June 10, 2008–It was evident that Las Vegas golfer Craig Barlow wasn't sure he should be saying what he was saying. But Barlow, who has played the PGA Tour since 1998, is a straight-shooter and it's his nature to say what he feels. So he said it, even though while he said it, he basically begged forgiveness from the Golf and U.S. Open Gods. "Torrey Pines seems very, very fair, a lot more fair than I thought it would be," Barlow said, an hour or so after playing a practice round. "It's early in the week, I know, and I hope I don't put my foot in my mouth for saying it, but it doesn't have nearly as intimidating of a look as other US Open courses that I have played." Barlow went on to say that he thinks that barring any wind, the winner could come in at about 8-under par. Barlow grew up in Las Vegas and holds several course records at Las Vegas golf courses, including a tidy 62 at Cascata, a Rees Jones design. His home course is Reflection Bay Golf Club at Lake Las Vegas Resort.
This will be the 4th US Open for Barlow, and the first since he finished in a tie for 26th in the 2006 event that was played at Winged Foot. Geoff Ogily won with a score of +5. Barlow didn't play last year partly due to injury, but that Open was played at Oakmont. Angel Cabrera won with a five-over par total on what some called the toughest golf course in the world.
So Torrey Pines could become a kinder, gentler U.S. Open in several ways. Barlow was a bit shocked to see how wide the fairways were and didn't think the rough was overly penal. The rough height will be less lethal than in other U.S. Opens because of the presence of Kikuya grass, a very 'grabby' grass that flourishes in the summer and could wreak havoc if left at 'normal' U.S. Open heights. Barlow's overall opinion of Torrey Pines seemed to echo what Brian Davis, USGA Senior Director of Rules and Competitions, has been saying in recent weeks.
"I think if you look at Torrey Pines versus, say, a Pinehurst, Oakmont, Wingfoot, Bethpage, Pebble Beach, this is different," Davis said in May at the US Open Media Day, while also adding that the farther off line the players hit it, the worse the rough will be. "If I had to categorize this, I would say this will be perceived as longer, because it is going to be a longer golf course than what they generally see. I would also say it's a little bit more straightforward."
Davis said that the South Course at Torrey Pines could stretch to 7,643 yards if all tees are maxed out. And also that it is possible that this U.S. Open will boast the longest par 4 hole in history, the 515-yard, 6th hole. The par 4, 12th hole will play 504 yards, the third longest in history.
Davis also mentioned that due to the coastal conditions, the USGA was able to set up the course to its exact specifications for one of the few times in U.S. Open history.
"The other aspect at Torrey that will be wonderful – several aspects – but it's great, as I said, (to be) in coastal California.," Davis said. "You can almost dial in the golf course setup because you don't have rain influencing the golf course setup like it does so many other venues. So in theory we can get this thing exactly how we want it versus most other venues; we just don't have that opportunity because we don't know what Mother Nature is going to give us."
Barlow says that the U.S. Open is completely different than any other week on the PGA Tour. "I am grateful to play on the PGA Tour, but a regular PGA Tour event feels like a job, but this week doesn't feel like that at all," said Barlow, the 1994 Southern Nevada Golf Association Player of the Year. "It's a terrific week, and I enjoy every minute of it. To have the opportunity to play in this event is exactly the reason I play golf."
Barlow also thinks he can parlay the knowledge he has gained from his other U.S. Open experiences into a solid finish at Torrey Pines.
"There is a completely different strategy and mindset for a U.S. Open, and I feel like I have learned more and more every time I have played in one," said Barlow. "It's the ultimate test, and you find out who can think the best, who can play the smartest, who will take their medicine when they have to. You have to stay patient, but it's easy to try to force your way out of the troubles that this tournament throws at you."
Barlow first qualified for the U.S. Open in 1994 as a young amateur player, who really didn't know what his future in golf would be. But after he qualified and then matched his game against the best in the world, he realized he might be able to compete at the game's highest level. He has yet to win a PGA Tour event, but has earned more than $4.8 million in his decade of pro golf.
So will Torrey Pines be a kinder and gentler U.S. Open, and will Barlow stay patient and post another solid finish?
"I feel like a regular PGA Tour event is a putting contest, but this week is a chess match," said Barlow. "And I'm ready for that."
And he also added that there will be one thing that will be the same about this U.S. Open as all the rest.
"The greens are 100% U.S. Open greens, and they are very fast," said Barlow, referring to the putting surfaces that could peak at 14 on the stimp meter.