U.S. Open's return to Oakmont restores traditional U.S. Open feel

By Teddy Greenstein
Published on
U.S. Open's return to Oakmont restores traditional U.S. Open feel

OAKMONT, Pa. -- In their search for a non-traditional U.S. Open in 2015, USGA officials did everything but move the event from Father's Day to New Year's Eve.

The venue was Chambers Bay, a links course in the Pacific Northwest with no trees, yellow fairways, bumpy "broccoli" greens and high skies that made it hard to see the flight of the ball. TV viewers accustomed to NBC's Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks instead got the Fox Sports tandem of Greg Norman and Joe Buck, best known for calling the World Series and calling out Randy Moss.

Oh, and the first and 18th holes played as par-4s and par-5s on different days.

The public did not exactly take to a U.S. Open that felt more like an April Fools' prank.

In the tried-and-true sports tradition of replacing a fired coach or manager with his or her exact opposite, this year's championship will be held at what Buck called "the quintessential U.S. Open test."

"If the USGA were to pick one course to have the U.S. Open for the rest of time," he said, "this would be it."

The venue is Oakmont Country Club, 14 miles northeast of downtown Pittsburgh.

Tommy Armour won a U.S. Open at Oakmont. So did Ben Hogan. And Jack Nicklaus. Johnny Miller eclipsed Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino with a 63, the best final-round score to win a major. Ernie Els romped in a 20-hole playoff. And Angel Cabrera won most recently, in 2007, with a final score of 5 over par.

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Those who have played Oakmont speak of it with a combination of awe and dread. Buck has played several member-guest events with former Rams quarterback Marc Bulger.

"I've experienced the wrath of the place," said Buck, a 5-handicap who said he would struggle to break 100 from the tips. "The bunkering is diabolical and so penal. For a guy like me, it makes you want to quit the game; there's just no room for error."

That's how it was in 2007, when the field scoring average was 75.7. And that's how it will be this week.

If the one-word theme of Chambers Bay was "different," the opposite will be true at Oakmont. "Sameness" is the word USGA executive director Mike Davis used repeatedly.

It will play at the same yardage as in 2007 with the same fairway widths, grass heights, (insane) green speeds and bunkering. (Who would dare disturb the Church Pews bunkers that guard the left side of the third and fourth fairways?)

"We can come to town," Davis said, "and take Oakmont as is."

That will help the crew at Fox, which last year struggled to document an event at a course with almost no history. The voices of Twitter were aghast from the start of the telecast and jumped on every mistake to "prove" the narrative.

"We're not in an era where you're able to get in and feel your way around," Buck said in a telephone interview. "The new kid in the playground is always going to get picked on. I was really pleased we got to the other side of the high wire and nobody died.

"Oakmont will present the perfect second-year (venue) for us. I have never been more anxious and excited for an event to start."

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Norman took flak for going mute as Dustin Johnson imploded on the 72nd green at Chambers Bay, three-putting from about 12 feet to hand the title to Jordan Spieth. The Great White Shark has been replaced by Paul Azinger, an avid fisherman who is hyperopinionated.

"He is so energetic," Buck said. "I could play you some of the voice mails he left me. He sits on his boat and thinks of ways to compare (Phil) Mickelson to his Saint Bernard.

"He's big into the way guys talk about their rounds, how they describe their own game, the human condition and what's in the mind of a player when he steps up to his golf ball. How great if a viewer thinks: I can apply that to my own game.

"We're going to have fun."

This article was written by Teddy Greenstein from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.