Pinehurst No. 2 tests world’s best

U.S. Open returns for the fourth time

Tiger Woods hits from the bunker on the 17th hole during a Monday practice round at the U.S. Open golf in Pinehurst (Matt York/AP Photo)

The U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst No. 2 this week. For the best golfers in the world, that means only one thing—trouble.

The Open offers the highest purse of golf’s majors—over $20 million last year, including $3.6 million to the winner. However, it makes the golfers earn their money with challenging course conditions and pin placements. And nowhere offers as big a challenge as Pinehurst No. 2.


Consider, this is the fourth time the course has hosted the U.S. Open. In the previous three events, a total of four golfers broke par. Only two of the previous three winners finished below par.

“This is a pretty typical U.S. Open in the sense that par is a great friend to you all week,” said Webb Simpson. “It’s a brutally hard golf course.”

An early look at the course seemed to promise more of the same for the 2024 tournament. On Monday’s practice rounds to open the week, the word of the day seemed to be “penal.”

In golf, a hole or section of the course is considered penal if the only way to reach the green in regulation is to take an enormous risk and flirt with disaster, or at least a severe penalty. In other words, danger abounds on Pinehurst No. 2.

The course can get you on your approach to the green. When discussing the native grasses that the course has planted on either side of the fairways (in place of much easier-playing Bermuda grass),” Simpson said, “The native areas have grown in a lot more. So that’s part of the prep we were doing, is one of us take the right side and one take the left and see which one’s thicker. Quite a few holes, one side is a little more penal than the other.”

Even once you’re reached the greens, a golfer isn’t safe. Competitors ranted about how fast the greens were, meaning that one wrong hit, and your ball could go flying off, perhaps into the sand or water.

2023 U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark said, “The greens are extremely fast and penal. You hit it on the green, the hole is not done.”

The course will also be one of the longest on this season’s PGA Tour. The combination of distance, rough and treacherous greens create a puzzle that will take the field most of the week to crack, assuming they ever manage to.

Part of the problem is the unpredictability of both greens and rough.

“It’s hit or miss,” said Simpson. “The way we’re looking at it, is if you hit, I don’t know, 15 drives for the week in the native area, you’re going to get some bad lies, some good lies; you just got to take it from there. Can’t get too down. You might play with a guy, y’all hit in the same area, he hits it on the green, and you have to pitch out. That’s just part of it.”

Then again, don’t be too jealous of the player that made it to the green in Simpson’s example. His battle is only just begun.

“I was just amazed how fast the greens are,” Clark said. “ If they get any firmer and faster, they’d be borderline. They already are borderline. … As far as practicing, today I went with my caddie and we just were really charting to certain pins, like we’d rather be here than there. Sometimes that almost could mean, not that you’re trying to miss a green, but you’re erring towards the easier up and down.”

So, will golf fans be witnessing a weekend of carnage at Pinehurst? The good news is that an outstanding field will be on hand to contend with the course. The winners of the last 13 opens—12 different golfers—are in the field, and all but one winner since 2008 will be competing. At the top of the list is Scottie Scheffler.

With plenty of golf to play, Scheffler has already set the single-season PGA earnings record, and he’s the first golfer since 1980 to post five tour wins before the Open.

“Guys like Scottie right now are making it look real easy,” Clark said.

“There’s so much excitement with so many guys playing well; Scottie dominating,” Simpson said. “I almost feel the excitement in the air this week already on a Monday.”