Cape Town - The U.S. Open is the toughest test in major championship golf, and United States Golf Association chief Mike Davis says this year's examination at Chambers Bay will be as much mental as physical.
"It's going to require that the players think on their feet a little bit more than they would normally," USGA executive director Davis told Reuters in an interview.
"Players are not only going to have to execute good shots and think well, but they're going to have to manage how they play during the round."
The rolling Washington State course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., set along Puget Sound on land formerly used as a rock quarry and gravel mine, has been molded into a tree-less links course with dunes, elevations and fescue grass.
Banked hills and undulations in the fairways and around greens allow for multiple ways of playing to the greens and oversized tee areas allow Davis and his colleagues to change the look and strategy of holes from round to round.
"Having a game plan will help, but you got to think on your feet, too, which we think is part of the test of golf," said Davis.
"The U.S. Open is probably year-in and year-out maybe the hardest test of golf there is. We're setting it up close to the edge of not being fair, so you really have to be mindful how you think each hole is going to play, and how you want to play it."
The set-up of U.S. Opens over the years has made it the most exacting of major tournaments, making par a worthy score. In the last 10 years, winners have broken par for 72 holes four times.
The world's best golfers have been known to grumble and growl over the difficulty, prompting Davis's predecessor Sandy Tatum to famously defend the Winged Foot course that Hale Irwin won on in 1974 at seven over par.
"We are not trying to humiliate the best players in the world. We're simply trying to identify who they are," said Tatum.
The prototypical U.S. championship set-up featured narrow fairways, thick rough along the fairways and bordering the greens, and firm, fast conditions punishing the slightest error.
Davis said the USGA approach has shifted in recent years, yet the tournament remains a challenge.
In the last 15 years, the average winning U.S. Open total was a little more than three under par. The British Open winner averaged nearly nine under par, while the Masters and PGA Championship winner averaged 10 under par.
"The overriding philosophy I don't think has changed dramatically," said Davis.
"We want it to be a very stern, challenging test, some would say the most difficult test. (But) we're not trying to just make the course as tough as it could be. We could have 20 over par win on some courses.
"We are after shot-making skills, accuracy off the tee, rewarding distance control, the ability to recover when you get in trouble, thinking your way around, the ability to handle your nerves, the ability to handle something you're not planning."
Davis said these days the USGA is trying to celebrate the uniqueness of each course selected to host.
"We really are trying to showcase the architecture of each course a little bit more than we used to," he said about a departure from "more of a cookie-cutter set-up type days" of deep rough and narrow fairways.
"Now what we're really trying to do is say, 'Hey, what is the personality of each one of these great golf courses?', and just let the architecture speak for itself a little more. I would say we're doing less tinkering now than we used to do."
Less tinkering, but greater variety.
"Up until 2005 when I took over with the set-up, we weren't really changing up tee grounds on a regular basis," Davis said. "Now, we do want to mix up some. From different tees, you will have a different architectural feature come into play."
"One of the wonderful things about the game of golf is that the arena, the golf course, has so much to do with the excitement.
"Shot-making is still going to be a big part of it. You don't win an event unless you're really playing well that week. But I think the players are really going to have to be thoughtful and embrace it."