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Busy preparing their U.S. Open game plan, pros know placement is key

By John Huggan

PINEHURST, N.C. -- It's going to be different; pretty much everyone agrees on that. But what is going to be the key to doing well in Pinehurst No. 2's third US Open? According to two of the world's leading coaches, the test in front of the world's best golfers will be a tantalizing mix of tactical, mental and technical expertise.

"'There are going to be occasions when really good players are going to be made to look a bit silly," says Englishman Pete Cowen, who works with world number two, Henrik Stenson. "Which is why sticking to a sound game plan, making the right choices at the right times, is the biggest key to doing well here this week. That and the ability to hole out from six-eight feet for par. A guy who wants to win is going to have to do that any number of times."

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Further out from the hole, control of distance from the fairways is going to be another key factor.

"The first key is keeping the ball in play so that you can play to the greens," contends South African-Scot Jamie Gough, the man who stands behind Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez on the range. "The scrubland is very difficult to play from. And from the fairway can be tough too. The key there though is distance control. Which is why Miguel been working a lot of rhythm and tempo in an effort to control the trajectory of his shots and the distance the ball travels through the air.

"I've even been encouraging him to imagine they are playing the course with no pins on the greens. I want him aiming for an area of a putting surface, or even a flat spot just off the fringe. On many of the greens there are 'shelves' maybe five yards wide. If you can play to them you have a chance to score."

Still, for all that, it is around the notoriously convex putting surfaces that this U.S. Open is going to be won and lost.

"On this course, even more than most, you need a game plan. And that plan includes what you are going to do around the greens. Sometimes you are going to have to chip. That is inevitable. And when that happens, you have to make sure your fist chip stays on the green. That sounds ridiculous, but it is a big factor this week.

"If you don't have to chip, putt every time. Just because someone is a great chipper, doesn't mean he should be chipping. Henrik is a great chipper but I have been telling him to consider other options. Look at it this way. On most chips you can look at the shot and think, if I was playing with my mates, I'd chip it 99 times out of 100. But if I were playing for my life, I'd putt it 99 times out of 100. That's how you have to think."

One last thought from Cowen, one that may make the second green one of the places to be for spectators this week, especially those who enjoy the golfing equivalent of a car crash.

"In my view, the second green is impossible to hit," he says. "Impossible. It doesn't matter if you are going in with an 8-iron or a 4-iron. You can't hit that green."

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July 28, 2014

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