It's Gunch Time A little-known stat measures the perils of U.S. Open rough

June 14, 1998

Each of the majors has its own cruel way to punish golfers. The
Masters does it with greens slicker than a politician's smile.
The British Open has cavernous bunkers and freakish weather. At
the PGA, it's hellish heat. The U.S. Open's trademark, of
course, is thin fairways lined with what the pros call poverty
grass, hay, cabbage, gunch and many unprintable names. As Fuzzy
Zoeller said of Open rough, "Man, I go rabbit hunting in that
stuff. You don't go in there, you send your beagle in."

This year's rough at San Francisco's Olympic Club is expected to
be the nastiest yet. "It's more than five inches tall and
thicker than the hair on a Labrador's back," says head pro Jim
Lucius. It'll be a dog's life for anyone who strays on Olympic's
doglegs.

How much will the rough affect scores? Plenty, according to a
USGA statistic called Cost of Rough. The stat measures the gap
in scoring between players who hit fairways and those who miss
them. In the Opens played from 1994 to '96, the years for which
the statistic is available, the average Cost of Rough was .458
of a stroke per hole, more than enough to spell the difference
between victory and heartbreak.

When Davis Love III (above) three-putted the last green to lose
the '96 Open to Steve Jones, everyone blamed his putter. Yet
Love had taken 120 putts to the winner's 121. It was the gunch
that got him. Love hit only 34 fairways all week, compared with
Jones's 41, and wound up with a Cost of Rough 2.975 strokes
higher than Jones's. Had he matched Jones's accuracy, Love
presumably could have four-putted the final green and still won.

The chart at left shows the fairways hit and Cost of Rough
percentages at the '94-96 Opens for this year's money leaders
and five other contenders, plus their current fairway
percentages and Tour rank in that department. Note that Tiger
Woods has been quite accurate driving with his irons in previous
Opens. Still, it's more likely to be a straight arrow such as
Justin Leonard or Colin Montgomerie who's celebrating next
Sunday after everybody else gets gunched.

--Rick Lipsey

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [Davis Love III]

U.S. Open,1994-96 PGA Tour, 1998
FAIRWAYS C.O.R. PER ROUND FAIRWAYS RANK

Fred Couples 42.9% 3.664 62.9% 150th
David Duval 66.1 2.176 71.5 65th
Justin Leonard 71.4 1.832 76.8 14th
Tiger Woods 75.0 1.603 70.7 72nd
Mark O'Meara 61.9 2.443 71.2 66th
Ernie Els 63.6 2.336 69.8 ----
Steve Jones 73.2 1.718 69.0 98th
Tom Lehman 66.1 2.176 75.4 30th
Colin Montgomerie 73.8 1.679 77.7 ----
Tom Watson 67.9 2.061 69.0 98th

OPEN CLOSER

With two victories, a tie for fifth and a tie for seventh since
his first U.S. Open appearance, in 1993, Ernie Els has vaulted
to the top of the tournament's alltime money list. Here are the
leading earners in Open history.

STARTS WINS EARNINGS

1. Ernie Els 5 2 $905,446
2. Curtis Strange 19 2 603,086
3. C. Montgomerie 6 0 578,627
4. Tom Lehman 9 0 569,569
5. Payne Stewart 14 1 512,680
6. Steve Jones 5 1 458,993
7. Corey Pavin 15 1 428,697
8. Tom Watson 23 1 427,320
9. Greg Norman 16 0 425,899
10. Hale Irwin 23 3 423,609

Source: Sal Johnson

TRACK & FIELD

The West course at Westchester Country Club, site of this week's
Buick Classic, is one of the PGA Tour's most difficult tracks.
The chart below shows the toughest courses on the Tour's regular
rotation last year and how many strokes over par the field
averaged.

EVENT COURSE AVG. OVER PAR

Canadian Open Royal Montreal 2.77
World Series Firestone South 1.79
Buick Classic Westchester 1.52
Players TPC Sawgrass 1.38
MCI Classic Harbour Town 1.28

THE NUMBER

35

Double Eagles on Tour since Bob Gilder's Westchester Classic
winner in 1982. Woody Austin made this year's first double eagle
last week at the Kemper.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)