Mark Schuttenhelm: 'Driver and a wedge'


Last summer, right around this time, I wrote a column in which I took a few shots at the USGA for holding the U.S. Open at a toothless golf course like Wisconsin's Erin Hills. The fairways at the 11-year-old course are a mile wide and were as hard as an airport runway, making the deep fescue an afterthought and the 7,800 yards play quite a bit shorter than one would expect.

In reality, nothing short of a howling wind could possibly make Erin Hills a serious test for the PGA Tour's best players. The result? Brooks Koepka won it with a John Deere Classic-like score of 16 under par.

The questions is, with dozens of history-laden and extremely tough world-class courses available, why would the USGA even entertain holding an Open at Erin Hills? The question was never sufficiently answered, as far as I'm concerned. But if you watched this year's U.S. Open you witnessed one of those historic, world-class courses: Shinnecock Hills, out on Long Island, N.Y.

That was how a U.S. Open is supposed to be. The world's best players struggling to play par golf. A winning score—again, shot by Brooks Koepka—of one over par.

The carnage from Thursday and Friday was epic, and that was before the course really showed its teeth on Saturday afternoon. Jordan Spieth (+9), Rory McIlroy (+10), Tiger Woods (+10), Bubba Watson (+11), Jason Day (+12), Sergio Garcia (+14) and Jon Rahm (+15) were some of the bigger names that missed the cut. And the course itself? The deep fescue rough was definitely in play. Dome greens with the fringes cut extremely short made most approach shots treacherous. A stiff wind on Saturday afternoon dried out the greens and, coupled with a few questionable hole locations, made Shinnecock almost unplayable.

Still, there were moments—when the wind laid down and the humidity was up—that Shinnecock was gettable. And, there's nothing wrong with a par-70 course that sports just two par 5s, one of which is reachable in two.

Personally, I'm getting sick of watching the big hitters make a joke out of par 5s. I can recall the days, not so long ago, when a player attempting to reach a par 5 in two would be holding a fairway wood in his hands. A long iron at the very least. Unfortunately, those days are gone, and that thought brings me to the back nine at Augusta National.

It pains me to say this, but the two iconic par 5s—Hole 13 and Hole 15—have been rendered obsolete. A combination of the strength of today's players, coupled with technological advances in equipment and balls are the culprits.

Question: at a major championship, should players be firing their second shots into the par 5s with a short iron?

That happens regularly on the back nine at The Masters. Watching Dustin Johnson preparing to hit his second shot on No. 15 on Sunday with a 9-iron in his hands reminded me of an old phrase we wore out back in the day: "driver and a wedge."

Chewing the fat in the locker room of the county course I regularly played roughly 40 years ago, one of the longer hitters volunteered his method for reaching the longest par 4 on the course, a 450 harder.

"No big deal," he said. "Driver and a wedge."

Soon enough, "driver and a wedge" caught on until everybody wore it out. But the fact is, unless the green jackets who run Augusta National lengthen the par 5s, half the PGA Tour will soon be reaching them with a "driver and a wedge." And, that should not be acceptable to a serious golf fan.