Brandel Chamblee is right about 8000-yard course length for U.S. Open

Jun 13, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; Dustin Johnson plays his shot from the second tee during a practice round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; Dustin Johnson plays his shot from the second tee during a practice round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports /

Brandel Chamblee said on Golf Channel the other day that he would like to see an 8,000-yard U.S. Open course. I’m glad he said it. I totally agree with him. In fact, 8,000 yards may not be long enough.

A couple of years ago, after watching player after player hit drives 360 to 370 yards at a variety of events, I wrote an article suggesting that 8,500 yards would be more appropriate for PGA TOUR courses because of the distance today’s professionals hit the ball. I wasn’t kidding. I was writing something in advance of THE PLAYERS, but the theory works for any PGA TOUR event or any top professional tournament, including the U.S. Open.

After watching guys like Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes nearly drive the green at the 18th at the Waste Management Open, and knowing that’s a modern course and not a 1920’s one, I got out an old media guide from the persimmon driver era, back when Greg Norman was one of the best drivers on the planet.  He was a deadly combination of long and straight, the Jason Day/Dustin Johnson/Rory McIlroy of his time off the tee.

In the year that Greg Norman set the scoring record at THE PLAYERS, his driving average for the year was between 275 and 280 yards off the tee. Even though that was the number, everybody knew Norman could hit a drive 300 yards when he wanted to, and he often did.  That same year, 1994, Davis Love III was the leader in driving distance with an average of 284 yards, and we all knew he could hit it farther than that, and he often did.

Then I looked up more recent Shotlink stats.

In 2016, J.B. Holmes was the driving distance leader at 312.7, followed by Dustin Johnson at 312.3 yards, and Bubba Watson at 308.6 yards. So today’s 312-yard drive is yesterday’s 280-285 yard drive.

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There’s obviously a 30-35 yard difference off the tee from Norman and Love in the early to mid-1990s to Holmes, Johnson and Watson.  To make courses of an earlier era work for today’s players and give them the challenge that their skill sets allow, today’s pros should be playing courses that are at least 30 to 35 yards longer off the tee.  The math is pretty straightforward.  Now some easy math.  14 holes x 30 yards = 420 yards. 14 x 35= 490 yards. That’s 18 holes with four par-threes, and 14 not-par-threes.

Second shots need to be longer as well, and for the sake of argument, let’s say a minimum of 20 yards longer and a maximum of 30 yards longer.

So that’s 20 to 30 yards on 10 holes that are par-fours for another 200 to 300 yards that need to be added to the courses.

A three-shot par-five these days has to be longer than 550 yards, so let’s say 560-570. Assume a minimum of a 290-300 yard drive, which leaves 260-270.  That would be for two additional shots for shorter hitters and one shot for the long guys.

We’ve all seen the commercials where Dustin Johnson hits an iron 274 and says, “That’s all I’ve got.”  All you’ve got?  That’s longer than what used to be the maximum suggested length of par- threes, which used to be 255, until the USGA made a par-three at Oakmont 288 yards at last year’s U.S. Open

If a hole is 600 yards, it’s probably a three-shot par-five, unless it’s downhill. There are three of those at this year’s U.S. Open.  Even a 350-yard drive on a 600-yard hole leaves 250 to the green, and it’s hard to hit two accurate shots in a row that far.

So, for par-fives, in addition to the 30-35 yards for the tee shot, we need to add 20 to 30 yards for the second shots, which adds up to between 50 and 65 yards per hole.  There are typically four par- fives, so four holes x 50 yards = 200 yards or four holes x 65 yards = 260 yards.

And nothing was added for third shots on the par-fives, so again, this is conservative.

It’s not as extreme as it sounds. Four years ago, the U.S. Open at Olympic Club had a 670-yard par five. Mandatory three shots for top players.  Mandatory four or five or six shots to get to the green for the rest of us.

Finally, let’s throw in 100 yards for the four par-threes, 25 yards per hole.

Adding up what we need to add, 420-490 yards for 14 tee shots, 200 to 300 yards for 10 second shots on par-fours, and at least 200-260 for four par-fives and 100 yards for four par-threes. That means today’s courses need to be 920 to 1150 yards longer to make them challenging for today’s players.

That takes a 7,200-yard course to between 8,120 and 8,350 yards. It means a 7,500-yard course would be between 8,420 and 8,650 yards.

Based just on the distance PGA TOUR pros hit the ball, they are quite capable of playing comfortably with the equipment of today at a yardage between 8,400 and 8,600 yards, just based on the eyeball test and the distances they hit the ball.

So, really, Chamblee’s suggestion of an 8000-yard course is great, but it’s just not long enough.

Next: US Open: A complete guide to all 156 players

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