Big-driving Bubba Watson, coming off his second Masters victory, will be easing back on the ball blasting this week to give himself a better chance at winning the US Open.
With Pinehurst’s saucer-like greens leaving only a small target area for players and wide fairways flanked by weeds, dirt and pine trees, Watson likes his chances better on critical approach shots if he takes the driver out of his hands off the tee this week.
“I’m going to try to lay farther back than normal, because it’s still iffy hitting in that — I don’t know what they call it, rough, dirt, sand,” he said.
“You don’t know what kind of lies you’re going to get, so I’m going to lay back and have a lot longer shots into the holes.”
World number three Watson, who took his first Masters green jacket in 2012 for his first major title, expects a hard slog this week.
“I think this US Open is the toughest we’ll play. Well, toughest for me, just because the greens are so unfriendly,” Watson said.
“These greens were built back in the early days when green speeds were a little slower. So I believe that these green speeds we’re putting them to and the firmness we’re putting them to makes it unfriendly.”
That means not being tempted by the wide fairways Pinehurst offers and setting up approaches off the tee,
“For me it’s the second shots that are going to matter the most,” Watson said. “I don’t see too many birdies around here, especially if they put the pins in the corners. You can’t look at par or a number. You have to look at just finishing. It’s going to be a tough test of golf.”
The 35-year-old American, known for his laid-back style, likened the US Open test to a battle or a chess match.
“It wears you down mentally,” Watson said. “You can’t look at scores. You have to look at what’s the best way to attack that hole. And when I say attack, I don’t mean attack the pin, I mean maybe miss the green to the right so you can chip up and make an easier par.
“My mental state is in the right spot. I’m focused on the right things now. I’m learning to play fewer practice rounds so I don’t get bogged down and overtired.
“US Open is different than anything we ever play. This time they’re doing it without rough, but they’re doing it with the greens.”
That makes Pinehurst similar to Augusta National, where Watson has enjoyed great success finding the fine line between being lured into trouble and finding opportunities.
“US Open is challenging you at all levels,” Watson said. “If you want to be a man and hit driver off that tee, you can. If you want to lay back and try to play smarter, you can.
“They are trying to create a challenge for everybody and you can play it aggressively or you can play it smartly.”
But Watson is also open to adapting his style and blasting away if he starts off poorly this week.
“I say hit fairways and the just go with a longer shot into these tough greens,” Watson said. “Not saying it’s the right strategy. But that’s what I’m planning.
“Now if I make a few bogeys and doubles right quick, I might switch to the driver.”