156 golfers will tee off at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD for the year’s second major. A bunch of past major winners were on the course today including defending U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell and this year’s Masters green jacket wearer Charl Schwartzel. Including McDowell there are eight previous U.S. Open winners in this week’s field at the golf course in our backyard that has been host to Tiger Woods’s AT&T event and the Booz Allen Classic. The Kemper Open used to be held at TPC Avenel which is practically next door.

The most conspicuous absence is that of Woods who withdrew due to a combination of injuries. Seems almost fitting that pictures of him on crutches and in a walking boot emerged online today. Another absence I noted while on the course was none other than Phil Mickelson. Lefty wasn’t spotted on this pratice round, warm-up day but there was no shortage of luminaries. The list I saw on the driving range and/or putting green includes Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, K.J. Choi, Lucas Glover, Hunter Mahan, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Alvaro Quiros, Schwartzel, McDowell, Davis Love III, Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker and Stewart Cink.

Back to those not in the field for a moment: Not having Vijay Singh in attendance is kind of a stunner. Singh blew off a qualifier which (short of winning last week’s St. Jude’s Classic) was the only way he could’ve gained entry into the U.S. Open. Phil not making any appearances meant galleries around the practice ranges and on the course during the practice rounds were pretty sparse.  This is also somewhat expected on the Monday before the tourny but if you’ve ever been near a golf course that Tiger’s on, you know that crowds can gather and attendance can increase regardless.

Congressional has hosted a U.S. Open before but it’s been 14 years since it’s done the honors. This is the third U.S. Open and the sixth USGA championship played at the golf course just off 495. As for the last time the U.S. Open was here…  Els outlasted three others down the stretch to win his second U.S. Open title in four years.  He finished with five straight pars to card a final-round 69 and post a 4-under-par winning total of 276.  He ended up one stroke ahead of Colin Montgomerie and two shots in front of Tom Lehman.

Westwood was among those who played it in 1997 and made some observations comparing the two courses and called this year’s version “pretty similar to the way it played” last time. But there have been modificiations, naturally. Westwood went on to say “They’ve done a good job of modifying it and lengthening it and changing the greens in certain areas.  That’s what’s keeping up with technology.  But the golf course itself is in great condition.  The fairways are pretty generous, but if you miss them obviously you get penalized.  The greens are holding for a shot from the fairways, which is good, because you want to reward the accurate player.  A good surface to putt on them, it’s just a nice level of rough around the greens.  Yeah, it should be a great week.”

Westwood mentioned length which is going to be the theme of the week. Congressional’s Blue Course will be set up at 7,574 yards and will play to a par of 36-35–71. The layout is the second-longest in U.S. Open history behind the 7,643-yard South Course at Torrey Pines in 2008.  Devereux Emmet designed the Blue Course at Congressional, which opened in 1924.  Rees Jones supervised a course renovation in 1990.  All 18 greens of the Blue Course were rebuilt in 2009-10. (And this is why Tiger’s tournament relocated to Aronimink in Philly.)

The tournament begins Thursday with practice rounds and other chances to see the golfers on Tuesday and Wednesday. If you’re not a golf fan, going to an event isn’t necessarily a gamechanger but there’s only so many chances to get to go to a major being played nearby. Golf also allows an accessibility to its competitors that you don’t often get in other sports. Even if Tiger isn’t there.


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