The man charged with setting up the U.S. Open this week at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club enjoyed a brief calming moment last week before the golf world descended upon a course that is arguably the most traditional U.S. Open venue of all time.
Jeff Hall, the managing director of rules and Open Championships for the United States Golf Association (USGA), took a call on the 14th tee of Shinnecock as Justin Thomas - the world No. 1 at the time - and Rickie Fowler played through.
He said he smiled as the two superstars went past, but knew the golf course was going to be playing much tougher this week than when the two friends got their first look at the storied venue.
"Any time you can be here for a U.S. Open, it's pretty special," Hall told theScore. "It's a unique place, it's exciting, and you're never disappointed to go to Shinnecock Hills."
Hall has been with the USGA for 28 years and has been at every U.S. Open since 1991. He said the organization is thrilled to be back at Shinnecock this year - one of the five founding clubs of the USGA and the host of the second-ever U.S. Open in 1896 - and for a return in 2026.
The U.S. Open was last played at Shinnecock in 2004 when Retief Goosen won by two shots over Phil Mickelson. That year, the tournament was known for how much the course got away from the USGA - so much so that they had the maintenance crew watering the green on the par-3 seventh for every other group - but this time around, Shinnecock undertook a redesign that saw some fairways widened and some holes lengthened.
"The golf course has changed dramatically, it's going to be a very different presentation than the three previous modern-day U.S. Opens," said Hall. "We believe we have established the proper balance of being true to the architect and ensuring that accuracy is still a key part of the test of golf for the U.S. Open."
William Flynn, the architect of the routing that opened in 1931, designed a course that was wider; the key strategy would be to play off angles. Shinnecock has been reverted back to that design by the duo of Ben Crenshaw (the two-time Masters champion who has made a name for himself in golf course architecture since retiring from competition) and Bill Coore.
In 2004, the average fairway width was 26 yards. This year, after the restoration, it will be closer to 41 yards.
"What you'll see here is, by U.S. Open standards, pretty generous driving corridors," said Hall.
Per usual with a U.S. Open, the rough will be "brutal" this week, according to Hall, but the layout is designed to reward accurate tee shots and punish those who go offline, striking up a "good balance."
Hall said the greens, which will be much larger than they have been in the past, are going to feature some hole locations not previously used for the other U.S. Opens. He also said the closely-mowed areas around the greens have been largely expanded, which now gives golfers more options than just hacking a chip shot out of long rough.
"What that introduces is decisions. Do you want to putt it? Do you want to pitch and run it? Do you want to take it up in air? All of a sudden, we've introduced choices," he said.
Hall believes there will be times this week when the audience will see balls relatively near one another and two players will approach the same shot differently.
"When you have choices like that, you pull a club and maybe subconsciously there's a little indecision," he said. "The closely-mowed areas present options and it will be exciting for the viewer, and strategic for the players and thought-provoking."
Hall said he's unsure Shinnecock favors a particular style of play but said it's a serious test of golf - which is exactly what the USGA wants.
And after experiments at two modern U.S. Open venues - Chambers Bay in 2015 and Erin Hills last year - came with mixed results, the USGA is excited to return to a venue like Shinnecock.
"One of the great things about our championship is that we do get to move it around. Many of our country's best courses invite us to entertain and take in the U.S. Open there. The opportunity to bring it to different geographic locations and having different types of people attend … but also showing off different types of architecture, grass, weather is exciting," said Hall. "But let's make no mistake about it. Shinnecock is an iconic U.S. Open venue, period."
Adam Stanley has written about golf since 2011 for PGATOUR.com, LPGA.com, and the Canadian Press, among other organizations. He's also a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail. Find him on Twitter @adam_stanley.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)