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U.S. Open 2023: What are 'pinch points'? The slow-play problem USGA scientists are racing to solve


Richard Heathcote

LOS ANGELES — One of the charms of Los Angeles Country Club is the unsteady rhythm of the golf course. You go from long par 5s, to drivable par 4s; a par 3 you're literally pitching a wedge to then a par 3 where you’re pulling 3 wood.

It's going to make for a fascinating contest, but this year, it also presents a peculiar pace of play problem.

Solving ‘pinch point’ problem

Think of golfers like cars driving down a highway. When everybody drives the same speed and the number of lanes on the road stays the same, there's not really any issue.

But of course, that's not what happens.

Sometimes cars get in accidents. Sometimes the speed limit changes. Other times, the number of lanes changes. All these things disrupt the flow of traffic—and create traffic jams.

The same thing happens on golf courses.

When the length of holes change, so does the time in which players play them. It’s like turning a two-lane highway into one, it creates bottlenecks where all the cars—or in this case, the golfers—get stuck in traffic. Those are what USGA Chief Championships Officer John Bodenhamer calls "pinch points," and leading into this year's contest, the USGA has employed an army of scientists and engineers to figure out where those pinch points are.

The main ones, Bodenhamer explained, will come on the sixth, seventh and 11th holes.

"We've done over 520 simulations with our colleagues in the equipment standards department, the scientists and the engineers in the USGA, those really smart folks that figure out things like where pinch points are on golf courses that host the U.S. Open," he says.

The sixth is the short par 4. Most players will need to wait for the green to clear before hitting their shot, so to prevent a pile up, the USGA has implemented a "hit up" rule where players on the green stand aside and let the previous group hit their first shots, before resuming playing the hole.

It's like golf's version of alternate merge. It doesn't solve the "pinch point" problem completely, but it's a tactic that really helps, as my colleague Drew Powell explains here.

"It's like being out on the 405," Bodenhamer says. "With 156 players, you can only get so many folks on the highway, and when something happens there's nowhere for them to go, but we'll manage it. We're on top of it."

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