This course-design-savvy pro is having a career U.S. Open at Pinehurst

zac blair stands and stares ahead during the 2024 u.s. open

Zac Blair, a PGA Tour pro with a nose for course design, is feeling right at home at this Pinehurst U.S Open.

Getty Images

PINEHURST, N.C. — Zac Blair is a full-time touring pro and a part-time course architect and developer, and when he plays here at Pinehurst No. 2 on Sunday all of his many golf parts will be on high alert. He’s in a tie for 25th through three rounds in his third U.S. Open, and he’s looking for his best Open finish ever. (He missed the cut in 2019 at Pebble Beach and tied for 40th at the 2014 Open here.) Along the way, as he has all week, he’ll be making a mental list of course qualities you might call this: Stuff I Like.

“I like everything about this course,” Blair said after his Saturday round. He’s 33, about 10 inches shorter than another golfer from Utah, Tony Finau, and he has a kind of mountain-man face: bushy red beard, electric blue eyes, crow’s feet spreading from them, east and west. He’s from Utah and has spent his life in the sun. Last year, he won the Utah Open. Tony Romo (T39) never had a chance.

I wondered: Are his good scores, here at Pinehurst, corrupting his analysis of the course?

“I once shot 77 at National Golf Links,” I said. “So of course that’s one of my favorite courses anywhere.” Seventy-seven is as low as I go.

“No, no,” he said. “I do a pretty good job of playing good golf on courses I don’t like. But this to me is one of the best courses in the world.”

Blair’s father, Jim Blair, was a good player at BYU in the 1970s and has won the Utah Senior Open a bunch of times. The family owned a course in Utah. Zac’s been playing play-to-dark golf all his life. He was never the longest hitter, or close to it. You could drop a Walmart parking lot between some of Blair’s drives and Finau’s.

On Saturday, Blair was paired with Billy Horschel. Horschel, in demeanor and play, is as tight as Blair is loose and demonstrative. Blair tosses and catches his own club a dozen or so times per round. Horschel, 20 yards or 30 yards longer than Blair on some holes, signed for 74 on Saturday. Blair shot 75.

“I like a course where you can run the ball up to the green, like you can here on all but a couple of holes,” Blair said. “I like rough where you can get lucky and have a shot, or not. These greens are crispy, fast. They run. I like that.” He likes a hard golf course. 

zac blair hits a driver during the 2024 u.s. open
Zac Blair is one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, but he’s making it work this week at Pinehurst. Getty Images

Blair is one of the developers of a course near Aiken, S.C., called The Tree Farm. The Tree Farm — its emblem is on his golf bag — would be right at home in greater Pinehurst. It was built on firm, sandy turf that brings to mind, despite the summer heat and humidity, Scotland. Blair has compared design ideas with Tom Doak, who shares Blair’s appreciation for firm, for fast, for courses that are closer to army brown than emerald green. There’s a Doak course near here, Pinehurst No. 10, that is off Pit Link Lane in the town of Aberdeen. The address alone is telling. Blair would love it.

His career is astounding, really. Last year, in four straight events, he went cut, cut, T47, cut — and then tied for second at Hartford. To keep your card on the PGA Tour, you have to close on the weeks your putter gets hot. That’s what Blair did last year, and it let him keep his card. It’s wildly uncommon for a golfer who is consumed with job security to have golf-course design as a hobby.

It’s pretty esoteric. But that’s Zac.

I wanted to ask Blair about Finau’s chances, here at this 124th U.S. Open. Finau made the turn at five under on Saturday and was absolutely in contention. But he came home in 39 and is in a tie for seventh, six shots behind Bryson DeChambeau, the leader. “He’ll win one of these times,” Blair said. “He’s too good not to win a major.”

We golf fans (and golf writers and golf broadcasters and golf posters) focus a lot on those players, those who have won majors or are good enough to win majors. But the PGA Tour is still, even with LIV Golf and these Elevated events and all the rest, filled with rank-and-file players like Zac Blair, guys trying to make a (very good) living, trying to keep their cards, trying to set milestones that are meaningful to them, even if the rest of the golfing world will neither little note nor long remember what they do. Zac Blair is looking to have his best finish ever in a U.S. Open. That may not sound like much. But it’s everything, if you’re Zac Blair.

On Saturday, the par-3 15th, uphill and into the wind, was playing about 225 yards. I was surprised to see an iron in his hands. That’s a long way to hit an iron!

“I was just trying to get it to the front edge,” he said.

“There are no birdie holes here,” he said. This was not a complaint. At all. It was an observation. It was praise. He was playing in a U.S. Open, and he was playing U.S. Open golf.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.

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