LITTLE ROCK — Early on, the name at the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard will be Robert Trent Jones Jr.

LITTLE ROCK — Early on, the name at the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard will be Robert Trent Jones Jr.

It might be late this afternoon before Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, or a lesser known posts a score that upstages the man who transformed a former sand and gravel mine into the most unique layout ever used by the U.S.G.A. to test the best in the world.

Fascination with the public course about an hour from downtown Seattle includes two holes with par that can fluctuate daily, white dots instead of a grassy collar defining the putting surfaces, lots of brown, and tee boxes with widely divergent sight lines.

That tease whets the appetite, but the must-watch clincher was provided by Ryan Moore who grew up a few miles from the tournament site.

Asked about the long hitters having an advantage by being able to employ a lofted club for their approaches, Moore told the media it didn’t matter, that the players can hit sand wedge with spin galore and won’t be able able to stop the ball. Firm and fast is the catch-phrase at Chambers Bay. Think bump and bounce of the British Open, the best tournament to watch because ingenuity is in and dart throwing is out.

Playing this course, Moore said, is more about having the proper angles to make use of the slopes and swales.

Assuming he’s right, the correct strategy is counter intuitive to the PGA Tour players’ weekly exercise in flag hunting. They must play away from some flags and allow the ball to follow the contour of the green on its way to the pin. Mental gymnastics and an unusual slant on yardage-to-target are required.

"Different," is the word Day used to describe the course that can max out at more than 7,800 yards and will play from 7,200 to 7,600 during the next four days. Day, who has a splendid record in the Open, including second in 2011 and 2013, was quick to mention the importance of eating properly and the blood sugar swings that can result when walking a course with elevation changes pushing 200 feet.

A normal 18-hole layout would consume about 190 acres, but Chambers Bay is laid out over 250 acres and the walk will top seven miles even for a player who hits every fairway.

Among the quirks:

—No. 1 can be a par-four of 490 yards or so or a par-five of almost 600 yards; No. 18 is also a either-or at 525 and 604. A bunker that is in play from one tee might not be noticed from the other.

—Dots on the ground differentiate fairway from green because fescue grows from tee to pin. Putters will be used from the fairway.

—Many courses have par threes with various tee boxes that can make a difference of 100 yards or more, but No. 9 is about 100 feet downhill from one tee and a couple of yards uphill from another even though the distance is similar. That’s because Mike Davis, who is responsible for the course setup, found an alternative tee in a low spot 90 degrees east of the original tee.

With all this going on and the crazy bounces of a links course part of a round, it might be Saturday evening before the leaders separate themselves from the others.

For the 45-year-old Mickelson, Chambers Bay offers his best chance to complete the career grand slam. The fairways are generous, particularly for a U.S. Open, and those who buy into the idea that golfers are trending in one direction or another will focus on Mickelson’s tie for third at Memphis last week.

Although Mickelson once despised links golf, he won the British Open in 2013. Still, he has has a tendency to hit flop shots when bump and run is the more prudent play and, even though he putted well in Memphis, the flat stick might let him down.

In golf, recent performance means little. Rory McIlroy missed the cut in his last two events, but he is the best player in the world and on the short list of likely winners.

The up-and-down walk might tend to favor the young flat-bellies and Day said the ability to carry the tee shot 300 yards could mean as much as four clubs less for the long hitters — factors that point to Day, Fowler, and McIlroy, among others.

Masters champion Jordan Spieth is a popular choice, but he’s not going to make every 20 foot putt as he did at Augusta National.

Tiger Woods is not mentioned because he will not be a factor by Sunday.

For a regular Tour watcher who is unable to impart spin on the firm bermuda greens in central Arkansas, British Open-style golf in prime time on the weekend is sublime.


Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: