Oakmont's love of difficult golf will be on display again at the U.S. Open
By Mark Wogenrich
OAKMONT, Pa. – Jordan Spieth played Oakmont Country Club this week, making his first visit to the stern grandfather of U.S. Open golf courses. He saw a venue virtually unchanged since it last hosted the championship, which no doubt is a relief for the USGA.
In between visits to two first-time sites, the U.S. Open will return to its most-visited venue next month (June 16-19). Oakmont, located outside Pittsburgh, will host its record ninth U.S. Open dating to 1927.
Mike Davis, the USGA's executive director, considers Oakmont the quintessential U.S. Open course, one that requires little pre-championship fiddling aside from, as members love to tell guests, a softening of its greens.
Because the U.S. Open was held at a first-time venue last year (Chambers Bay) and will be held at another (Erin Hills in Wisconsin) next year, Oakmont offers a slight respite. With eight championships upon which to draw, including the most recent in 2007, the USGA can bring a fairly consistent gameplan to the week.
"I really do believe this is the one golf course in the United States that, if we had to make a call one to two weeks before the U.S. Open and say, 'We're in a pinch, can you host the national Open Championship?' this place could do it," Davis said.
Little wonder, then, that Oakmont's setup will mirror that of 2007. The yardages, green speeds, rough heights and fairway widths essentially will be the same as they were nine years ago, Davis said.
Once again, Oakmont will feature several drivable par 4s on certain days, in addition to one par 3 (the 288-yard 8th hole) that could play longer than a par 4 (the 17th).
Only a few minor architectural changes, made by the club separate from the championship, will be on display. The USGA's primary adjustment was to cut some of the rough between fairways and bunkers, which will encourage balls to roll into the sand instead of stop on a steep hillside.
As a result, and depending on weather, Oakmont could produce another above-par winner. Angel Cabrera claimed the 2007 title at 5-over par, completing a brutal week on a course that played hard and quick following a weekend of dry weather.
Prior to the 2007 U.S. Open, Geoff Ogilvy predicted that some players might shoot in the 90s. Though that didn't happen, the course yielded few low scores – which normally has been the case.
Just eight of the 436 scores recorded that year were in the 60s. Cabrera had two of them: first- and fourth-round 69s. In eight U.S. Opens at Oakmont, only 23 players have finished 72 holes under par.
Of course, Oakmont also produced the U.S. Open's seminal round: Johnny Miller's 8-under 63 in 1973. That remains the only 8-under-par round in U.S. Open history.
"It's also been said that, and maybe somewhat in jest – I guess I hope so in jest – when USGA comes to town, Oakmont must cut the rough, must slow down the greens, and utilize easier hole locations," Davis said. "I'm not so sure that that's not a little bit of a stretch, but you get the drift here. This place loves a tough championship setup."
And those setups have produced muscular winners. Oakmont's list of champions includes Ernie Els, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. Its runners-up include Snead, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods.
Unlike Chambers Bay's dunescape setting, Oakmont's layout is rather simple. Sixteen of the holes essentially are straight. Where Oakmont again will frustrate players is on the greens.
"They better bring their putter," Nathan Smith, a renowned amateur golfer from Pittsburgh, said at Oakmont's media day. That sentiment was common in 2007, when players putted so cautiously on the overly fast greens.
Davis called those greens Oakmont's signature and legacy. At the 1935 U.S. Open, players complained so fiercely about the greens that some threatened not to play. The Stimpmeter, which measures green speeds, traces its roots to the 1935 U.S. Open.
Oakmont celebrates as a club motto a saying attributed to architect W.C. Fownes: "A shot poorly played should be a shot irrevocably lost." Davis predicted that the motto will apply again.
"And I genuinely think there's some members here at Oakmont that still have that mindset," Davis said. "It's a great culture."
This article was written by Mark Wogenrich from The Allentown Morning Call and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.