PINEHURST — Curtis Strange is the answer to a trivia question.
Who is the last person to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles?
Strange pulled the feat off in 1988 and 1989. This year’s tournament will mark the 25th anniversary of the occasion.
“The farther it goes, you know, the more proud I get of it,” Strange said. “I was very, very fortunate I was in the right place at the right time. It’s exciting. It’s nice to talk about it every year.”
Strange and fellow ESPN analysts Paul Azinger and Andy North were on a media conference call Thursday talking about next week’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. North, like Strange, is a two-time U.S. Open champion. Azinger and Strange were both in the field at the 1999 U.S. Open won by Payne Stewart. Azinger finished tied for 12th, while Strange missed the cut.
The trio chimed in on the changes at the course that has reverted to its look back in 1943. Strange had the opportunity to see the alterations in person during a round last week.
“It was fantastic to start with,” Strange said. “The tees, the routing of the fairways are all the same as they’ve always been and the greens were just impeccable. They were quite firm and as well know, they’re smallish in size anyway and with the upside-down bowl shapes of these perched greens they play so much smaller than they are. So they’re going to have to be so right on and so exactly with some of these longer shots.”
Strange then talked about the biggest change Bob Farren, the director of grounds and golf course maintenance at Pinehurst, was charged with — removing 40 acres of rough and replacing it with a mixture of sand, pine straw, hardpan and wiregrass.
“But what really caught our attention was that I anticipated sand and wiregrass outside of the fairways. It is that and much more. It is what they want to call undergrowth. I call it weeds. It is everything that you have seen in your worst kept lawn you’ve ever seen in your life. It was dandelions growing up 12 to 15 inches, it’s low-growing weeks and in some cases it’s actually difficult to find the golf ball.
“So what I’m saying is it actually looks a little bit different than I anticipated. It’s still going to be penal.”
North chimed in to talk about how difficult the course has always been because of its greens.
“The fact that this is so unusual than any other Open that we’ll ever play because of the greens and the green complexes. I always felt like when Pinehurst was firm, it was as difficult a golf course as you could ever play because you just can’t keep your ball where you want it to end up. You can hit perfectly - hit iron shots into the greens and the ball can ricochet 15, 20 yards off the greens and because of that in most Opens you’ll see guys hit 50, 52 greens, 54 greens to lead in greens hit in regulation. It could be 10 less than that at Pinehurst because the ball just keeps running off the edges.”
Azinger added the player that comes to Pinehurst with the right frame of mind will more than likely walk away with the title because of how difficult the course and the field will be next week.
“You have to add that I think this is going to be one of the most pressure-packed Opens for the individual players. First of all, the player with the best attitude generally comes out on top in these tournaments. You have to somehow get to a point in your mind where nothing is bothering you, that all the bad breaks that these guys have alluded to…just can’t get under your skin. That’s kind of what the U.S. Open has always tried to do, but this epitomizes it.”
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.