SAN FRANCISCO Maybe this time, The Olympic Club gets the U.S Open right.
It gets seemingly everything else right. It’s a gorgeous place with a stucco clubhouse perched on a hilltop, the Golden Gate Bridge visible in the distance and the Pacific Ocean across the street. It has collection of cypress trees that looks like something a Hollywood set designer might create and the marine layer – that’s NoCal speak for fog – rolls in from time to time.
The Olympic Club even has its own guilty pleasure, something called a Burgerdog. It’s a hamburger shaped to fit on a hot dog bun with melted cheese.
It’s a place that once had Mark Twain as a member and Ty Cobb, too.
But here’s what happens when the U.S. Open comes to Olympic:
Jack Fleck beats Ben Hogan in a playoff in 1955. There are upsets. There are huge upsets. And there’s Fleck over Hogan.
In 1966, Arnold Palmer had a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play and Billy Casper won the U.S. Open. Nothing against Casper, the most underappreciated great player in the game, but men cried when Arnie lost.
In 1987, soft-spoken Scott Simpson made two late birdies to beat Tom Watson, a local hero. The golf gods weren’t watching.
And, when the Open was here last in 1998, Lee Janzen beat Payne Stewart, who spent part of his Friday afternoon watching his ball roll back to his feet on the frightfully sloping 18th green. Janzen won two Opens but Stewart was the star.
Now here we are again.
Should Rory McIlroy surrender? Should Luke Donald figure he gets his first major someplace else? Does Phil Mickelson spend his 42nd birthday this weekend waiting on a gag gift?
It’s the U.S. Open. Strange things happen, particularly at Olympic, which may bring back the McIlroy-abused notion that par is a good score in the national championship. No one is shooting 16 under par at this U.S. Open like McIlroy did at water-soaked and defense-challenged Congressional last June.
It all looks so promising at the moment. Everyone is even par. There’s no threat of rain.
But it’s Olympic, which begs the question – is this the week Shane Bertsch wins his first major?