Local golf pros weighed in on a recent sunny afternoon with predictions for the U.S. Open, which begins today at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
Course extensions and the U.S. Open graduated rough add a whole new level of difficulty to picturesque Torrey Pines.
After finishing a day sharing his wisdom with junior golfers at his camp, Ross Randall, current director of golf and former head coach at Kansas University, shared his thoughts on a course he knows well. Randall said he played in the San Diego Open seven times at Torrey Pines.
"All U.S. Open courses are as hard as they can make them, but this one especially so because of the ocean," he said from his seat in the air-conditioned snack bar at Alvamar public. "There are a lot of afternoon breezes that can blow and can really make the golf course difficult."
At Lawrence Country Club, Bob Darkenwald was working behind the counter in the pro shop, handing out prizes to players from the Lady's Golf Invitational, when he was queried about the major.
"The course will be set up as hard as it's ever going to be or ever has been, but that's the U.S. Open. It's the hardest test of golf," he said.
Torrey Pines recently was lengthened for the U.S. Open.
"Everyone hits the ball so much harder now," Randall said. "The old 7,000-yard course is obsolete. This is about 7,700 yards or so. What used to be par-5 is now a par-4 as far as yardage goes."
A longer course doesn't necessarily mean higher scores.
"This course is set up so hard that it's not so much how far you hit it, but how straight and accurate," Darkenwald said.
Randall agreed the winner will be the one who stays out of the rough.
"It's really kind of a wild guess, though," he said. "It will probably end up being somebody out of the blue."
Local pros differed on their predictions for the champion, but all chose either Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson as favorites.
"I'm pulling for Tiger," said John Morris, a pro at Eagle Bend. "I want to see him crush all the records. He's the guy of our generation to break records."
Morris' assistant pro, Mike Powell, favors Mickelson.
"If there's ever been a year when the tournament could fall into his lap, this is it," he said. "It's his hometown, so he's played the course a million times, and Tiger's not exactly 100 percent, so I think he's got a good chance."
Randall also referenced the recent knee surgery Woods underwent.
"It was about five or six weeks ago, and he has not competed or walked (a complete round) since then," Randall said. "I'm sure he wouldn't be competing unless he felt he was ready, but there's a certain rustiness that occurs when you haven't played in a long time, even just the mental process. But of course he's the strongest player out there mentally so I'm sure he can handle it."
Everyone is looking forward to the first-round pairing of Mickelson and Woods.
"I think it will make things a little more competitive," Randall said. "Plus, it's great for the fans. I just wouldn't want to be in the group in front of them. There'll be 30,000 people out there yelling and screaming while you're trying to putt. That many people do get noisy. It should be really exciting, though."
Echoed Morris: "Everyone wants to see them play. They're the rivals of the group. They're the best players in the world so it will just be neat to see them go head-to-head and see what they can do against the course."
Morris estimates the winning score at around 6- or 7-under-par.
"It will be tough," he said. "But that's how good they are."
Randall, on the other hand, wasn't sure if anyone would shoot under par.
"It's going to be really tough," he said. "I guess I'm going to say someone will shoot between 278 to 283 to win it."