While Rory McIlroy was dismantling Congressional Country Club last year en route to an eight-shot U.S. Open victory and a 16-under-par score, it was easy to forget that the event was, in fact, the U.S. Open.
Receptive greens made for a test that was vastly different than we are used to seeing from the USGA, but that doesn’t mean it was worse. Without question, the best player in the world won that week — McIlroy hit 62 of 72 greens. Of course the USGA would have liked the greens to be more Olympic Club-like, but sometimes mother nature just doesn’t cooperate. Nightly rain and unseasonably hot temperatures created a situation that was beyond even the best course superintendent and championship director’s control. The greens were soggy, and the rough couldn’t grow because the hot temperatures absorbed all of the water.
While the championship wasn’t a conventional U.S. Open, it was still a gripping event as McIlroy put on a virtuoso performance and announced his arrival as a superstar.
This week the PGA Tour again travels to Congressional for Tiger Woods’ event, the AT&T National. The course will resemble the course that saw McIlroy life the trophy for his first major championship victory, but in many ways it will be different. The fairways won’t be quite as narrow and the course won’t be quite as long. Despite the fact that the course isn’t being set up by the USGA this week, I believe the winning score will be higher than McIlroy’s 16-under total. Why? Because of mother nature.
Whereas overnight rain softened Congressional’s new and vulnerable greens a year ago, rain will not be an issue this year. The current weather forecast for the D.C. area includes something called a “Fire Weather Warning.” I’m no expert on weather, but that doesn’t sound like conditions that will slow the greens down. Also, the greens were redone for the U.S. Open, so they were still settling last year, which contributed to their softness. With an extra year of maturation, they are firm and fast.
The temperature for the opening round is supposed to be a cool 99. Warm temperatures should mean the ball will be flying a few extra yards, but it also is a physical grind to play through that kind of heat. I have played golf on days that are around 100 degrees, and by the middle of the back nine, water doesn’t seem to be effective anymore. As I sit here in Houston at the NGA Tour’s Golfcrest Classic, there are pros playing in the pro-am and the temperature is pushing 105. Thankfully, the temperature is supposed to dip a bit for the weekend, but if you don’t think the heat affects players, you’re wrong.
Depending on the hole locations, this week could be a test worthy of its host, Tiger Woods. Ben Crane tweeted today that the course is playing firm and fast and noted the finnish on 18 is brutal. Even with soft greens, the 500+ yard finishing hole was a monster at last year’s U.S. Open. Expect it to claim many more victims this year.
Congressional is a typical old-school, tree-lined course with undulating fairways and tricky greens. Looking at the course when I was at the U.S. Open last year reminded me of places like Oakland Hills and Firestone. The venue is great and the strong field will be put to the test. With the hot weather and firm greens, look for a score higher than McIlroy’s U.S. Open total to come out on top.