The Golf Club of Houston will stretch to 7,441 yards for this week's Shell Houston Open and it will be set up to provide the field with a stern challenge. And to get an insiders view into the keys for the week, Team Titleist caught up with Scott Stallings following a practice round and he shared some insight on what it's going to take to successfully navigate this par 72 track.
"This course is pretty straightforward and allows you to take driver off the tee on most of the par 4's," said Stallings. "It is pretty wide open and there is little to no rough, so if you stay away from the hazards and properly position your approach shots into the green, you have a chance. I thought the greens we played at San Antonio last week were among the best we've played all year, but I can tell you these are right up there."
Danger still lurks on several holes though, including the 480-yard 5th and 464-yard 6th, a pair of par 4 dogleg lefts with water in play and a risk-reward feature to both.
"On both holes it is important to choose the proper line when you take it over the water based on the wind," said Stallings. "If you miscalculate the wind or the line on either, you are re-teeing and birdie opportunities turn into potential bogeys or worse."
On the 5th, water protects the left side of the fairway and a well struck tee shot, just left of a fairway bunker on the right, leaves the player with the best angle to attack the green. Number 6 features an intimidating tee shot that must carry a water hazard and avoid a long “strip” bunker, adjacent to the left of the fairway. A well struck tee shot results in a shorter approach into a green protected by water along its front and left.
"Those two holes definitely make you think when you get to the tee what approach you want to take, and what line may be best," said Stallings. "Wind, depending on what direction it is blowing, will also play a part in your decision off the tee and what iron you will be hitting into the green."
If the threat of rain over the weekend develops, Stallings thinks that will play into the hands of the longer hitters.
"If the course plays firm and fast like it is right now, anybody can win," said Stallings. "If it gets wet, it will play extra long and soft and could be a shootout among the longer hitters. If it gets soft, there could be some mud balls which may be a factor on approach shots into the green."
Stallings also believes it could be a dramatic finish given the challenge of the 488-yard par 4 closing hole.
"It is a great finishing hole and is another one that makes the player think about what to hit off the tee," said Stallings. "If it is downwind, a 3-wood and 8-iron could get you there. If it is in the face, it could be a driver and long iron. There is also enough trouble with the water bordering the left side and a large bunker where a player could pay a price."
If you survive the tee shot, the approach leaves little margin for error, with water on the left and a sand bunker on the right. Attacking the hole locations on this hole, especially when it is back left, is a gutsy proposition given the undulation of the green.
"I really like the course and am gaining confidence in my game right now," said Stallings. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity this week and hope to be in the hunt come Sunday."