June 16th 2016, Oakmont, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.:
Jason Day's prodigious length off the tee usually gives him a leg up on a large portion of the field. With driver in his hands, the Aussie routinely pumps tee shots over 330 yards, leaving him with mid- to short irons into most holes.
The bomb-and-gouge gameplan works on most courses, but as Day made his way around Oakmont during practice rounds this week, one thing became abundantly clear: Driver may not be the best option off the tee.
"I think I only hit [driver] maybe four times during the round," Day said. "I can hit [driver] anywhere I want, but that obviously wouldn't be the greatest gameplan in the world."
At 7,219 yards, Oakmont isn't considered long by today's professional golf standards. There are four par 4s under 385 yards, including the drivable 17th that could be the biggest risk/reward hole on the course come Sunday afternoon.
What makes Day and others in this week's field take pause before pulling driver is what awaits just off the fairway. Penal rough and unmaintained fescue will put a huge premium on driving accuracy during the next four days.
The rough has become a popular topic of discussion this week, with some players posting photos on social media of barely visible balls that have made their way into the thick stuff.
Keegan Bradley (USA) posted a picture asking his fans on social media to spot the ball
It's one of the reasons why Day is preparing to use a 2-iron for a number of critical tee shots, including the 500-yard par-4 15th hole.
"I might hit 2-iron off there and not hit a driver just because, if I miss it left in the Church Pews, I'm going to have to lay up if I get unlucky," Day said. "... If I go over it, then I'm bringing in that hazard. I may as well hit 2-iron down the center and hit a 4-iron somewhere up around the green."
Day isn't the only golfer in the field considering a similar plan of attack. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose are just of few of the high-profile names carrying forgiving long irons or utility irons this week.
Nearly every equipment rep on site at Oakmont confirmed they saw an increase in requests for the club, with some players requesting multiple versions to test in the run-up to Thursday's opening round.
Like Day, Rory McIlroy confirmed he'll use a 2-iron with regularity instead of taking on some of the shorter holes on the course with driver.
Rory McIlroy (NIR) hits a shot from the rough during a practice round
"I don't think there's going to be many drivers out there this week," McIlroy acknowledged. "Maybe the two par 5s you'll hit driver. The seventh hole. I think, if the second hole is downwind, you can hit driver there and try to hit it up on the green. I'll hit 2-iron off the tee much more than I'll hit driver."
Dustin Johnson is another bomber who's dealing with a similar dilemma. Last year at the U.S. Open, Johnson employed a 2-iron with a graphite shaft to handle the firm conditions at Chambers Bay.
Based on his practice rounds, he'll stick with the same plan at Oakmont. He used a 2-iron on four different occasions off the tee on the back nine during a Tuesday practice round.
The potential for rain could certainly change things, but what makes the forgiving long iron or utility iron a popular choice over the standard hybrid is the versatility it provides.
Players can flight the club in the wind and get additional rollout on the firm fairways that they typically wouldn't receive with a hybrid.
"From the players I talked to, they said the ball is hitting the fairway and then just rolling out," said Callaway Tour rep Johnny Thompson. "The hybrid is just landing soft and stopping. If you can get some extra yards, players are going to take it."
Of course, not every player in the field is embracing the conservative approach. Rickie Fowler noted a couple of holes on the course where it could make sense to play more aggressive off the tee, setting up an easier approach shot.
"I think at times it allows you to play a bit more aggressive off the tee to give yourself an easier approach shot possible," said Fowler. "Coming into some of the greens with a short iron or possibly a wedge versus a mid iron is going to be beneficial.
"One hole in particular, No. 3, the green kind of falls away from you. And if you're coming in there with a 6- or 7-iron, if you don't hit your spot perfectly, you're going to be off the back."
Whatever approach players take this week, all are in agreement that the only way to attack Oakmont is from the short grass.
"We always say each and every week, it's a bomber's game, our generation," Day said. "It's not like that this week."