Lessons From No. 2

What can you learn about upping your game from this Pinehurst gem? Plenty, say our experts.

By Evan Rothman | Photo by Chip Henderson

North Carolina’s Pinehurst Resort and its famed No. 2 course make history this June, hosting back-to-back national championships: the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open. On consecutive weeks, golf fans have the unique chance to spend quality TV time with one of America’s greatest layouts, as well as see how elite men and women players attack the same challenges.

Focused less on driving length and accuracy than shot-making variety and short-game acumen, this Donald Ross masterpiece is most beloved and feared for its diabolical green complexes. Even viewed from afar, its lessons can make you a better player no matter your home course. With that in mind, we assembled a team of esteemed experts to discern what you can take away from No. 2’s biggest challenges.

Bill Coore on ...

No. 2’s test: The course’s setup offers countless options for attacking a hole, which can produce uncertainty.
“It’s very different from the presentation of most U.S. Open courses. You see wider fairways and native roughs that allow for recovery. It’s not so dictatorial. You can play its holes in different ways, depending on your skill level and comfort level with certain shots. No. 2 showcases that, even with wider fairways, the world’s best players have to make decisions about where to play.”

Takeaway: “Watch and listen to how these players go about playing a course that gives them options — to play short to certain parts of a fairway so wide they couldn’t possibly miss it, or to try to get closer to the green and play into more narrow parts, for example. This will create thought processes for how you should think about your own games, such as: ‘When I have different options, how do I choose what’s right for me, not what’s right for the three friends I’m playing with? What should I do on this hole?’ That’s the key lesson of Pinehurst No. 2.”

Expert bragging rights:
Coore, golf course designer and native North Carolinian, grew up playing Pinehurst’s Donald Ross courses. He and design partner Ben Crenshaw oversaw No. 2’s 15-month-long restoration that debuted in March 2011.

Curtis Strange on ...

No. 2’s test: Less-manicured conditions off the fairways can produce outcomes worse than the wayward shot itself, potentially throwing players’ emotions for a loop.
“With the way Crenshaw and Coore renovated the course so that it’s now just fairways and waste areas, with no rough, one of the big issues is how players handle what they might perceive as ‘unfairness’ — say, a not-so-bad drive that gets blocked behind a clump of wiregrass in the waste area. You can get lucky or unlucky. That kind of thing can happen in golf anywhere. I always say, if you want fairness, don’t play a game that takes place outdoors, in nature.”

Takeaway: “You have to be strong enough mentally to take your medicine and get the ball back in play. Doing that and then wedging the ball in close from 50 yards saves more pars than trying miracle recovery shots. Unlike the average Tour event, which is a sprint to make birdies, the U.S. Open is a marathon, where the pros have to minimize bogeys, just like amateurs should always minimize double-bogeys — those are the round-killers.”

Expert bragging rights: Strange won back-to-back championships on Pinehurst No. 2 at the North and South Amateur (1975-’76) before pulling off the same feat in the U.S. Open (1988 at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and 1989 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.).

Cristie Kerr on ...

No. 2’s test: Since the course now lacks rough, wayward or ill-considered drives run into fairway bunkers and waste areas, leaving far more of these situations than usual.
“These shots make amateurs nervous, and require some technical adjustments. Even on Tour, fairway bunkers are probably the least-practiced shot — practice areas are hard to find, and it’s not a shot Tour players encounter often.”

Takeaway: “Dig your feet into the sand for stability, and then grip down on the club to compensate. The ball position needs to move back a little, as you want the club shaft leaning forward a bit. Too many players try to pick the ball cleanly off the sand. What you want to do is hit down, contacting the ball first and essentially taking a divot. To practice, put your ball in a shallow divot on the driving range and treat it like it’s a fairway bunker shot.

“Waste areas may be a bit firmer, so you don’t have to dig in quite as much, and you can ground your club. Generally, you don’t make perfectly solid contact on these shots, and gripping down on the club takes away a little distance, too, so consider taking one club more — a 6-iron instead of a 7-iron, for example.”

Expert bragging rights:
A 16-time winner on the LPGA Tour and a former World No. 1-ranked player, Kerr won the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Golf Club, another Donald Ross design, just five miles east of Pinehurst.

Eric Alpenfels on ...

No. 2’s test: The raised greens, runoff areas, and tightly mowed grass face players with plenty of short shots around the greens and nearly as many shot options.
“Unlike Tour pros, club players generally want to putt the ball when not far off the green — less than 6 feet or so — because you can be most precise that way and there’s not much time for the ball to get knocked off line. Beyond that, whether you want to chip or bump-and-run depends on your comfort level with each shot and the undulation of the terrain, both to the green and on the green itself.”

Takeaway: “Technically, I like to see both chipping and the bump-and-run done similarly to a putting stroke, with firm wrists throughout the shot. The main difference will be ball position. With chips, you want your weight forward and the ball back-of-center in your stance to help get the hands ahead. Then you want to keep them ahead. So many amateurs flip their hands through impact to try to help the ball up, which results in thin shots or heavy shots. One simple drill: Place a coin about 6 inches ahead of the ball and try to hit it on the follow-through.

“For the bump-and-run with a hybrid — which has become such a popular shot because the club improves the margin for error on contact — you want the ball in the middle of your stance. A hybrid doesn’t have much loft, and you’re just sweeping the ball off the ground.”

Expert bragging rights: Last year, Alpenfels, director of golf instruction at the Pinehurst Golf Academy, became one of the first two graduates of the PGA of America’s Master Professional Program 2.0, the highest educational designation a PGA member can attain.

Greg Chalmers on ...

No. 2’s test: The famously treacherous greens are only tougher at lightning-fast U.S. Open speeds, leaving a slew of ticklish short putts that must be holed to keep good rounds going.
“You can’t give away any strokes at a U.S. Open, and making those tough 4- and 5-footers is a must. At Pinehurst, everyone is going to have a bunch of them every round.”

Takeaway: “Many amateurs,  and pros, move their lower body, even on shorter putts. The lower half must remain stable. That’s paramount. One great, simple indoor drill is putting with your backside against a wall. On the practice green, you can use your golf bag as the wall.

“Many people have great practice strokes but then have more ‘hit’ in their actual stroke. You want to emulate that flowing practice stroke, with the ball just getting in the way. Practice holding your follow-through. This will improve your distance control everywhere on the greens, and that’s important on short putts, too. I prefer feeding the ball into the hole on those rather than always trying to bang them in.

“The last thing is your mentality. Great putters think about making putts rather than not missing them. Your goal is always to hit a great putt. Assess that as soon as you’ve made your stroke. ‘Did I roll it how I wanted to?’ If you did, your job is done, whether or not the putt goes in.”

Expert bragging rights: In 2013, Chalmers ranked No. 1 on the PGA Tour in putting from 3-5 feet, making 213 of 225 putts (94.67 percent).

David Eger on ...

No. 2’s test: Off-line shots can come to rest in Pinehurst’s pine needles, leading to rules violations for the inattentive or uninformed.
“Remember the old game Pick Up Sticks, where you throw the plastic, multicolored sticks down on a tabletop and go to pick up one, only your hand touches another stick and the whole thing comes down? There’s a similar danger with pine needles, especially fluffed-up ones like you find on No. 2. If your ball is sitting precariously atop or within them, your ball can move even with you just standing next to it. This can be a problem if you’ve done anything in the vicinity of the ball that may have disturbed the pine needles.”

Takeaway: “Extreme caution should be used to ensure a precariously positioned ball not move when moving pine needles near the ball with your hand, clubhead, or feet. USGA Decision 18-2a/30.5 clarifies that you’d be penalized a stroke and required to replace the ball in its original lie should the ball move in such circumstances.

“When your ball is among pine needles, inspect the situation from as far away as possible. If the lie looks dicey, get in there very carefully and do your business fast — to be safe, don’t ground your club. If it’s sitting on hardpan, you can go so far as carefully removing the pine needles from around the ball so as to have a cleaner swipe at it.”

Expert bragging rights: Eger, a USGA senior director of rules and competition from 1992 to 1995, captured two North and South Amateur championships on Pinehurst No. 2 (1991 and 2000). As a pro, he has won four Champions Tour titles.

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