MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Waiting for the green to clear ahead, Sergio Garcia looked behind him at the five holes he played Wednesday at Winged Foot and recited a list of clubs that rarely come out of his bag.
A 6-iron into the opening par 4. A 5-iron on the next hole. He had just finished the fifth hole, where he smoked a driver and had 4-iron into the green, pin-high and about 35 feet to the left.
That’s just getting to the green.
Patrick Reed stood in deep rough about a yard beyond the green on the first hole, hit a gentle flop and watched it roll down a ridge, feed over to another slope and run off the front of the green.
Welcome to Winged Foot, and a U.S. Open that needs no introduction. Narrow fairways. Thick rough. Tough greens. It’s a simple formula that for years defined the American championship, one that has been missing in recent years by trying new venues (Chambers Bay and Erin Hills) or getting gentle weather (Pebble Beach).
And there were times when the USGA tried to influence the degree of difficulty, such as the pin positions and green speeds on Saturday at Shinnecock Hills.
None of that appears necessary at Winged Foot, the century-old design that has yielded only two 72-hole scores under par in the five U.S. Opens it has hosted since 1929.
No one expects the winner to break par this week, even with the move from June to September, and no one expects the USGA to have to do much to tinker with the West course.
And no one summed up the test better than John Bodenhamer, the senior managing director of championships for the USGA and the person in charge of setting up the course.
“We will let Winged Foot be Winged Foot,” he said.
The measure of a difficult U.S. Open for years was how loudly players complained. Jack Nicklaus always talked about ruling players out when he heard them griping about the conditions. But that’s the highest compliment Winged Foot can receive. It tends to produce the highest scores and the fewest complaints.
The field is only 144 players, the smallest since there were 143 players in 1932, because of the move to September and the loss of nearly three hours of daylight. There also was no qualifying for the first time in more than a century because of the coronavirus pandemic. And like every tournament since golf resumed, there will be no spectators.
Winged Foot still might be more crowded than other tournaments, mainly because of more volunteers required to help find tee shots in the rough. That’s what the U.S. Open brings that other tournaments haven’t. Big crowds lead to thick grass that is trampled down by the end of the week.