Tiger Woods is eagerly anticipating his return to Bethpage Black for next month's U.S. Open, a venue where he will be defending the U.S. Open title in familiar and successful surroundings.
Woods won the tournament when it was first staged at the sprawling public course in 2002 and returns to Long Island as the champion after a thrilling 19-hole playoff triumph over Rocco Mediate last year at another public course, Torrey Pines.
"It was a great atmosphere when we played in 2002," Woods said in a conference call to reporters at the U.S. Golf Association's media day at Bethpage on Monday.
"The fans were truly into it. I think everyone was having a great time. If you made a putt, people went crazy.
"It was a ton of fun to play in front of that, because it's always fun to play in front of people who appreciate shots and are excited that the guys are playing well."
Teeing off on June 18, this year's event will be even more of a people's championship after the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) made more tickets available to the public due to a slump in corporate hospitality sales.
"Since it will be a number of years until the U.S. Open returns to the New York area, we hope that New York sports fans take advantage of the opportunity to be part of the U.S. Open experience," USGA director David Fay said in a statement.
Woods said competing on public courses for one of golf's four majors was special.
"I grew up on public golf courses, so for me, they were a vehicle for me to be able to play golf," said the world number one, who will be gunning for his 15th major win and first since undergoing knee surgery following his Torrey Pines triumph.
"I grew up on a military base, I guess that's semi-public. I played a bunch of junior golf tournaments with the California Junior Golf Association, a bunch of tournaments on public golf courses, and that's basically where I did a lot of my playing.
Woods said playing majors at a public course could also inspire children.
"It gives them a chance to play and have courses that you can say, 'Hey, I played it from here.' You watch the U.S. Open, you see the touring pros playing from the same spot that they played from," he added.
Mike Davis, USGA senior director of rules and competitions, said Bethpage would play more than 200 yards longer than in 2002 at 7,426 yards and would feature a 525-yard par-four seventh hole.
"We also doubled the width of the fairway there to really say, "Hey, this is a driver hole, go ahead and hit it hard'."
Davis said shorter hitters should not be discouraged.
"You look back to Torrey Pines last year and the scorecard read 7,600... In fairness we did not play it quite that long every day and nor will we play Bethpage 7,426 every day.
"But Rocco Mediate made the playoff. He is one of the shorter (hitting) players on tour. So I think a shorter player can certainly do well and even win here."