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Expect something different at Chambers Bay

Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during a practice round Wednesday for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during a practice round Wednesday for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. AP

If you haven’t heard it enough already – and the roar is just reaching full throat – you’ll continue to hear how different Chambers Bay is from any other U.S. Open site.

And it is.

Wildly different. Pink hair different. Have they lost their minds different.

If you’ve caught a glimpse of it on television or in magazines, you know Chambers Bay looks a little like Mars, covered in greenish-brown fescue, the whole place rolling and tumbling like an angry ocean, its complexion scarred by enormous gashes of sand, leaving parts of the property looking as unkempt as a teenager’s bedroom.

Trains run by the right side of the 16th fairway every once in a while, close enough that you can feel their breeze from the fairway. Big, gray pieces of long abandoned buildings still dot the rugged landscape, remnants of the quarry business that dug out what is now the skeleton of the course. The lone tree on the course is a Douglas fir – nicknamed Doug – that stands sentinel near the edge of the Puget Sound.

Chambers Bay is like nothing else, at least nothing else in the staid, bogey-stained history of the U.S. Open.

“It plays more like a links course than some links courses,” said Rory McIlroy, who cut his teeth on the great links of Northern Ireland.

Chambers Bay, a municipally owned course, is not supposed to be lush and green with supermodel-thin fairways and shin-deep rough. That’s parkland golf where you determine your distance from the hole, aim, fire and expect the ball to stop where it lands. This is closer to marbles on a tile floor.

“It’s its own thing,” Tiger Woods said, and if that sounds like a less than glowing endorsement, well, not everyone is going to love Chambers Bay.

How best to play Chambers Bay is open to interpretation, which is among the nuances of links-style golf. It’s possible and often advisable to play along the ground rather than through the air but with all the humps and bumps that freckle Chambers Bay, it requires players to surrender an element of control, something professional golfers are loathe to do.

The course itself will change from day to day and not just because of the conditions, which are expected to be splendid. The first and 18th holes will trade par from one day to the next, No. 1 being a par-4 two days and a par-5 twice, the same for No. 18. Tee markers can be adjusted nearly 100 yards on some holes.

The pressure is on USGA boss Mike Davis to set the course up fairly and the challenge is for players to manage it. Long before some players set foot on Chambers Bay, they were squealing about what they believe it to be.

“If you are going to talk negative about a place, you’re almost throwing yourself out to begin with because golf is a mental game. Plus, the U.S. Open is about as challenging mentally as any tournament in the world so you have to go in positively,” Jordan Spieth said.

If the U.S. Open at the intentionally distressed Pinehurst No. 2 last year was a step outside the U.S. Open box, this one is a Bob Beamon broad jump.

“Not all the best courses are old. This might turn out to be the best Open ever,” Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, said.

Still, there are familiar themes. Phil Mickelson, who turned 45 on Tuesday, has finished second in six U.S. Opens without a victory and needs a win to complete the career Grand Slam. McIlroy missed two cuts in Europe after winning the Wells Fargo Championship, but he’s clearly the best player in the world.

Spieth is the second-best player in the game and fearless. Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose come to mind as pre-tournament favorites. And there is Tiger Woods, the 191st-ranked player in the world this week.

This is the U.S. Open, just not like we’ve seen a U.S. Open before.

“If I’m fortunate enough to win,” Mickelson said, “would I have won the U.S. Open or would I have won a second British Open?”

That’s the beauty of Chambers Bay.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post magazine (www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to the Observer. He can be reached at rongreenjr@gmail.com.