Birds were chirping an angelic song as the morning sun began to peer through the thin cloud blanketing the region. The morning dew was kissed by the rays of sunlight that cast shadows through the towering Carolina pines and magnificent magnolias that surrounded the idyllic setting.
Where was I?
Friday at Pinehurst, I spent a majority of the day camped out in the grandstands behind No. 6 green.
But don’t let the picturesque conditions fool you. This was no stroll through the park. No way. There was carnage here. Lots of it. A diabolical green flanked by gnarly bunkers awaited the golfers a full 245 yards away at the tee box. And did I mention that it’s a par 3?
The USGA officials must have been smirking with sinister delight as they watched the world’s best players struggle to hit the surface of a par-3 that really could have easily been labeled a par 4 on the scorecard Friday.
I watched as 15 groupings came through. That’s 45 elite players. I never saw a single birdie. What’s more, there were only two groups that escaped without a bogey. Getting through this brute unscathed required a monumental effort. I have no visual proof that it can even be done.
To begin with, you have only small fraction of the green to aim for. The rest of the shortly mowed stuff is merely a mirage – vicious runoffs bookend the front and back of the putting surface. The false front rudely rejects any short balls that don’t make it up to the top shelf.
But if you fly it a couple yards too far past the pin, you don’t have a prayer either. Your ball will come careening off the back edge to make for a difficult chip.
I saw more than a few players get a taste of both sides of the green – missing short only to watch their pitch make the agonizing trip back down the other side of the surface.
And even the machine-like German Martin Kaymer, who has been hitting greens with surgical precision all week long, failed to get it on the dance floor of No. 6. Of course, he did manage to get it up and down from the bunker for a magical par.
The fans seated around me were enjoying the struggles. And I’ll admit, a part of me was enjoying watching their misery as well. After a while, we knew what to expect before it happened.
You could tell off the club’s face whether the ball had too much speed to stick on the bowl-shaped green. But each time, it was exciting. Perhaps that’s what makes the US Open so validating for fans.
It makes us feel better about our own games. Given, none of us would be able to break 100 on No. 2, or most other US Open set-up courses, but still, we see shots and results that we’re used to from the best players on the planet. There’s something comforting about that.
A par on this hole was a birdie. And it didn’t take me long to figure that one out. But I didn’t mind it one bit. To spend a day out by No. 6 at Pinehurst No. 2 is to watch a microcosm of what the US Open is – a fight for survival.