Long journey for US Open golfers at Congressional

Reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell played the famed

Blue Course at Congressional Country Club for the first time

Monday. It was just a look-see practice round, so naturally it

wasn’t televised.

But, this being the 21st century, it was very much

Twitterized.

”Congressional 7574 yards Par 71 US Open set up,” he tweeted

during his round. ”No-one will break par.”

Once he was back in the clubhouse, his assessment was just as

foreboding.

”I’m hoping I got the wrong tee at 11,” he said, describing

the 494-yard par-4 with the 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 four 4s, I’m think I’m buying.”

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, is made for the new generation.

The layout will be the second longest in the championship’s history

when the event returns to the suburbs of the nation’s capital on

June 16-19. 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 legendary 1964 victory.

”We want the U.S. Open to be a rigorous test,” U.S. Golf

Association Executive Director Mike Davis said at Monday’s media

day.

Congressional opened in 1924 and has been a favorite of many of

the sport’s biggest names and some of the nation’s most famed

politicians, but, like many storied courses across the country, it

has needed tinkering to keep up with the times.

-When Els won in ’97, the course had a par-3 finish – a rarity

for a major tournament. That hole has since been rebuilt and is now

the 10th, while the 18th is a breathtaking 523-yard par-4 that

slopes downward toward the water.

-When Tiger Woods’ tournament, the AT&T National, was played

there a few years back, golfers couldn’t stop complaining about the

bumpy greens. Steve Stricker said he would tap the ball and it

would go ”any which way it wants.” As a result, all 18 greens

were rebuilt in 2009-10 with a kind of hybrid grass that better

resists the humidity of the mid-Atlantic summers. Davis said the

greens will be set to play ”very fast” during the

championship.

-There are eight new tee boxes, set way back to increase the

yardage. The par-5 ninth can now play up to 636 yards – and will

have worst rough on the course in a gully right in front of the

green. Such a layout poses a problem for McDowell, who isn’t a

particularly long hitter and didn’t need to be when he won at

Pebble Beach last year.

-There is one concession in favor of the field. The 555-yard

sixth hole will play as a par 5 instead of a par 4. Par for the

course was 70 in ’64 and ’97, but this time it’s 71.

”Let me repeat that: The USGA is actually making par go up, not

down,” Davis said.

Overall, though, the course had to be altered to bring its

hazards back into play to match the longer game of today. Davis

said his goal was to make it so the golfers would be using the same

clubs the architect had in mind when the holes were designed nearly

a century ago.

The trick is to do it without altering the character and feel of

the place. Ben Brundred Jr., co-chairman of Congressional’s U.S.

Open committee, knew such changes were inevitable when Tom Kite, at

age 55, had the lead after three rounds when the Booz Allen Classic

was played there in 2005.

”So what are you going to do?” Brundred said. ”You’ve got a

55-year-old guy that’s 40 yards longer than he was in his prime.

The holes have to change.”