Golf IQ

U.S. Open 2024: 'Effective green size' is a big buzzword at Pinehurst—here's what it means

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Andrew Redington

On paper, the USGA reports that the average green size here at Pinehurst this week is about 6,500 sq. feet, which is actually pretty big. It's about the same size as an average, low-scoring PGA Tour green.

But as always, the devil is in the details.

The reality is that the "effective size" of the greens—a phrase you'll hear a lot this week—is smaller. A lot smaller.

How much smaller? Scott Fawcett, a mathematician and founder of DECADE Golf, ran the numbers on a few of the greens.

Here's the second green, for instance, as measured by StrackaLine.

Everywhere that appears red, orange or pink denotes a slope of more than four percent.

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“Your ball won’t stay on those slopes,” says Ralph Bauer, a PGA Tour putting coach. “The Masters or USGA may put a pin on a four percent slope, but that’s as much as you can go when the greens get this fast.”

When Fawcett imposed the remaining green-or-blue area on the green, he found players are left with a target just 14 yards wide. The total area is about 2,700 sq. feet—a space that’s almost 1,000 sq. feet smaller than the average green size at the smallest greens on tour at Pebble Beach.

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I walked the eighth hole with 2020 U.S. Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau earlier this week, and he couldn’t believe how much smaller the effective size of that green was.

"You might as well pretend there’s no green there,” he said, pointing to different slopes on the surface. “It's not green.”

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That spot, it turns out, is just 2,800 sq. feet, which encompasses a portion just eight yards wide.

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The pinnable area of Pinehurst’s famed 18th looks more like a gerrymandered district.

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That effective green size is on the larger side—about 3,500 sq. feet—but again, its shape is so strange it won’t help much.

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These deceptively small greens mean pros will end up missing a lot of them.

A strategy pros use to navigate it

"The winner this week is going to have an 80 percent or more up-and-down percentage," DeChambeau says. "Putting [from off the green], chipping, bump-and-runs; they're going to have to be good at all of it."

Historically, the field average at U.S. Opens at Pinehurst has been a hair above 50 percent. Scrambling in the 80 percent range, doesn't just require mastering short shots around the green. It’s also about aiming in a way so you miss in the right spots. It's doing that which will allow you to make the difficult shot you face slightly easier.

“Aiming away from pins becomes so obvious at Pinehurst because the slopes are so severe. No matter where the pin is there’s really only one spot to hit it, and one spot to miss it,” says Fawcett.

One useful way to think about this is by adopting a “north pole-south pole” aiming mindset. It's something I noticed Scottie Scheffler doing so effectively when I dived into his stats. And we talk about it in our most recent episode of the Golf IQ podcast.

It's pretty simple:

  • Think of the effective green size like a globe.
  • Wherever the pin is your north pole.
  • That means the south pole is the opposite side of the globe.

That means if the pin is on the front of the green, club up. If it’s on the left portion of the flat part of the green, like in the example from Pinehurst’s 15th green below, aim to the right part of the flat portion.

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It's not always true that your south pole is your best miss, but generally speaking, think of the south pole as the best place to miss, and therefore a pretty good place to aim. It helps prevent the dreaded short-side miss when you don't hit the putting surface and it allows you to putt across the flattest portion when you do hit the green.

“Forget the pin is there, make a committed swing to a smart target away from the pin,” Fawcett says. “Avoid big numbers, and let the birdies happen whenever they come.”

This article originally appeared as part of the Golf IQ newsletter, which is delivered weekly to Golf Digest+ members. You can sign up for Golf Digest+ right here.