Community Sports

Greg Norman warns golfers to shape up for Chambers Bay

Greg Norman started sending texts to some of his golfer friends as soon as he finished playing a round at Chambers Bay on Sunday.

“Get fit,” he told them.

He might have warned those competing in June’s U.S. Open at Chambers to “get creative.”

Or perhaps: Get versatile. Get ready for a taxing mental challenge. Or even get familiar with fine fescue grasses.

But his first thought after finishing his exploratory round was how this rugged U.S. Open course in University Place will exhaust golfers.

Norman, who is on the Fox broadcast crew, is still as fit and lean as he was when he was known as “The Shark” while winning two British Opens.

But he warned that four competitive rounds on the sloped Chambers grounds could give golfers “shin splints.”

His next assessment was on the immensity of the course (nearly 1,000 acres, compared to the 218 acres of next year’s site, Oakmont), and its uniqueness.

“My first impression is just the massive scale of it, the really wide fairways and massive green complexes, (and) the undulations that are taking place on those green complexes,” Norman said. “It’s going to take a player more than two rounds to understand this golf course.”

Norman, a Hall of Famer and three-time PGA top money winner, has played golf around the world. So, he was asked what Chambers reminded him of.

“Nothing … nothing like it,” he said.

It’s a links-style course built on sand and covered by “fine fescue.” American golfers, he said, aren’t used to playing links courses, and certainly not on fescue grass.

And nobody’s ever seen a links course with the vertical terrain of Chambers. “… Links courses with this much elevation change we don’t play,” Norman said. “That’s the big difference.”

The slopes and undulations will force players to forget the high-flight approaches in favor of low-trajectory punch shots that trace the natural geography of the course.

“A one-dimensional player won’t do well around here,” he predicted. “(It favors) a multidimensional player who can see it and execute the shots he needs to … also a player who can visualize what a ball is going to do rolling out.”

While being interviewed Monday afternoon, and asked about the scenic vistas, “The Shark” looked out at the Puget Sound waters, and the Olympic Mountains beyond them.

“Oh, this is made for TV,” he said. “This is fantastic. From our perspective, we’re going to love it. It’s going to be such a dramatic visual showing.”

The course and the environment set the scene, but Norman said it will be his job to tell the story. And he senses great theater.

“There’s going to be so many dramatic shots,” he said. “Take No. 16, for example: You might have guys make an eagle and you might have guys making an 8 … there’s going to be massive swings, and unusual shots.”

Golfers who challenge, he predicted, will be those who study the slopes and angles and learn the hidden influences of the fairways and greens, and can be versatile enough to adapt to the changes that can be made to the course from day to day.

It’s going to take steely mental toughness to fight off the negative thoughts.

That’s often the case with a U.S. Open, but Chambers is so architecturally different as to make it unprecedented. As the first visit to the Pacific Northwest in the 115-year history of the Open, the interest already is building.

During Monday’s media session, more than 200 reporters and golf officials packed a meeting room. It was so crowded that Pierce County officials required an announcement be made regarding emergency exit procedures, and the positions of fire extinguishers and defibrillators.

If Norman’s warnings about the physical demands of playing Chambers Bay are valid, they might consider moving that defibrillator down toward the 18th tee on Sunday afternoon.