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US Open at Pebble Beach to feature less rough

After 50 years of torturing U.S. Open competitors with ankle-deep rough, the USGA has had a change of heart and next month at Pebble Beach will cut the primary rough down to about three inches. The last time the Open was at Pebble, in 1992, the rough was six inches.

The USGA had relied on the deep stuff as a way to defend par ever since heavy rough turned Oakland Hills into a monster for the landmark '51 Open. But the bluecoats finally tried something different a year ago at Pinehurst, where the rough was cut at four inches and chipping was reintroduced to the championship. Players could reach the green with approaches from the rough but couldn't spin the ball enough to hold the sloped putting surfaces. Pinehurst turned out to be a win-win: The players praised the setup, while statistically the USGA still extracted a half-stroke penalty for an errant drive.

That success led the USGA to adopt a similar strategy this year. "I don't like a setup where both Tiger Woods and Fred Funk automatically reach for a sand wedge after hitting it in the rough," says USGA executive director David Fay. "It came home to me in 1998 at the Olympic Club, where we didn't grow the rough quite as thickly as we could have. I watched Tom Lehman, a very strong player, slash at a medium-iron approach and fly it on the green. But the ball bounced over into a place from which it was very difficult to get up and down. I thought, Whether they have to pitch back into the fairway or have a chance to reach the green, it's not going to change the score that much. So why not give them options and allow some creativity? It's certainly a lot more fun to watch."

Because the greens at Pebble Beach are smaller than those at Pinehurst and because they will be surrounded by some rough, hitting approaches to the greens from the rough will be more of a gamble this year than it was in '99. "That's fine," says Fay. "Each Open course should be different. We don't want to take a cookie-cutter approach. The main thing is that any changes we make will not cause the U.S. Open to lose its imprimatur as the world's toughest championship. We are simply trying to make it better."


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