Oakmont goes back to basics for 2016

By Ralph N. Paulk
Published on

OAKMONT, Pa. -- When reigning U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth arrives at Oakmont next summer to defend his title, he'll challenge a course that's marginally different than it was when Angel Cabrera outlasted Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk by a single stroke in 2007.

Again, the greens are expected to be lightning fast. Also, the par-4 second and 17th holes are again reachable, risk-reward holes.

However, while there aren't many changes to the Henry Fownes-designed layout since it hosted the U.S. Open eight years ago, there has been significant restoration in an attempt to give the course its original look.

The course virtually is wide open, void of 15,000 trees that until 2007 lined the railroad bank, the par-5 12th hole and the Turnpike. The world's top professional and amateur golfers must adjust to the perilous winds that inevitably will affect strategy and club selection.

"The course is virtually unchanged since 2007, but there are a few changes since (the Women's U.S. Open) in 2010," said Jeff Hall, managing director of the USAG's rules and competition committee. "Perhaps the only real change is the fairway bunkers.

"Certainly, Oakmont has become an industry leader in tree removal. It's a wonderful look from the clubhouse, because you can effectively see every hole on the golf course."

"We did embrace on a project to remove the trees, especially around No. 12," said John Zimmers, Oakmont's course superintendent. "It's really opened up a great vista, and we looked at the old aerials when you could see 17 of 18 holes."

Zimmers and the USGA, too, made slight alterations to the depth of some fairway rough in hopes of bringing the pristine bunkers into play. The fairways became unpredictable as the heat created more bounce and speed, but the deep secondary rough kept most balls out of the bunkers.

"The only thing we wanted to do better was get the very strategic bunkers to be more in play," Hall said. "So, the club embarked on a program to reduce the rough height as it leads into the bunkers. It promotes golf balls that are rolling toward the bunker to get into the bunkers as opposed to being held up by the rough."

While the USGA was satisfied with how the 2007 tournament played out, it made a concerted effort to bring the bunkers into play, particularly on the par-5 12th hole. The rough will be trimmed to demand a near-perfect shot on the sloping fairway, where an errant tee shot likely will nestle into a deep bunker, leaving an awkward second shot.

Oakmont, hosting a record ninth U.S. Open, will demand even more accuracy on the short par 4s -- No. 2 and No. 17. The mammoth, unforgiving 288-yard par-3 eighth hole could influence momentum on moving day and the final round.

Furyk, though, had a second U.S. Open title slip through his grasp as he bogeyed 2 and 17 to card a final-round 70. Niclas Fasth bogeyed No. 8 all four rounds and finished two shots behind Cabrera.

"You've really got to be precise playing this golf course," Hall said. "The second hole is a great example. Even at 340 yards, it's not a throwaway by any stretch.

"We played three days on the back portion of the tee, and on Sunday we moved the tee up 30 yards. It played as the easiest hole at 3.91 (strokes) on Sunday. Some players were aggressive in trying to drive the hole or near it. Jim Furyk, who finished a shot back, made bogey in the final round.

"We changed our philosophy in respect to moving tee grounds around to accentuate architecture to provide risk-reward shots to make the players think," Hall said. "It was a neat opportunity to do that early in the round."

This article was written by Ralph N. Paulk from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.