Last year’s US Open brought howls of indignation from most of the golfing world, citing everything from Fox’s spectacularly awful initial attempt at golf coverage to the site of tournament (apparently my opinion of Chambers Bay was outside of the mainstream).
Fox has addressed at least part of its issues, removing a surprisingly bland Greg Norman from its broadcasting team and replacing him with straight-shooting Paul Azinger, whose presence on TV has been limited to the Open Championship over the past few years. Azinger is honest, funny, and fearless in his commentary, and should make Joe Buck much more comfortable as a lead commentator. On the other hand, we’ll still have to suffer with the inane on-course comments of Natalie Gulbis, whose best assets won’t be seen on camera very often, much to the chagrin of the male population viewing at home.
As for this year’s site – it’s hard to argue with Oakmont, a course which most folks would acknowledge to be the gold standard for US Open tracks; a tough, penal layout, with greens so slick that Sam Snead once remarked that he couldn’t mark his ball because the coin that he used to do so kept sliding off of the putting surface.
Yes, Oakmont’s greens are legendary for their speed; so slick are their surfaces that the USGA asks the club’s superintendent to slow them down to run at 13 on the Stimpmeter (the greens at most tour events run between 10.5 and 11.5; a member at Oakmont can typically expect to experience a speed of 15 for daily play). To achieve such green speeds at most any other club would amount to committing agronomical suicide, but the makeup of Oakmont’s putting surfaces is unique, consisting of a rare strain of heat tolerant poa annua (most of us know poa annua as a cool weather grass that can be either a blessing in areas like the Pacific Northwest or a blight on bent grass or Bermuda greens in other parts of the country) that can be rolled as often as one likes.
If that’s not enough to give one pause, Oakmont offers up over 200 bunkers, including the notorious “Church Pews,” which stretch over 100 yards and invokes language that would most assuredly would not be welcomed in any self-respecting parish, as well as the requisite US Open wrist-shattering rough. And you will not see any short par-5’s being turned into brutish par-4’s in order to conform to the USGA’s maddening efforts to “protect par” at Oakmont, a course which could readily host a major championship at a moment’s notice.
Oakmont has hosted the US Open eight times, the most famous of which was in 1962 when a young Jack Nicklaus bested a heavily favored Arnold Palmer in The King’s own backyard. Arnie’s Army was extremely inhospitable to the Golden Bear (which Palmer hated to see) but that did not seem to bother Jack very much. It was his first professional victory, and far from his last.
In 1973, Johnny Miller carded what was to become one of the most spectacular final rounds in major championship history that hardly anyone saw, torching Oakmont with a 63 that several possibly bitter Oakmont members attributed to a rainstorm that blew through the night before to “soften” conditions. Miller was so far back going into the finale that he was only televised for a few holes. He then had to wait another hour before the final groups made it in, none of whom were able to catch him.
The last time that Oakmont hosted the US Open was in 2007. Like Johnny Miller, Angel Cabrera, the eventual winner, finished well ahead of his two closest pursuers, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods, both of whom missed birdie putts on the final hole that would have forced a next day playoff. Cabrera seemingly went through a pack of cigarettes on each nine he played during the Open; when asked about this, he replied, “Some guys consult with psychologists. I smoke.”
Other Oakmont winners include Tommy Armour, Ben Hogan, Ernie Els, and Larry Nelson, who along with the aforementioned, are all multiple major championship winners [NOTE: One could win a lot of bar bets by posing the question, “Who has won more majors, Larry Nelson or Greg Norman?”]. It’s not a course for the faint of heart, and whoever survives this weekend will most certainly be worthy. I look for a big hitter who can muscle the ball from the rough and negotiate those slick greens.
It says here that Jason Day will tack on another major this weekend. And the winning score will be even par.
But the star of the Open will be Oakmont.