PINEHURST, NC – It was nine years ago when Dan Maples and his family took me out for a Saturday night on the town in a limo during U.S. Open week. During dinner the whole town stopped by the table to shake his hand and chat. Dan just smiled warmly, thanked them kindly by name, and asked about their families and what they were doing. Everybody loved him, and he loved them all back with typical North Carolinian sincerity.
Cut to nine years later and there it is again – Dan getting drivers of pickup trucks beeping and waving at him, store clerks telling what an honor it is to meet him, and strangers stopping by just to shake his hand. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Heck, he hasn’t aged a bit since I last saw him. That’s what clean living will do for you.
The history of Dan’s family and the Pinehurst resort are inextricably interwoven. Let’s catch up with one of Pinehurst’s city fathers and see what he thinks about this year’s U.S. Open at the place where his family have, happily, sunk their roots deep and made a better place for their presence.
Jay Flemma: What do you think of cc changes to No. 2?
Dan Maples: The first time I saw the work was Thursday during the telecast. I thought it was the most interesting piece of live television I’ve ever seen. I know the course like the back of my hand – I’ve hit all the shots pros are hitting now since high school, so it’s the weirdest feeling. Happily, it looks a lot like the course I grew up on and played since high school. It’s so great to see it look like that again. It’s just like I remembered it form when I was a kid.
JF: Even the new sandy waste areas off the fairways?
DM: It’s not exactly what was there when I was young, but it’s somewhat similar. I remember wire grass, not love grass, when I was a kid playing it with my grandfather. I’m sure trying to recreate it was difficult, but they did a nice job giving it a similar look. I like it, and I really think Donald Ross would like I too. This sounds crazy, but this is my opinion: Having played in Scotland and Ireland, I think to see brown at Pinehurst takes the course back where it started. It’s just like at a British Open course. When was the last time you saw a guy hit a shot at Pinehurst No. 2 and see dust flying through the air from off the fairway?
JF: Does it play differently as well as look differently?
DM: Sure. It’s like Turnberry when I first played it. I remember we had an American Society of Golf Course Architects meeting in Scotland, it had the same look Pinehurst has right now.
I watched on TV so I could see more of the golf course. I can’t see as much at the tournament. But what I saw really reminded me of the course I played when I was younger.
JF: How will it play differently for pros? How will it play differently for the resort guests?
DM: The rain we had last night softened the greens, so I knew they’d be able to go at the pin better today. But overall the scores aren’t too dissimilar to what happened there before.
What was unique about it before they ripped out the wire grass, is that the pros would hit it down into the sand and risk the rough. Here, when you play out of the sand, you can spin the ball. They can put more spin on the ball out of the sand rather than the rough. Moreover, what they have now really suits the site, and it’s a lot more like what was originally there than when they had the big long rough.
You know, my dad told me (and he turned pro at Pinehurst when he was 18 years old!) he told me that during his era No. 2 was always the yardstick for championship golf in the south, but it was never popular to the average player until they put forward tees in. When the average golfer could play it, that’s when it got popular. Ross wanted it as a tough test for the pros, but once the average player could get around it reasonably wel, that’s when they could enjoy it, and that’s when it got wildly popular.
I like the high banks on the sand. That was how it was originally. I know because my uncle Henson Maples was the superintendent after Frank Maples. During the Depression the high-faced sand bunkers were replaced with grass faces by my uncle, but the high sand is more indicative of what Ross was doing. I’m glad to see the sand back where it’s supposed to be. It’s more intimidating.
JF: Why is only one guy tearing the place up while everyone else is only playing pretty good?
DM: We still, have two more days! That lead can evaporate real fast.
JF: That’s true. One bad swing and one mental error and that’s four strokes write tere and if someone starts making a couple birdiesâ€¦
DM: Exactly. And Pinehurst is so wide – that there’s almost no way you can get in trouble off the tee, the playing corridor is monstrous.
Still, Kaymer is scoring so well because he’s driving so huge, he has just short irons into the greens. He has less to the pin than almost anybody else. And he’s got such confidence in his driver. He hits it so far, even if he hits it in the rough he doesn’t have anything left. And he can spin it out of the sand.
JF: But there are other great long players too that aren’t killing it like he is?
DM: But this week they’re not as accurate as him. They don’t have the confidence he does. But we have two more days, and the final round will be the tightest round, so we’ll see. He’s a good finisher, but he lets them hang around, the last day is so mental, they could make it interesting. Everyone knows how golf is. They are all great strikers of the ball, but the game is between your earsâ€¦especially at their level.
JF: What’s your prediction? Is Kaymer gonna win?
DM: Somebody’s gonna win, that’s my prediction.
JF: (Laughing) That’s no answer!
DM: It’ll be survival of the fittest. I want Mickelson to win, or I want Kaymer to shoot two more sixty-fives. I’ll say this – he better have some faith in that driver. That’s what got him there. But every fairway that goes by, the landing areas are gonna get a little bit narrower!
JF: He said he doesn’t it to be a putting contest. He wants it dry and firm and hard!
DM: It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the pressure. Paul Azinger had a 3 shot lead at Inverness going into the final round, and he didn’t sleep that night! It’s really mental golf at their level.
JF: Will you design any more courses?
DM: I will if I find the right one!