Generous fairways ensure cool reception for Na’s comments

American unimpressed with difficulty of emerging from punitive rough at Erin Hills

Kevin Na: posted a social media video of how hard it is to emerge from the tall fescue grass at Erin Hills. Photograph: Michael Madrid/USA Today

Fescue: any of a genus (Festuca) of tufted perennial grasses with panicled spikelets.

So, now you know what all the fuss is about. It looks wild and penal, and it is; but only if a player goes there.

The fescue grasses – dancing above knee height off the fairways here at Erin Hills – have been the topic of choice among players in the run-up to this US Open with some so fearful of damaging their wrists that they haven’t ventured into the stuff at all.

For sure, Kevin Na’s social media posting of attempting to hit a recovery shot from the wispy grass in which he failed to escape its clutches and (apparently) lost the ball completely divided his fellow pros.

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Some sympathised; others, the majority, shrugged their shoulders. As Shane Lowry put it, “I think the course is fine, there’s plenty of room on the fairways. If you hit it into that rough it is very penal but look, we know that. It is the same for everyone.”

What’s different compared to other US Opens, though, is that as high as the fescue grass is in being a legitimate deterrent to wild tee-shots, the fairways are untypically wide for this particular championship which has thrived on traditional narrow landing areas.

By US Open standards, the fairways here are about 50 per cent wider than the norm according to the USGA’s executive director Mike Davis. For example, at Winged Foot, which has played host to the US Open five times, the fairways had an average width of 26 yards. In comparison, some of the fairways at Erin Hills are as wide as 70 yards.

“We’re going to see the highest percentage of fairways hit this week at an (US) Open . . .they’re generous,” said Steve Stricker, backing up Davis and slapping away Na’s rant, after he called for former US Open champions to be asked to set up golf courses.

Sympathy for Na was in short supply, mainly because the USGA had already taken the action of ensuring the fairways were generous in the first place. And also because the winds – albeit with thunderstorms forecast, especially for Saturday’s third round – are expected to be light, ranging from five-to-15 miles per hour at most.

As Dana Fry, one of the three course designers, put it in responding to Na’s video posting where he threw down a ball into the fescue on the 15th hole: “Almost everybody in the field will lay-up from that tee with a three- or four-iron and then hit a pitching wedge. If you’re missing that fairway with a three-iron and that rough, because it is probably 70 yards of cut rough of grass, fairway and primary rough, I have no sympathy for somebody at that point.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times