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US Open 2022

Will the US Open’s big hitters go for the green on The Country Club’s reachable par-4s?

The Country Club may have short par-4s, but there are also tricky greens and thick rough that can vex golfers.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Curtis Strange, the 1988 US Open winner at The Country Club, was chatting earlier this spring with Jeff Hall, the director of championships for the US Golf Association. The conversation turned to the 312-yard par-4 at TCC that will play as the fifth hole at this year’s US Open.

“With Curtis Strange, it was 3-iron, 9-iron,” Hall said. “Nobody plays golf that way anymore. I’m really fascinated to see how the fifth hole will play for the modern golfer.”

The Country Club, nearly 130 years old and one of the five founding members of the USGA, is not long by today’s standards. This year’s US Open will play at 7,264 yards, about 400 yards shorter than last year’s championship at Torrey Pines. Drives of 350 yards that are now common for the Bryson DeChambeaus and Scottie Schefflers were not in the realm of possibility when The Country Club course was built in the 1890s, or for the three previous US Opens in 1913, 1963, and 1988.

But many golfers almost certainly will be going for the green from the tee box on No. 5, and might not even have to use driver. They also will have a chance to let it rip on No. 7 (375 yards) and No. 17 (373 yards), which could be reachable from the tee. The days of playing a couple of safe iron shots into the green are long gone.

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And that’s just fine with the USGA and the stewards at TCC. In fact, recent course work by architect Gil Hanse created a fairway running up to the fifth green to make it enticing to try to reach the green from the tee.

“I wouldn’t say that we necessarily want or don’t want to see players going for that green,” said Stephen Pellegrino, a TCC member and the vice chair for the US Open. “They just need to decide whether it’s worth it or not.

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“It’s one thing to make that decision when you’re pulling the club out of the bag, and it’s another thing to follow through with it.”

DeChambeau, whose status for the championship is in question because of a wrist injury, already proved that he can overpower an old-school golf course. He won the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot, avoiding the pitfalls of the USGA’s notoriously thick rough by consistently launching big drives near the greens and leaving himself with short pitch shots. DeChambeau won the tournament at 6 under, the only golfer to finish below par.

The USGA and TCC are excited about the possibility of golfers going for it on the short par-4s. The renowned 17th hole is about 355 yards to the front bunker, and could make for a wild finish Sunday.

“It’s going to be fun seeing that hole at 17 coming down to the wire,” said Brendan Walsh, director of golf at TCC. “Will somebody take a chance to drive the green if they’re in the hunt, versus playing an iron out there and trying to play to that two-tiered green? Distance control is going to be critical there.”

Of course, the golfers also will have to contend with TCC’s other significant challenges — blind tee shots, 6 inches of rough, fescue grass, fairway bunkers that protect doglegs, notoriously tiny greens, and undulations that can be nearly impossible when putting downhill.

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“How the players play is not for us to decide,” Hall said. “They get to choose what clubs they want to use and how they want to attack all the holes. It was fascinating to see that the way Bryson played was successful. I’m not sure anyone would have predicted that. Maybe that same style will be successful here? I don’t know.”

That’s not to say the golfers will be using driver/sand wedge (or driver/putter) on every hole. The opening four holes will be lengthy: par-4s of 488, 499, and 493 yards, and a 215-yard par-3. The back nine has par-4s of 499 and 510 yards. The 14th hole is a 619-yard par-5 with a two-tiered fairway and a blind approach shot that will be difficult to reach in two.

“That’s an adult golf hole,” Hall said.

The 14th fairway, shown in May before the rough was fully grown out.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The course will look a little different to the handful of golfers who have seen it before. It will have a different routing than the one that was used in its last four major events (’63 and ‘88 US Opens, ‘99 Ryder Cup, and 2013 Amateur), with holes 8-14 now set in a different order. The USGA also eliminated what used to be the fourth hole, and added a new 11th hole, a 131-yard downhill par-3 into a tabletop green.

Hanse added a couple of new tee boxes to add a few extra yards, but he was limited by the relatively small size of TCC’s property.

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Instead, Hanse and TCC toughened the course by restoring it to its feel from the 1930s. Fifteen greens that had shrunk over the decades were expanded, giving the USGA new hole locations. Grass was shortened in front of certain bunkers to make it easier for balls to run into the sand. Fairway bunkers were repositioned with a specific distance in mind — 310 yards to clear them. Trees and underbrush that started to overtake the course were trimmed or removed, allowing better air flow.

“Wind is much more of a factor now than it ever was,” Pellegrino said.

Though a lot of attention may be placed on the big drives off the tee, the championship still will likely come down to shot placement and short game.

“It’s a US Open course — small greens, tight fairways, a lot of rough,” Hall said. “May the best player win.”


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.