Round 1 Fact or Fiction: Pinehurst Proves It's the Best Course in U.S. Open Rotation

The SI Golf staff debates Pinehurst No. 2's mettle, whether it will have a first-time major champion this week and if that winner will hit double-digits under par. 
Pinehurst No. 2 gave up some scores Thursday but also saw players in plenty of tough spots.
Pinehurst No. 2 gave up some scores Thursday but also saw players in plenty of tough spots. / Katie Goodale-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the U.S. Open edition of SI Golf’s Fact or Fiction. We’ll be here after every day’s play with a series of statements for writers and editors to declare as “Fact” or “Fiction” along with a brief explanation. Responses may also (occasionally) be “Neutral” since there's a lot of gray area in golf.

Do you agree or disagree? Let us know on the SI Golf X account.

Pinehurst No. 2 played as difficult as expected in the first round, with its puzzling crowned greens inflicting some pain—yet good scores were out there. There is no better course in the U.S. Open rotation. 

Bob Harig: FICTION. I prefer Pebble Beach and have always loved Shinnecock but that is not to knock Pinehurst, which is incredible and has stood up to the best players in the world. In its three previous U.S. Opens a total of four players broke par over 72 holes. There are 15 scores under par through just one round but wait and see what that total is by the end of the week.

John Pluym: FICTION. I don’t think any U.S. Open course is better than Pebble Beach Golf Links. It’s picturesque next to the Pacific Ocean and the sights and sounds are incredible. And it’s the place where so many amazing shots have happened in the U.S. Open, including Jack Nicklaus’s 1-iron off the pin in 1972 and Tom Watson’s chip-in on 17 in ’82. There’s also Tiger Woods’s 15-stroke victory in 2000. Pinehurst is definitely unique but it has nothing on Pebble Beach. 

Jeff Ritter: FICTION. I absolutely love Pinehurst and it’s a great mix of being playable and also penal. But Oakmont and Pebble Beach would like a word here. 

John Schwarb: NEUTRAL. I’ll go prisoner-of-the-moment a little because we’re here and I love No. 2. I would put it ahead of Pebble Beach because I see Pebble every year (albeit not in an Open setup) and maybe a hair behind Oakmont and Shinnecock as a host just based on the duration of history. But I can also argue it as the best golf course.  

It’s early, but Patrick Cantlay has a share of the lead with Ludvig Aberg, Matthieu Pavon and Tony Finau also on the front page of the leaderboard. Like last month’s PGA Championship, this week will have a first-time major champion.

Bob Harig: FICTION. It is difficult to be sold on any of those guys as good as they are playing. Pavon made two eagles, an outlier. Finau has not been much of a contender, anywhere. Aberg, who finished second at the Masters and has tremendous upside, is still in just his third major. And Cantlay hit only 10 greens in regulation after missing the cut last week. There’s a long way to go and some other major champions lurk.

John Pluym: FICTION. Cantlay, McIlroy and DeChambeau all played terrific in the opening round, but the U.S. Open will test your nerves in so many ways (just ask Phil Mickelson), and that’s why I’m not ready to give up on my prediction, which was Scheffler. I love the way Aberg is playing, but I’m not sure he’s ready for the big moment on a Sunday at Pinehurst. 

Jeff Ritter: FICTION. Cantlay could certainly win it, but McIlroy and DeChambeau loom large and I’m not writing off Scheffler or Brooks Koepka yet. Odds are better that one of them lifts the trophy on Sunday.

John Schwarb: FICTION. I might have been frisky and answered this differently around 1 p.m. Thursday, then Rory and Bryson entered the chat. And several more major champs are around even and 1 over, which is fine with three rounds to go. 

Five under set the pace Thursday. With light winds expected the rest of the week and the USGA showing a willingness to spot-water greens to keep them alive in the heat, the winning score of this U.S. Open will be double-digits under par. 

Bob Harig: FICTION. There are plenty of under-par scores but the U.S. Open has a way of lulling you into thinking it’s going to continue. It’s unlikely. The greens, unless there is a deluge, will get firmer. They won’t get less undulating. The heat is likely to take its toll, too It’s very possible that -5 wins.

John Pluym: FICTION. These golfers are the best in the world, but with a slight breeze and the greens still baking from the heat, I think the course will become even more challenging. What sets the U.S. Open apart from the other majors is the winner usually posts a single-digit score. I’d rather see the USGA put up a tough test than a walk in the park. 

Jeff Ritter: FACT. I’d guess 11 or 12 under wins it. These guys are good.

John Schwarb: FACT. I suggested a high winning score in our Bettors’ Roundtable earlier in the week but now I don’t think the USGA will let mayhem take hold of this course. We won’t have a Valhalla-like record shootout but 10 under will win it.

Phil Mickelson shot 79 Thursday and may be near the end of his U.S. Open career—his five-year exemption from winning the 2019 PGA at Kiawah ends with the 2025 U.S. Open at Oakmont. But the USGA should give him a special exemption after that if he doesn’t play his way back in.

Bob Harig: FACT. Two years is a long time from now and it would be good if the animosity that exists in the game fades. Phil has had his run-ins over the years with the USGA, one of which was at Shinnecock—where he’d be seeking that special exemption. He was given one in 2021 before he won the PGA. He’s deserving but the guess is here it won’t happen..

John Pluym: FACT. If the USGA is going to give Tiger Woods an exemption, then they have to give the same opportunity to Mickelson. 

Jeff Ritter: FACT. It wouldn’t be shocking if the USGA let Phil fade into the gloaming, especially since he’s lashed out them so often over the years and even swatted a moving ball on the green at Shinnecock as a protest against that particular course setup. But Phil is part of the fabric of the modern age of golf. The USGA should give him a couple more shots at it, assuming Phil is game for it.

John Schwarb: FACT. The complete history of the U.S. Open can't be told without Mickelson, it's just not history he loves to hear. But he has that history, plus one USGA triumph in the 1990 U.S. Amateur (the first lefty winner!). That's certainly enough for an invitation as his career winds down. The bigger question is, will he accept it?


Published
Jeff Ritter

JEFF RITTER

Jeff Ritter is the Managing Director of SI Golf. He spent more than a decade at Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine, and in 2020 joined Morning Read to help spark its growth and eventual acquisition by Sports Illustrated in 2022. He's a member of the Golf Writers' Association of America (GWAA) and has covered more than 25 major championships. He helped launch SI Golf Plus Digital, Golf Magazine’s first original, weekly e-magazine, and served as its top editor. He also launched Golf's “Films” division, the magazine’s first long-form video storytelling franchise, and his debut documentary received an Edward R. Murrow Award for sports reporting. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Society of American Travel Writers, the MIN Magazine Awards, and the Golf Writers Association of America, among others. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. A native Michigander, he remains a diehard Wolverine fan and will defend Jim Harbaugh until the bitter end.

Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior writer covering golf for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience on the beat, including 15 at ESPN. Harig is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, "DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods" and "Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry." He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Harig, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Fla.

John Schwarb

JOHN SCHWARB

John Schwarb is the senior golf editor for Sports Illustrated whose career has spanned more than 25 years covering sports. He’s been featured on ESPN.com, PGATour.com, The Golfers Journal and Tampa Bay Times. He’s also the author of The Little 500: The Story of the World's Greatest College Weekend. A member of the Golf Writers Association of America, John is based in Indianapolis.

John Pluym

JOHN PLUYM

John Pluym is the managing editor for NFL and golf content at Sports Illustrated. A sports history buff, he previously spent 10 years at ESPN overseeing NFL coverage. John has won several awards throughout his career, including from the Society of News Design and Associated Press Sports Editors. As a native Minnesotan, he enjoys spending time on his boat and playing golf.