There’s a rumor going around.
Apparently, the USGA is concerned about the rough at Winged Foot, which a week before the 120th U.S. Open is dominating the pregame chatter. Steps may be taken ahead of the championship to dial it down a notch.
Right now, it’s well north of nuisance status.
“There were plans to just let it go after Sept. 3rd and just see if they could get it six inches on certain holes,” said Winged Foot member and NBC commentator Dan Hicks, who is back on the call Sept. 17-20. “I think all that is up for debate, as it always is. You don’t want to make it to where it’s an absolute jungle, but it is really thick.”
A tangled mess on either side of the picturesque fairways is a source of stress for some, a source of entertainment for others.
“I expect a lot of whining,” said David Feherty, who took part in a U.S. Open preview on Wednesday along with Hicks and fellow NBC on-course reporter Roger Maltbie. “There always is when you’ve got a golf course that’s so penal off the tee.”
Social media was invented for occasions like this.
“I can’t wait,” Maltbie said. “(Winged Foot) has provided some of the sternest tests ever in USGA history and I would expect nothing less than that this coming week. It’s kind of widely assumed, and this comes from many different sources and players that have gone to Winged Foot in advance, they’re fully expecting over par to win the championship. Now from what I understand … it’s going to be a more traditional test of U.S. Open skills, which I welcome and can’t wait to see.”
Not long after the championship was postponed, NBCUniversal regained media rights to USGA events, leaving all three men stunned and pleased.
It’s a home game for Hicks.
Maltbie was a frequent guest during his career on the PGA Tour, often hustling over after completing his rounds at the Westchester Classic. Feherty will be completing a grand slam of sorts. The U.S. Open is the only major he’s not covered in a career punctuated with clever quips.
The mic is only a prop, he’s always on.
“I always look forward to going to work, I just enjoy what I do,” Feherty said. “But going to this one is special for me because I’ve broadcast at the Masters and the PGA and The Open Championship, but I’ve never done a U.S. Open. And it’s a really cool thing to have done all four, along with the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup, The Players and the Tour Championship. I mean, I just love being around these guys that I work with – except Maltbie.
Noted architect Gil Hanse went back in time and uncovered some of the shoulders of the original Tillinghast green complexes so the putting surfaces are expected to be a large part of the conversation, too.
“The greens, I think are going to be much better than they were in 2006,” Hicks said. “There were some problems with them 14 years ago and they were a little bumpy.
Winged Foot has rattled the greats of the game like Tom Watson and Phil Mickelson and the West Course has a history of crowning unexpected champions like Hale Irwin, Fuzzy Zoeller and Geoff Ogilvy.
So might be that guy this year?
“At the BMW Championship, for the first round, I was given my choice of a couple of groups as to who I would want to follow,” Maltbie said. “And I selected Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, and Daniel Berger. And not because of Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas. It was because of Daniel Berger. Now since the restart of the PGA Tour, I mean, this guy has played as well as anybody on a week-in, week-out basis. He’s a guy that would be, I think, a little bit under the radar but a guy whose credentials for the last four months or five months, have been as good as anybody’s.”
“I’m thinking Brendon Todd as a guy that putts so well, he drives it relatively straight and just is a grinder,” Feherty said. “He gets in there and when he gets into contention he tends to stay there. He’s been a wonderful player since his comeback, and I think he’s got the ideal game for a U.S. Open.”
Hicks went in a different direction, offering and open-ended response and using Michael Thompson as an example of a player who’s coming in with the proper attitude.
“It’s funny,” he said. “When he won in July for the first time since he won the Honda Classic all those years ago, the first words out of his mouth, he knew he was going to go to the U.S. Open and he said, ‘Winged Foot is one of my favorite places, I just can’t wait to get there.’ I mean, this was months ahead of it happening. And I’m not saying he’s the favorite, but I guess what I am saying is that I think guys that embrace this course are liable to do better with it. I think that it’s going to be a huge, huge patience test like it always is, but especially this time around. So a guy like that comes to mind. I think it will be an incredible test for a guy like Jon Rahm, who obviously has gotten better and better with that attitude, we have seen evidence of that multiple times in the recent times we have seen him in contention.
“But that’s what makes a course like this so good. Obviously length’s going to be a big deal, but you got to hit it in these fairways. And I think that’s going to give the grinders like a Kevin Kisner and other guys that can get it in the fairway hole after hole after hole, I think those guys are going to have a chance too. So I know that’s a roundabout way of saying, ‘Who knows?,’ but that’s kind of the makeup of the potential different kinds of winners we could have.”
U.S. Open broadcast schedule
7:30 a.m.-2 p.m.: Golf Channel
2-5 p.m.: NBC
5-7 p.m.: Peacock
7:30-9:30 a.m.: Peacock
9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.: Golf Channel
4-7 p.m.: NBC
9-11 a.m.: Peacock
11-7:30 p.m.: NBC
8-10 a.m.: Peacock
10 a.m.-12 p.m.: Golf Channel
12-6 p.m.: NBC
Mike Dougherty covers golf for The Journal News/lohud.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @hoopsmbd and @lohudgolf.