Get ready for Winged Foot - one of the toughest canvasses that golf's artists encounter on the majors circuit

Coach Pete Cowen believes this week's US Open champion will finish over par on a challenging layout that has hosted two 'massacres'

Canadian golfer Corey Connors drives on the ninth hole facing the clubhouse during a practice round for the 2020 U.S. Open golf tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club - Get ready for Winged Foot - one of the toughest canvasses that golf's artists face on the majors circuit
The rough at Winged Foot this week is especially thick - a lot of lost balls are predicted Credit: USA TODAY SPORTS

“Pele” is what the Winged Foot caddies call President Trump, a long-time member of the course, because of his propensity to kick his ball out of the rough. Pete Cowen is concerned that if anyone tries the same at this week’s US Open they could lose a foot.

“It’s very, very thick,” Cowen, the Yorkshireman who has coached the past three US Open winners, reported to Telegraph Sport. “If they don’t have enough marshals and spotters there will be a lot of lost balls here.”

If only keeping it on the short and extremely narrow is the extent of the players’ concerns. “It’s not just the toughness of the course it’s how severe the greens are as well. The shapes and contours of them … strewth,” Cowen said.

“There is not a let-up hole on the entire layout. And then, when they’ve battled their way through 15 holes, they get to the 16th tee and discover they still have to tackle the hardest three hole-stretch.”

Cowen added that he now completely understands how the term “Mulligan” was coined at the 7,469-yarder, 25 miles north of Manhattan. David A Mulligan, a Canadian who managed the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown, would regularly re-tee his opening drive and call it “a correction shot”.

So put this cruel canvas in the USGA’s hands and what can possibly go wrong? Alas, the answer is written all over the X-rated Winged Foot story.

It is fair to say that 1974 was its shower scene. Hale Irwin won with a seven-over winning score and it was named “The Massacre at Winged Foot”.

“After the second round I was eating lunch and through the window we were watching them bring in the standards, 29-over, 34-over par,” Tom Watson said. “I had never seen scores that high.’’

Sandy Tatum, the USGA’s blazer in charge, vehemently denied the accusation, but the players were certain it was payback for Johnny Miller daring to win the previous year with a final-round 63 at equally-feared Oakmont.

“We are not trying to embarrass the best players in the world,” Tatum said in one golf’s most famous quotes. “We are trying to identify them.”

Nevertheless the US Open did not return first for 10 years, then for another 22 years but the memory was fresh and the blood was still on the walls. They named 2006 “The Massacre of Winged Foot II”. Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie both made double-bogeys down the last when par would have won and Australian Geoff Ogilvy prevailed on five-over. “Nobody ever wins the National Open,” Bobby Jones had once said. “Somebody else just loses it.”

Geoff Ogilvy prevailed the next time the course held the US Open, in 2006 - 32 years after 'The Massacre' Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Who will lose it this time? Perhaps everyone, because that seemed the case a few years ago as the USGA made annual cock-ups that brought the pros to the brink of mutiny. In 2018, there was talk of boycott with Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy named among the principal dissenters. After the mess of Chambers Bay in 2015, the farce of Oakmont in 2016 and the wretchedness of Shinnecock Hills in 2018, Mike Davis, the USGA’s ubiquitous chief executive, has wisely taken a step back and allowed John Bodenhamer to set up the course. The Bodenhamer House of Horror anybody?

Paul McGinley, the great Ryder Cup captain turned equally impressive Sky Sports analyst, does not think so. “The USGA haven’t got the balls,” McGinley said. “They don’t want the threat of a players’ revolt. I can’t see them allowing another massacre and I hope they don’t, but then I don’t want a 13-under like we had last year at Pebble Beach. What I’d like to see is something like a five-under winning score, a proper, traditional US Open test.”

Having seen it at first-hand, Cowen believes Sunday’s champion will be over par. “But so what?” he said. “This is a par 72 masquerading as a par 70 and I tell my players that par is not relevant, only the winning score is. The greens here are the thing and they do have the sub-air system that allows the USGA to get them to whatever speed they want. There’ll be whining, but there’ll be a winner. There always is.”

Horsfield ruled out of US Open

Sam Horsfield has been ruled out of this week’s US Open after testing positive for Covid-19. The 24-year-old Englishman, who won twice in three weeks during the European Tour’s recent “UK Swing” tested negative in a pre-arrival test taken last week, but then tested positive after arriving in New York on Monday.

Scottie Scheffler, the 24-year-old American who, like Horsfield, is asymptomatic, has also been withdrawn. Rory Sabbatini and Branden Grace – the South African who ironically tested positive before last month’s USPGA – take their places.