Pinehurst No. 2: Insider's take

Pinehurst No. 2
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The staff at Pinehurst is ready to put on the first back-to-back men's and women's U.S. Open Championships.

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 | 10:17 a.m. spoke with Eric Alpenfels, Director of Golf Instruction at Pinehurst, leading up to this week’s U.S. Open Championship. Here is what the PGA Professional had to say. The late Payne Stewart had a strong relationship with Pinehurst and the staff even before winning the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. What stands out in your memory from Stewart’s win?

Alpenfels: There were so many people up around the 18th hole (during the final round) that it was just impossible to break through. My office was the only place where you could actually see the final couple of holes. So we were up there with my wife and a few people, including Payne’s instructor, Dr. Richard Coop.

Coop told us that Payne had played out the final hole in his head several times. If he missed the fairway to the right, he was going to wedge it out short of the green, hit the shot up onto the green and then make the putt to win the tournament. Right before Stewart stood over the (winning) putt, Coop got up and said, ‘I’ll see you later. I’m going to go greet him coming off the 18th green.’ He knew he was going to make it. He just walked out the door.

MORE: Remembering Payne Stewart 14 years after his tragic death Where will you be this Sunday during the final round?

Alpenfels: I will be on the driving range in the morning and then probably sitting in my office watching how the final holes play out, simply to avoid all the chaos that will be going on around the 18th green. What hole do you believe will play the toughest this week?

Alpenfels: I think No. 5 playing as a par 5 is going to be very, very interesting. The fifth hole is traditionally a long par 4, slight dogleg left with a lot of undulation in the fairway. Most of the time on your second shot into this par 4, the ball is slightly above your feet and there’s some trouble to the left. It’s pretty dangerous in the sense that, if you go too far left of the middle green, you can roll it off of the green and into a pot bunker. But it’s playing as a par 5 this time, so it’ll be interesting to see if some of the players try to reach the green in two. You could be left with some really messy and difficult short-game shots, if they miss the green left. That may not play the toughest, but it may be the most interesting hole this week.

I think the par 3’s could play extremely difficult. I think the sixth hole is a really tough par 3 that’s going to play maybe 218 yards. If you land it short of the green, it won’t necessarily skip up. If you hit it to the right, there’s a bunker and a waste area. Give me five more minutes, and I’ll go through them all. Sounds like a typically difficult U.S. Open setup. What’s your pick for a winning score?

Alpenfels: If somebody comes in at 2-under par, that’ll be really spectacular golf. By design, it’s going to play hard and fast. What are you and your team’s responsibilities during the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens the next two weeks?

Alpenfels: We have two responsibilities. Our instructors are teaching lots of individual lessons through clinics to accommodate the corporate groups that are in-house for the two weeks. In addition, some of our team is going to be managing the practice facility, the full-swing, the short game areas. For us, it’s a very small role, simply because we have so many volunteers helping out.

Bob Farren, director of grounds for all the courses, quite frankly has done a remarkable job. They’re prepared for the men’s tournament and have all the staff in place to make it go off without a hitch. Then, they’ll turn it around the next week and have it in great condition for the women just like it is for the men.