Courtesy Don Collett
Ralph Guldahl, left, Olin Dutra, Paul Runyan and native Utahn Don Collett were the first foursome to play the South Course in 1957. The champions played an exhibition match.

Torrey Pines, the longest golf layout in U.S. Open history, will favor Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. But realistically, there are only about 10 golfers in the field of 156 who have the length, the skills and the mindset to win, according to a native Utahn, an expert who was in the first foursome to ever play the site of this week's championship tournament.

Don Collett, 82, was doing golf clinics at Jordan High School's mammoth reunion in Salt Lake City last summer. But back on Dec. 19, 1957, Collett was the first head golf pro at Coronado Golf Club in San Diego and was invited to play in the inaugural foursome at the dedication ceremonies of the now famous Torrey Pines course.

A few weeks ago, at the U.S. Open media day at Torrey Pines, Collett was called forward and recognized for his participation that day 51 years ago. He is the only surviving member of that foursome.

On that day, he was paired in an exhibition match with Ralph Guldahl, two-time U.S. Open and 1939 Masters champion; Olin Dutra, the 1932 PGA champion and 1934 U.S. Open champ; and Paul Runyan, then the head professional at La Jolla Country Club and a two-time PGA champion.

Collett, who later played in three U.S. Opens and created the original World Golf Hall of Fame in Pinehurst, N.C., shot a 71 that day. He beat them all.

Now retired as a player and a guy who dabbles as a course designer, Collett lives in Rancho Bernardo Heights, north of San Diego.

Although present at this year's U.S. Open media day at Torrey Pines, Collett didn't play. But his son Paul, a PGA professional who teaches golf at Hodges Training Center in San Diego, did. Paul hit 12 of 14 fairways and shot an 81 on the lengthened course, groomed to test this year's talented field.

This came after Woods predicted no 10-handicap player could break 100 on a U.S. Open course.

When Collett played the first round ever at Torrey Pines, it measured 6,900 yards from the back tees, and there wasn't much rough or trees. This week, the course will play 7,643 yards.

Collett said the way the USGA has set up Torrey Pines will bring the world's best to its knees — and the tournament committee has actually been kind. The length of the rough has been trimmed down from media day when his son Paul played.

The course is hardened up, and the fairways are narrowed to 22 to 25 yards wide in some areas. The greens will roll to 13.5 on the Stimpmeter, a speed that Collett calls "hideously" fast.

Greens are considered plenty fast at 10.5.

"It will be like putting on a billiards table," Collett said. "If you breathe on the ball, it will roll 20 feet.

"Hit it and hope," said Collett, the 1957 San Diego County Open champion and winner of the 1964 San Diego County PGA Chapter Championship at Torrey Pines.

Then there is the rough.

Collett says those who miss the greens and fairways will encounter a challenge that will take away much of the shot-making iron and wedge play that elevates the best players in the world.

"The grass is kikuya grass, which came from the African country of Kenya. It's mixed with a blend of rye and Bermuda grass," he said, and the result is that it is almost impossible to slash through it and maintain any semblance of control over what the club face is doing with the ball.

"Players will have to slash and hope it gets out and advances somewhere back in the fairway. When they're off the green in the rough, they'll have to slash at the ball to try and get it out, and they'll easily lose the ability to control the direction and the length of their shots — it will be a guessing game. Slash at it and take your chances."

If any player could be promised a par score at the end of the day, he should take it and sprint to the scorer's tent with gratitude, said Collett.

His favorite?

"Phil Mickelson should be the favorite because this is his home course, and nobody has played it more than Phil," Collett said. "Tiger you have to put in there because he is Tiger and nobody is better right now in majors than Tiger. Then, I'd go with Masters champion Trevor Immelman because he's been on a roll of late and is playing outstanding golf."


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com