My battle to putt round Pinehurst

The infamous rough has gone but 18-handicapper Paul Mahoney finds demons in the greens when he plays the US Open course

Nice to stroll off Pinehurst’s No 2 course with a 99. That’s 29 over par, not an ice cream with a chocolate flake. It could have been worse; I did not lose a single ball. Neither did the other two mid-handicappers in the group. So how is it possible that all three of us felt victorious having seen our handicaps battered by one of the world’s finest and toughest courses as the final nips and tucks were being carried out in preparation for this week’s 114th US Open?

Well, this year’s American national championship has been stripped of its manhood. It’s had the snip, a landscaping vasectomy. The traditional, sadistically harvested three-inch rough that has lined the fairways to become the trademark of this championship in recent years has been chopped. There is no rough at Pinehurst. Fairways that were 20 yards wide when Michael Campbell and Payne Stewart won the last two US Opens here in 2005 and 1999 respectively are now 50-yard runways. Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and the rest of the world’s greatest golfers are going to love the fact that, this year, they really should not miss the green carpet from the tee. And even if they do stray a few yards off the manicured stuff, they will not be reduced to hacking out sideways from the overcooked asparagus.

The US Open is usually a miserable, last-man-standing war of attrition. Not any more. The fun has been put back into the championship – along with creativity and a prayer to the golfing gods for a dollop of luck. Why? In place of the ridiculous rough are 26 acres of sandy wasteland, pine straw and wire grass that will offer wayward balls a shot at redemption. The £1.5m makeover has returned Pinehurst to how it was in 1907 when the Scottish architect Donald Ross crafted this 7,562-yard, par-70, tree-lined parkland masterpiece with a links feel.

Paul Mahoney grappling with a bunker Paul Mahoney grappling with a bunker (Getty)

The bunkers are beautifully scruffy and the famous greens that look like upturned saucers melt over the edges of the putting surfaces into the sand like a Salvador Dali painting. Pinehurst is once again an American beauty with a down-to-earth natural British charm. I fell in love with her. The players, spectators and TV viewers will, too. She’ll break hearts and handicaps and you’ll thank her for it.

But Pinehurst is no pushover. She has an evil streak. It’s those greens. Much like at Augusta National, there are greens within greens, more peaks and troughs than Nemesis at Alton Towers, and landing areas the size of a 10p piece. But, at Pinehurst, it is tougher because the greens appear to have been turfed over the bonnets of Volkswagen Beetles. Players who cannot chip or who putt like a child holding its first sparkler will be on the last flights out of North Carolina on Friday night. I putted up the side of the hump of one green only to see the ball reach the summit, succumb to gravity, and dribble back to my feet. I watched as another 18-handicapper putted up one slope and stared in horror as the ball raced past the flag and rolled off the other side of the green like at a seaside crazy golf course. All that were missing were the windmill and the clown’s mouth.

A worse fate awaited a 15-handicapper at the par-three ninth. He stroked what he thought was the perfect putt from the far right of the green. His ball was half a yard from tipping over the correct ridge to trickle down to the hole. But it took a diversion and, like a tourist stuck in the wrong lane on the M25 heading to Heathrow, it was Gatwick next stop. He putted into a bunker. The only thing to do was laugh. But this week, it’s serious business. There will be tears before the trophy is kissed.

Stewart’s statue keeps popular US Open winner’s legacy alive

Such is the love for Payne Stewart at Pinehurst, he is pretty much its patron saint. In this golf-obsessed corner of North Carolina, his past is forever linked to their future. It is now 15 years since the charismatic Missourian, who thrashed at the ball like Greg Norman while dressed like Ronald McDonald, won the US Open at Pinehurst in 1999 and celebrated with an air-punch on the 18th green. Four months later he was dead, aged 42, after his private jet crashed over South Dakota.

Pinehurst has become a shrine to Stewart. That air-punch pose was cast in bronze and now his statue stands by the clubhouse as a permanent reminder of his victory and the joy with which he played. “Everybody has their photograph taken by it,” says Pinehurst’s executive vice-president Tom Pashley. “We like to say, ‘it’s OK, it may not seem cool but you need to strike the pose, to do the air punch, it’s mandatory, you’re at Pinehurst’,” he says.

“We mark our Payne Stewart legacy every Sunday by having the same pin position on the 18th as we did when he holed that putt in 1999. The statue is our 365-days-a-year memorial.”

The United States Golf Association will pay tribute to the memory of Stewart today by presenting his widow, Tracey, with the Bob Jones Award, one of the highest accolades in golf, in recognition of Payne’s sportsmanship.

Later in the week, she will officially open a new bar in the clubhouse – Payne’s Pub. Stewart, who partied hard at the Pine Crest Inn in Pinehurst village after his victory (his giant autograph is framed on the wall), would no doubt have raised a glass and doffed his beanie cap in approval.

 

Sky Sports’ live coverage of the US Open is part of an  unrivalled summer of sport that also includes the US PGA Championship and the  2014 Ryder Cup

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn