US Open’s tricky tee boxes are forcing players to make this adjustment

The par-3 11th hole requires little more than a sand wedge, but players are teeing the ball high and letting it fly.

BROOKLINE, Mass. — Justin Thomas called the hole “diabolical” earlier in the week, but early Thursday morning at The Country Clubit was largely docile.

The 11th hole spanned just 122 yards during the first round. The pin stuck just on the (relatively) flatter front part of the green, and with not a hint of wind in the air, the hole’s only two defenses were anonymous.

The green slopes from back-to-front. Using a high tee can prevent putting too much backspin on the ball

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With strategy taking a backseat, the shot required was a straightforward one: A bunt wedge, the kind pros spend hours a day practicing. It’s no surprise, then, that each player in the first big-name group of the day to play the hole — the 7:40 am pairing of Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Xander Schauffele — hit their shots within 30 feet.

But even though the shot at-hand wasn’t anything unusual, it was interesting to see them all doing something slightly different than their ordinary approach: Each player teased up their golf ball. In the case of Xander Schauffle, who you can see above, it was actually quite high considering they were each hitting a sand wedge.

Why pros use a high tee, even with a sand wedge

The reason, according to Top 100 Teacher Tony Ruggiero, has to do with the turf on the tee boxes themselves. The turf on the tee boxes is cut at just over a quarter of an inch — shorter than the fairways where they’d ordinarily hit this shot. They’re also drier and firmer, which combined means it’s easier for players to catch the heavy ball. Using a higher tee, Ruggiero says, simply gives players more room for error.

“The turf is so tight,” he says. “Using a tee is a good way of making sure you don’t get anything between the clubface and the golf ball, which can make the spin more predictable.”

Spin is an added benefit to all this. A higher tee won’t just guard against the possibility of a chunked shot, but can also help reduce the spin by allowing players to hit the ball slightly higher on the clubfaceand therefore prevent the possibility of the ball spinning backwards off the back-to-front green.

It’s a small adjustment that makes golf just a little bit easier — even for the best players in the world.

Luke Kerr-Dineen Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Game Improvement Editor at GOLF Magazine and In his role he oversees the brand’s game improvement content spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University. His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.