ERIN HILLS (Wisconsin) • Rory McIlroy has hit back at criticism of the challenging rough at Erin Hills as the Wisconsin course prepares to host the US Open for the first time this week.
Thick, calf-deep fescue grass bordering the fairways at the rugged course have been described as unplayable, with golfers posting videos and images on social media warning of the difficulties of hitting the rough. But world No. 2 McIlroy, who arrived in Wisconsin on Friday to survey the course as he chases a fifth Major title, was unimpressed after being informed that the fescue was being cut on certain holes, despite the large fairways.
"Really? We have 60 yards from left line to right line on the fairway," the Northern Irishman told reporters on Tuesday.
"You've got 156 of the best players in the world here, if we can't hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.
"These are the widest fairways we've ever played in a US Open. Even the first and second cut is another 10 yards on top of that. So if you've got 50 or 60 yards to hit into and you're complaining about the fescue that's wider than that, I don't think that's an issue."
A Facebook video posted by golfer Kevin Na on Sunday went viral. The video showed the Korean-born American throwing a ball into the fescue from three feet which promptly vanished.
When he discovered the ball, he whiffed at his first attempt, and then hacked it only a few feet on his second attempt.
Former world No. 1 Lee Westwood and American Wesley Bryan were among the other players who suggested that the field will be in for a rough time.
Na later insisted he had not intended the video as a criticism of US Open organisers but had merely sought to demonstrate that the fescue was "a little overdone".
FIRST ROUND TEE TIMES (SELECTED)
TEE NO. 1
2.36am (Friday) Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia
2.47am Henrik Stenson, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen
2.58am Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas, Paul Casey
3.09am Jason Day, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy
TEE NO. 10
8.51pm Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm
9.02pm Lee Westwood, Ross Fisher, Graeme McDowell
9.13pm Danny Willett, Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera
9.35pm Martin Kaymer, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson
American golfer and two-time Major champion Brittany Lincicome - who plays on the LPGA Tour - disagreed.
"I still think if you can't hit a fairway that is 50 yards wide you deserve to be in the fescue. I play better from there," she tweeted.
"It's the US OPEN. It should be one the hardest and longest weeks of the year in my opinion. I say the harder the better."
The United States Golf Association (USGA) pulls no punches when it chooses a venue and this year went for a links style layout that weighs in at a beefy 7,741 yards - the longest course in Major history.
It eclipses that of Chambers Bay - venue for the 2015 US Open - which stands at 7,695 yards.
Winged Foot, the Olympic Club and Oakland Hills are other courses that over the years have brought golf's best to their knees. Now Erin Hills will try to add its name to that list of heavyweight layouts.
Many holes feature blind or semi-blind tee-shots, while the course's mid-section runs on an outward-inward path that will ensure players face variable winds.
Factor in fairways bordered by the much-debated deep fescue, and it appears likely that the tournament will live up to its billing as the toughest test in golf.
Defending champion and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, bidding to become the first back-to-back champion in 28 years, will aim to exploit his big-hitting prowess.
The American, who missed the Masters in April after a freak accident where he slipped on steps and hurt his back on the eve of the tournament, was adamant the length of Erin Hills would suit his game.
"It's just a very, very difficult tournament to win," the 32-year-old said.
"I like really tough golf courses. I tend to focus more and play better. I like knowing par is a good score for some reason.
"I don't know why. I play better when I'm playing for pars."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE