Saturday, June 23, 2018

U.S. Open: Other than tees, fairways and greens, Oakmont a snap

OAKMONT, Pa. — Geoff Ogilvy had the perfect description this week of Oakmont Country Club:

"We really should hate it because it's so hard. But that's impossible, because it's so good."

Oakmont, hosting its record ninth U.S. Open beginning today, is a guilty pleasure for the U.S. Golf Association and fans. It allows them to smirk as the world's best sweat and toil.

Oakmont's greens are as slick and sloping as those at Augusta National. Its thick, juicy rough is as gnarly as anywhere in the world. With nearly 14,000 trees on the course chopped down over the past 20 years, there are blind shots aplenty.

Oh, and there are the bunkers — 210 of them, including the infamous Church Pews. You could count the Pews as one massive bunker or 14 because it's divided by 12 large blocks of grass.

In coming from behind on Sunday to prevail by one shot over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk in 2007, Angel Cabrera is Oakmont's last Open champion, and he finished 5 over.

Ogilvy predicted that between 3 over and 6 over would be the winning total, though that would be largely dependent on how much rain falls to soften up Oakmont. The bulk of the rain was supposed to arrive today.

The beauty of Oakmont is how little the USGA has to do to alter it for the U.S. Open. Oakmont's members like to brag that they play a major championship course every day.

"I think it accomplishes the goal that the members want, which is to have the hardest golf course in the world or America," Phil Mickelson said Wednesday. "I think there's no reprieve off the tee. … There's certainly no reprieve on the greens."

The one difference from past Opens is the rough, and though it gets gradually deeper away from the fairway, it's so consistently thick that even the strongest players will have to take a mighty swipe to get an approach anywhere close to the green.

"I don't know what kind of chemicals they put in that grass, but it's growing," said Ernie Els, who won the 1994 Open at Oakmont in a playoff after finishing at 5-under 279. He said his score strictly had to do with the rough.

"We could move the ball around," Els said. "It was almost more fun to play that way because you could get the ball to run toward the green.

"This one is going to test your resolve — mental, physical, everything. You're probably going to need a couple of days off after Sunday."

No Arnie: Arnold Palmer isn't feeling well enough to attend the U.S. Open, his press secretary, Doc Giffin, said. Palmer, 86, is from nearby Latrobe, and Oakmont is considered his home course for majors. "Arnold has had some serious mobility problems and has decided that it was going to be a bit too difficult for him to get down here," Giffin said Wednesday.

Palmer is in Latrobe this week. Oakmont's director of golf, Bob Ford, offered to have a driver take him from Latrobe to Oakmont. "I'll just cause a lot of confusion if I go," Palmer told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at a meeting Tuesday of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, of which he is a member. He said he planned to watch the Open on television.

Asked at the meeting to predict the winning score, he said shooting 288 "will be right on." That would be 8 over par.

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