By Alex Podlogar

Darick McRae would’ve told you. Would’ve explained it in no uncertain terms.

He wouldn’t have been angry. Well, maybe. Depends on what you did, what shot you hit, where you started it.

Anger might be a little strong. But certainly passion. This is a man, as a Pinehurst caddie, who knows of what he speaks. And when he speaks of this, and this specifically, he is direct. He is firm. And at the second hole of Pinehurst No. 2, he would want his player to do something of a variation on his Hall of Fame grandfather’s legendary looper mantra:

Show up. Keep up. Shut up. And, for the love of God and Donald Ross himself, FORGET THAT PIN.

Early Thursday morning, the U.S. Open’s social media accounts shared the hole locations for the first round of the 2024 championship on Pinehurst No. 2. It didn’t take long to find…a menace. An absolute menace.

“That,” Darick McRae says, “is the meanest spot out here.”

Twenty-two paces deep, 11 paces from the right: The hole location on the 2nd hole of No. 2 in the first round.

Darick and Willie McRae
Darick and Willie McRae

“Don’t even look at it,” says Pinehurst Caddie Hall-of-Famer Thomas Trinchitella.

“The only way you’re going to get it close there is by accident,” he adds. “Even these guys will tell you that.”

Close wasn’t even on Collin Morikawa’s mind.

“2 – I don’t know what the hell to do on 2,” he said.

And this was from a guy who made a par.

“No. 2 was pretty dicey,” said Tony Finau, who made a bogey. “I hit a shot four or five paces right, pin-high. Obviously I knew that was going to happen, but…”

In one short stretch on Thursday morning, the names are ones you recognize. Some of them – look at that, it’s half of them – have won majors. One of these guys won, well, he won a lot. You’ve heard of him. Trust us. You’ve heard of all of them.

In one group, three of them hit tee shots in the fairway that could have been covered by a toddler’s blanket. Like life, things only got harder from there.

Collin Morikawa
Collin Morikawa

Lucas Glover. Sam Burns. Cam Smith. Over the next two groups, Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar and Russell Henley. All six were in the fairway after their drives on the 508-yard par-4 2nd hole. All six missed the green. Over three groups – they were playing in threesomes on Thursday – five players came away with bogeys. None of those five hit the green in regulation.

Some of them had visited it, but only briefly. In fact, all five of them had. Call it a GVIR – Green Visited In Regulation. It could be its own stat on No. 2.

“The first hole of No. 2 is probably one of the most docile holes on the course,” says 2006 U.S. Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy. “And then you get hit in the face.”

The 2nd green – with that hole location especially – is No. 2’s brilliance in a nutshe…err…turtleshell. If No. 2 is, as most experts like to caution, a “second-shot golf course,” even the best players in the world can find difficulty in the most benign – and ideal – conditions.

There’s a chance No. 2 won’t play any easier than it did on Thursday morning in the first round. There was only a hint of wind. Sure, conditions are firm, but we’re just getting started, and there’s no more rain in the forecast.

Even first round leader Patrick Cantlay, who shot 5-under 65, had to work for his par. He drove his tee shot into the native area left of the fairway, forcing him to chop it out about 80 yards short of the green. He attacked the pin with a spinny wedge from there to about 5 feet and made the putt for par.

But that’s the thing. Wedge into that location is doable – at this level. Little else is – even at this level.

Hole 2 Green
Hole 2 Green

“Unless you can clip an 8 iron or a 9 iron into there with a fade, you’ve got no chance,” says McRae, who has caddied on No. 2 for 17 years and learned from one of Pinehurst’s finest all-time loopers, Willie McRae. “Even then you have to cut it and hope it hits soft.”

Part of it is the green’s design. Like all of No. 2’s greens, it’s a turtleback, but it sits horizontally on one of the longest holes on the course, leaving little room for error on longer approach shots. There’s also a ridge that runs along its spine, with a downslope on the back half. Be off by a yard, like Smith was, and the ball takes a hard bounce and rolls off the back.

“Everything runs away from the middle of that green,” Trinchitella says. “And that’s the thing about today’s pin. That pin placement is probably the hardest one the field could face all week. It’s harder than the one that’s all the way back-right there because of the knob. Guys are trying to land it on the flat spot, but it’s tiny. They try to land it there, but the downslope starts there. Everything goes away from you there.”

“I’m telling you,” McRae says again, “it’s mean.”

The numbers back him up. The 2nd didn’t play as the toughest hole on Thursday – it was third – but it was still diabolical. Only the longer, 528-yard par- 4 fourth and the dastardly 230-yard par-3 6th played more difficult for the field. But it wasn’t by much. The 2nd had the fewest birdies on the day – raise your hands and putters to the sky, Xander Schauffele and Nicolai Hojgaard, both of you, because that’s it – and had nearly the most bogeys, with 57. The 2nd only had four double bogeys – the 8th had 11 – and no dreaded “others,” but that’s part of the 2nd’s difficulty. Precision is paramount. If you’re off by even a smidge, it might cost you a shot. It did for 37 percent of the field.

“It’s a long second shot, and the green sits at a funny angle,” Ogilvy says. “There’s probably no disasters there, but it’s a very scary shot.”

Smith’s approach from the fairway hit the middle the green, but the wrong part of the middle, and ran off the back. Woods’s approach leaked a bit to the right and landed right of the pin – no chance – and trickled off almost at a right angle, leaving him a short-sided pitch from about 10 yards away. Burns’ shot was the same. So was Finau’s.

“Here everything is repelling,” Woods said. “It’s just hard to get the ball on top of the shelves. You know if you miss it short side, it’s an auto bogey or higher. Being aggressive to a conservative line is I think how you need to play this particular golf course.”

See? McRae says.

“You can’t go at it. Not that one,” McRae warns. “Just don’t. There’s no way.”

So, what do you do?

“You play to the middle, play to a specific number and just don’t worry about the flag. It’s there, but don’t look at it. Play the number. Try to two-putt it.”

Then what?

“Walk to 3. You did it.”