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SI convened a meeting of its golf experts—senior writers Michael Bamberger, Damon Hack, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle, plus contributing writer John Garrity—and a PGA Tour pro (who participated on the condition of anonymity) to answer those and other questions
TURNING THE 'PAGE
VAN SICKLE: What do you remember about the first Open at Bethpage, in 2002?
HACK: That was my last golf story for Newsday before I went to The New York Times.
BAMBERGER: So you mailed it in.
HACK: Exactly. But I love the course. People were concerned that the pros were going to tear it up, that it would be a Cakewalk. I remember how tough it was. In an area that has such great history with Shinnecock and the National Golf Links, Bethpage can stand on its own.
ANONYMOUS PRO: It was fantastic and plenty hard. I hear they've lengthened a few holes and there are more chipping areas, especially behind the 4th green, a great par-5. It used to be a straight drop down an embankment into the rough. Now it's more level and playable. It'll be a little friendlier in spots, but the rough was so thick it was a joke, especially after the rain. Hitting out of that rough sounded like smacking a water ballon.
SHIPNUCK: The finish is great. The 15th is a monster par-4 going up the hill; then 16 is a great par-4 coming back down. The 17th is the par-3 with the loud amphitheater. That's the meat. Those three holes will define who wins. Phil made a bogey at 16 that ended his bid. It's a brutal hole, up a steep hill to a sharply pitched, small green. There are going to be 5s and 6s there on Sunday. That's going to weed out some contenders.
BAMBERGER: It's a classic U.S. Open course. With the elevation changes, it really feels like a true stadium with the fans on top, looking down on the players a lot of times. With the frenzied New York crowd, it made for an intense experience. Remember, it was less than a year after 9/11 and emotions were still raw. There were red-white-and-blue headcovers, and Nick Faldo wore the I [heart] NEW YORK hat. The fans embraced the players and vice versa. I covered a Mets game, the first baseball game back in New York, and Mike Piazza hit a home run to beat the Braves, and there was Liza Minnelli singing New York, New York, and nine months later you had the Open here. It continued the healing. It's not going to be the same vibe this time, but you'll still have vocal fans.
SHIPNUCK: Can you think of any course that accumulated so much lore after only one tournament? It feels as if the Black has been part of the Open rota for 100 years.