the right level of the green [top or bottom, depending on where the pin is]. A ridge runs through it, and it's difficult to transition from one area to another in terms of putting. If you hit over the green to the [shaved] collection area, it's a really hard shot. You can't get any spin on the ball, and the green slopes away from you."
5 (413 yards, par 4) — Another birdie opportunity that, like No. 1, probably won't require a driver. But a player will need to hit a draw to take advantage of this hole — and if he bends his ball too much, it could end up in one of the bunkers to the left.
Lyberger: "The green has a lot of undulation and is sloped from left to right. Hitting your approach too far right will likely put you in the collection area."
6 (555 yards, par 5) — In '97, this was a wicked par 4. But with some added length, it's been transformed into a par 5 that's reachable in two. The green is guarded by water on the right, though, so there's potential trouble.
Lyberger: "The players will mostly be landing their tee shots at the pinch point, where the fairway [narrows]. They're left with 243 yards to the green. You know the pin is going to be tucked along that right side [in one or more rounds], and you won't be able to go at it because of the water." As an added attraction, "There's a nice big old snake that lives in those rocks [bordering the green]."
7 (173 yards, par 3) — A very manageable uphill par 3 to a green protected by three front bunkers.
Lyberger: "The next two holes give you chances for birdies. No. 7 is probably the easiest par 3. Length is not a big factor. The hole location will dictate how hard the hole plays. But there are several levels to this [front-to-back sloping] green, so like No. 4 you want to be on the correct level from a putting standpoint. If you hit the green, you've got a pretty good chance at 2. If you miss, 4 is a likely story."
8 (354 yards, par 4) — If you can keep your tee ball in the fairway, this hole isn't too daunting. You don't want to mishit your approach, though, not with five bunkers ready to swallow it up.
Lyberger: "This is probably the shortest hole we have out here. You hit a little fairway metal off the tee, and then you've got a good opportunity to wedge one in there close.
9 (636 yards, par 5) — An already lengthy hole has been made 30 yards longer by a new tee box, which means everybody will be laying up. The end of the fairway plunges into a deep ravine, so you don't want to be too nonchalant with your second shot.
Lyberger: "You've got to be careful hitting a wedge in there with a front hole location. You can spin it back off the green, and it can be hard to get it up and down. They'll probably move the tee up one day so that the boys can go for it in 2. That would certainly be beneficial if you can pull it off. In [the AT&T National] you could hit that green in 2 and still hold it. Under Open conditions, though, with the greens so fast, I'm not sure you can hold the green coming in hot with a fairway wood."
10 (218 yards, par 3) — This hole was added a few years ago, replacing the old par-3 finishing hole (and going in the opposite direction across the pond). The water, obviously, makes it a scary proposition, and the deep bunkers behind the green are no picnic, either.
Lyberger: "They say a dry ball is a happy ball — until you hit it over this green into one of these bunkers. They're truly hazards. The sand is much softer than you would normally see in country club bunkers, softer and thicker, and it's hard to put spin on the ball. That's a problem, because you're hitting to a green that slopes away from you, toward the water. It's going to be a challenge to get that ball to stop without spin."
11 (494 yards, par 4) — Just a beast. You're looking at a long second shot into a narrow green that's flanked on the right by a pond. Par is a great score here.
Lyberger: "There used to be two large fairway bunkers out on the right that kept balls from going into the creek. Well, now those bunkers are gone. So any ball that's hit over in that area has a chance to roll on in. The fairway also slopes sharply from left to right [increasing the likelihood that a tee shot might kick into the creek]. Don't forget: In one of the first two rounds you're going to start on 10 and 11. If you can get through those two holes in level par or better, you're really ahead of the game."
12 (471 yards, par 4) — Thanks to a new tee box, this dogleg left will play as much as 55 yards longer than before. If you hit through the green and wind up on the shaved downslope to the left, you might want to putt from there with your metal 3-wood — like Tiger Woods did in '97, when he holed out for a birdie.
Lyberger: "When the tee is moved up, you'll be seeing guys use fairway metals, hybrids and [2-] irons and trying to turn [the ball] around that corner, get it to feed down as far as it can. Because the trees on the left jut out so far, I don't think many guys can hit it up and over the corner and get it in front of the green."
13 (193 yards, par 3) — A midiron should do the trick. The heart-shaped green pitches fairly dramatically from back to front, so you don't want to hit long when there's a front hole location. The putt would be awfully slippery coming back.
Lyberger: "Pretty straightforward. Typical Rees Jones bunkers that kind of eat into the green complex. Plays a lot longer when the hole location is back left. It's a tough one to get to because of how firm it is over there."
14 (467 yards, par 4) — The fairway narrows about 150 yards from the green, which may discourage the longer hitters from using their drivers. That'll make the hole play longer than it is.
Lyberger: "In my opinion, this is where the real golf course begins. Fourteen, 15, 16, 17, 18 — many of these holes are brutal coming in. If you miss the fairway to the right here, you're almost guaranteed a 5. Even if you leave yourself a 6- or 10-footer for par, chances are you've got a pretty undulating putt."
15 (490 yards, par 4) — Another nightmare. A new tee has turned the 440-yard hole in '97 into a 490-yard monster. Four fairway bunkers to the right will catch many wayward drives.
Lyberger: "It's a great hole. The second shot plays uphill, long, to a front-left-to-back-right undulating green, with bunkers that really protect that right side. If you're in the rough 200-plus yards from the hole, your best bet is to try to get your ball into that narrow opening on the front left and use your flatstick to get down in two."
16 (579 yards, par 5) — The two fairway bunkers on the left have been pushed farther down to create a pinch point. The green is elevated, and any approach that doesn't hold it will roll down into the collection area and possibly even the pine straw.
Lyberger: "It's about 300 yards to carry that first left bunker where it juts out into the fairway. If you can carry that, you'll probably have about 230 left to the hole, which will give you the feeling of maybe wanting to go for it [in 2]. "
17 (437 yards, par 4) — The distinguishing characteristic here is a two-level fairway. The upper part stops about 150 yards from the hole; the lower part picks up about 50 yards farther down. The area in between used to be thick rough, but the USGA has mowed it to give players the option of driving through to the bottom fairway and giving themselves a possible wedge to the green.
Lyberger: "Before, everybody was forced to lay up on top. About the only one who didn't was Vijay [Singh]. In Tiger's tournament, I remember him hitting driver time after time and not quite getting to the bottom [fairway] and getting hung up in the rough. The green complex [featuring five bunkers] is either No. 1 or No. 2 [for difficulty]. It's pretty severe."
18 (523 yards, par 4) — Has the Open ever had a more demanding finishing hole? It previously measured 468 yards, but it's significantly longer now. The peninsula green presents all kinds of danger — as Tom Lehman, who dunked his ball here in the final round in '97 (when it was the 17th hole), can tell you.
Lyberger: "Your drive needs about 300 yards of carry before it gets to the area of the fairway that's flat and allows the ball to roll down. If you can get your ball on the downslope, it should roll out to about 200 yards [from the green]. The green is well guarded on three sides by water and, from that distance, you can't play to a back-left hole location [though Lehman, desperate for a birdie, tried]. You really need to play more toward the center of the green, shaping your shot from right to left to get it to feed into that back part of the green."