Winged Foot may be even tougher at empty 2020 U.S. Open

Only 15 golfers who played in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot will be back in Mamaroneck to tee off in the 2020 U.S. Open.

But the legend of the course, plus a few practice rounds this week, have quickly filled in the rest of the field on the massive challenge they are in for beginning Thursday.

“I’m not going into this week scared of Winged Foot, [but] it is probably the hardest golf course I’ve ever played, I think,” world No. 3 Justin Thomas said Tuesday. “Tee to green, the rough, the greens, everything factored in, I think this is the hardest course I’ve played.”

The average score at Winged Foot for the 2006 U.S. Open was 74.99 (par 70), with Geoff Ogilvy winning at 5-over par. It’s three months later in the calendar this year because of the pandemic, but the course is expected to play just as challenging, if not more.

The thick and deep rough will put a premium on hitting the narrow fairways and give players plenty to think about when teeing off — not that it will force everyone to dial it back.

Hideki Matsuyama US Open
Hideki Matsuyama hits from a bunker off the fifth green during a practice round before the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club today.AP

“I’m hitting it as far as I possibly can up there,” said Bryson DeChambeau, one of the game’s biggest hitters. “As my caddie described it, there’s a bunch of sod puddles out there that you’re going to get. If you hit it in the rough, you’re going to be hitting a lot of grass out and you’d better keep it in the short stuff.”

There won’t be any fans to trample down some lies in the rough, either.

Gary Woodland was playing a practice round Saturday and his caddie was throwing balls back to him to chip. They lost one for about five minutes, despite it being right in front of him.

“We didn’t find it until we stepped on it,” he said. “The golf ball can disappear pretty quickly.”

And it’s not just the rough that stands in the way of low scores. The greens can trip players up.

“It is hard to tell on TV, but yeah, the viewers at home are going to see some pretty bizarre stuff and probably a lot of putts and chips that make us look pretty bad,” Thomas said. “If you’re into that stuff, then you’re going to like this week.”

While Thomas spoke of the daunting challenge in front of him, he also described it as “fun.”

“Maybe it’s just because it’s Tuesday I’m saying that,” he said later. “I might not think the same at the end of the week.”