Native area was rough

July 2, 2014

Let’s take a moment to look back at the 2014 U.S. Open played at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. When I first tuned in on Friday, I thought I was on the wrong channel, due to the lack of lush fairways and well-manicured rough and bunkers.

My first thought was that global warming and severe drought had reached one of the most prestigious golf courses in the United States, but after hearing the course was redesigned to look like the original course from the 1930s, I was somewhat relieved.

For want of a better description, the announcers called the sand dunes, “dune grass,” and the wild bushes and rocks adjacent to the fairways, the “native area,” and not rough. They also referred to the brown areas on the fairways, as “brown areas,” instead of dead grass.

It all started make sense (back to the future) until I saw my first golfer hit his approach shot to a front nine green. “Green” at Pinehurst is a relative term for a turtleback mound with a flag sticking out of a small hole.

The putting area around each flag is sometimes only 30 feet or less in diameter, while the green itself was huge with numerous runoff areas and false fronts. I lost count at twenty different golfers who hit the green in regulation, only to have their ball run off a sloped area and travel another twenty-five yards, sometimes into a “native area.”

But somehow, one man from Germany did the impossible. Martin Kaymer led the field from wire to wire and finished nine under (271) for the tournament. He took home $1, 620,000 for his effort.

However, for me the real story of the 2014 U.S. Open was Erik Compton, who finished in a second place tie with Rickie Fowler. Both golfers shot one under for the tournament (279) and each took home a check for $789,330.

Compton played excellent golf and made a run at Kaymer on Saturday, but when I heard his back story, I was amazed and rooted for him to win.

Compton had undergone heart transplant surgery - not once, but twice in his life. When he was nine, he was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle is inflamed and cannot pump blood correctly.

So, faced with no other choice, he underwent his first heart replacement surgery in 1992, at age thirteen. In 2008, he again faced a life threatening heart condition and underwent his second transplant. Today he plays golf like any other pro golfer.

Pinehurst No. 2 was more than a challenge to every pro who teed up his ball. The course didn’t care if you were a big-name golfer or a no-name golfer; it took no prisoners. (Only three golfers finished under par for the U.S. Open.)

Case in point, Adam Scott tied for 9th (+2, 282, $211,717); Matt Kuchar tied for 12th (+3, 283, $156,679); Rory McIlroy tied for 23rd (+6, 286, $79, 968); Phil Mickelson tied for 28th (+7, 287, $59,588) and Zach Johnson tied for 40th (+9, 289, $$37, 754).

And how about a few big names who missed the cut: Angel Cabrera, Luke Donald, Miguel Jimenez, Hunter Mahan, and Bubba Watson.

It is time to finish and forget the native area at Pinehurst, but I am going to leave you with some other golf courses which have a more dangerous native area. So beware if you play these courses!

• Hans Merensky golf course, South Africa: The course borders a game preserve and your ball landing in the rough may disturb a water buffalo, lion, cheetah, warthog or leopard.

• Singapore Island Country Club, Singapore:  The course offers a very dangerous situation when your ball goes into the rough. In 1982, at the Singapore Open, golfer Jim Stewart killed a 10 foot cobra with an iron during tournament play.

• Henderson Golf Club, Savannah, Georgia: In 2003, golfer Roy Williamson hit his ball into deep, unplayable wild rough and when he bent down to retrieve his ball, a rattlesnake bit his right temple. Three days later he awoke in the hospital and luckily had a full recovery.

So next time you go into a “native area” after your ball, look twice and swing once.  It will keep you focused toward having a happy ending.

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