Monday, April 01, 2013

Par 72! A truly memorable round at Pinehurst No. 2!

Imagine a score of even par 72 at Pinehurst No. 2! Last week I had the opportunity to play the famed course in the Sandhills of North Carolina, and, well, let me just say that it was a treat both to play the recently re-made course and to score so well that … well … if you have a few moments, read my account of that wonderful day and see for yourself.

Golf, it has been said, is a good walk spoiled, but on a 54-degree blustery day walking a special course with friends while caddies tote the clubs and offer advice on club selection and putting breaks, it’s definitely not a good walk spoiled no matter how you play and score. But when you play well, when you hit the ball solid, make putts, stroll along the fairways and enjoy the course, it’s an experience that will not be forgotten and must be chronicled.

Last week’s round wasn’t my first at Pinehurst No. 2. I played it in the 1960s as a junior golfer in leisurely and tournament settings. That’s when “love” grass was aplenty along the fairway edges. I played No. 2 many times as a full resort course after the sandy rough was replaced with thick Bermuda grass. Recently, Pinehurst No. 2, designed by Donald Ross, was restored to his original idea and design, and this was my first round on the renovated layout.

As part of a larger group playing the course that will host the 2014 U.S. Open and the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, our foursome was asked to shotgun start on Mr. Ross’s favorite par four among all par four holes he designed. As we rode in carts to the fifth hole on No. 2, I knew we were at a special place.  I relived rounds of yesteryear, viewing the remade course, appreciating what the team of Coore & Crenshaw had done to transform the layout from the resort appeal of grass from tree-line to tree-line to the sandy spaces between fairways and trees. I was ready to appreciate the course no matter how it received my game.

I was just three shots into my round when I realized not only was the course special but my game would fit the same description. The fifth hole is 436 yards long from the Blue tees, a 6,930 yard layout. (NOTE: No. 2 will be lengthened to 7,495 yards for the U.S. Open. The fifth hole will be a 476 yard par four and will probably be played into the wind, as usual.)  My tee shot was a little high leaving more than 200 yards to the green. A shot hit with a 20-degree hybrid stopped 15 yards short of the elevated green, and I called to my caddie, Wheeler, for my putter. He paused but followed my instructions, told me to stroke it toward the middle of the green. He stepped back and watched my effort, a good stroke. It made the green, starting down the middle, as instructed, and then veered left toward the hole. I was below the level of the green and did not see the up-hill effort roll into the cup but my partners did, offering excited reactions to the unthinkable birdie!

And so it went. A solid par 3 at the sixth hole was followed by a lipped birdie at the par four seventh, and then came the par five eighth, the hole where John Daly, in the 1999 U.S. Open, was hit with a two-stroke penalty for stroking a moving ball. I pushed a drive to the right, stopping atop pine straw about 200 yards out. It’s unusual for me to cut a shot, but I did with a four iron, off the pine straw with such effort the ball skidded across the green, coming to rest close to where Daly was that day 14 years ago when I watched him try to putt up a hill onto the green only to have the ball never make it and roll back to his feet. After it stopped, he tried again and told his caddy he would hit it on the move if the ball rolled back again. It did, and he did. For Daly, the pin was on the back of the green; this time, the pin was on the front of the green, my effort was a little easier but still delicate so as not to roll it off the front.

My shot, a putt up a sizable hill, came to stop four feet below the hole, and I soon recorded a second birdie in four holes. After failing to get up and down from a bunker and scoring a bogey on the 174 yard par three ninth hole and a routine par at the 580 yard par five tenth hole, I played the par four eleventh, 453 yards, like a pro, hitting driver, hybrid and holing a 15 foot down hill left to right slider, read perfectly by Wheeler.

The twelfth through fifteenth holes were up and down, literally, making par four from a greenside bunker on twelve, a bogey five after bunkering my second shot on thirteen, a two putt par four on the fourteenth and a bizarre bogey on the par three, 183 yard fifteenth, playing into the wind. My hard hit four iron reached the green, just past the cup located on the right side of the green, but I didn’t follow my caddy’s advice and played too much break, and watched the ball slide past the hole, take the green’s severe false front and roll into the deep front right sand bunker. Somehow my blast from the sand came to rest two feet below the hole and my second putt went in for a four. I was even par for the round after playing eleven holes.

After a par five at the sixteenth hole, I asked Wheeler to club me on the 186 yard par three seventeenth. The wind was strong right to left. The pin was on the front, reducing the distance to about 170 yards. Wheeler though seven iron; I asked for the eight, took a hard swing, hit the ball high above the tree line and watched it draw toward the green. It landed just over the front right sand bunker, caught the green’s downhill left slope and rolled to within six inches of the cup. Birdie!

Pinehurst No. 2’s eighteen hole, where Payne Stewart made a 15-foot putt to win the 1999 U.S. Open, is a wonderful finishing hole. The 415 yard par four plays uphill and into the wind, most of the time. Today was no exception. After a strong drive, I was 185 yards from the green and asked for my hybrid, much like a three iron. Wheeler pleaded with me to hit the ball above the clubhouse roof line to allow for the wind to knock it down onto the green. A low approach would end up in the clubhouse. I hit the ball as Wheeler suggested and the ball came to rest in the middle of the green. I two-putted for another par, a 36 on the back nine and one under for the day with four to play.

The first three holes at Pinehurst No. 2 are the type that will make or break the professionals when they play in June 2014. It’s not the layout or the rough that’ll be an issue. It’s the greens with their interesting contours and less than obvious breaks. I was short of the first green in two and, using a putter from off the green, failed to get up and down in two for a bogey five.

The second hole will play 503 yards as a par four for the Open; we played it at 438 yards. I needed a well-played bunker shot for my third to set up a four foot par putt which rolled all the way around the lip before dropping. The third hole is one of the shortest par fours on No. 2, but the 350 yard hole is difficult. My second shot hit on the green but rolled back into the front left bunker and I failed to make par. The five put me at one over for the day with just the 507 yard (569 for the Open) par five fourth hole to play. Fortunately, it was down wind.

This was my best tee shot of the day as the ball came to rest about 300 yards from the tee and in prime position along the left side of the fairway. I hit the hybrid again for my second shot, landing on the green in two. I grabbed my putter and strolled up the hill to our final green, waving to the imagined gallery. One putt would put me one-under par for the day; two putts for birdie and even par would be recorded, which in the summer of 2014 would be good for an early lead in the U.S. Open. I was 18 feet right of the pin and with sweeping right to left downhill break, thank you Wheeler. My stroke was solid and the line was perfect; my playing partners watched in a hush as the ball grew closer to eagle. As the Titleist ProV1 reached the hole, it slowed just enough to break more than anticipated and stopped inches left of the cup. I made birdie and recorded an even par 72 for the round. What a great day!

Anyone who has played golf understands the joy of playing a career round, and while 72 is not the best I’ve ever had, shooting 72 this day for this golfer with a 5.3 handicap, would be remarkable, especially on one of the toughest courses anyone will play no matter which tees are used. Golfers only dream of rounds such as this one.

Ah, yes, to dream of a great round of golf, an even-par score is what many golfers sleep on. We only wish our dreams would come true, at least once if not more often. And, considering today’s date, I trust that you will consider my round last week at Pinehurst No. 2 as more of a figment of my imagination than reality. Last week, my game wasn’t quite as described above, the details of which you do not want to know. I posted an Equitable Stroke Control 89 after playing a tough Pinehurst No. 2. And, today, I led you through a miracle round which I hope you enjoyed. Since today is April 1, please excuse me for this little bit of fun. Even if you didn't, I had a good time. April Fools’!


  1. Jim, You had me reading in bewilderment until the last paragraph. I was there that day and couldn’t imagine an even par round under those conditions.

  2. Jim, Great Story. Sorry I missed playing that day!

  3. Helluva round!! Congratulations. I had a 72 once but only played 15 holes....

  4. I know you have been good enough to really have the 72. So you had me right up to the end. Brooks

  5. Pomeranz – You xxxxxxx! I just finished that breathtaking rounds – with you! My heart rate was elevated on those last three holes . . . . I was even leaning in my chair as the putts rolled . . . . and was ready to blame the caddie if WE missed a putt or selected the wrong club! And I was celebrating as you two-putted that severe breaker on #4 for the even par!

    You’re right Jim – Playing #2 was a supernatural experience for me. I shared with my wife when I returned home that even though my card indicated my playing partners as three friends, that in my mind they were Ben Hogan, Billy Joe Patton and Harvey Ward! You added special feature to that special round in my mind!

    Thank you for prolonging that wonderful day Jim!


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