Standing behind the green and white clubhouse at Oakmont Country Club, it’s possible to see virtually all of the meanest, most unforgiving golf course in America.
It’s magnificently menacing, like a lion in the wild.
Thanks to the elimination of about 15,000 trees over the past two decades, Oakmont has been laid beautifully bare. It was designed 113 years ago by a man named Henry Fownes who wanted to create a difficult course and, in his only effort at course design, created a masterpiece.
“Henry and his son William were really the patriarchs of Oakmont Country Club, and it’s interesting because they really not only came from the penal school of golf course architecture, but they really in some ways invented it,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said.
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It was treeless then and it’s treeless again, even if the first few thousand trees were taken under cover of darkness to prevent a member uprising. Oakmont’s members revel in the unrelenting challenges of their course, which features dungeon-like bunkers, a deep, lush ring of rough and greens that many consider the most difficult to putt in the world.
If you like your U.S. Opens served with bogeys and misery, Oakmont is your kind of place. It can be as tough as a Pittsburgh winter and comes with everything a U.S. Open offers, even pastrami and cheese sandwiches with French fries stuffed into them, the way the locals like them.
When it was suggested to 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy that excitement is the word that best describes the run-up to the Masters, he was asked what word might best describe this U.S. Open.
McIlroy paused then said, “Trepidation.”
In other words, the players know what’s coming. They’ve seen their shoes disappear in the 4 1/2 inch rough. They understand how wicked the famous Church Pew bunkers can be. They appreciate the value of two-putting from any place.
“It’s not everybody’s golf course,” said Branden Grace, who might have won last yearat Chambers Bay (Wash.) if he hadn’t hit his tee shot out of bounds on the 16th hole on Sunday.
“You can’t say (best) ball striker. You can’t say the best putter’s going to win. I think the guy with the best head is going to win at the end of the week. The guy who can stay the most patient and the guy that’s really going to just accept that things are not going to go your way sooner or later.”
Just how difficult Oakmont plays will be determined, at least initially, by the weather. The forecast is for an 80-percent chance of rain and thunderstorms Thursday afternoon into the evening. If that happens, it will take some of the fire out of the fairways, making them easier to hit, but it will make the dense rough more problematic.
The fast greens are never easy at Oakmont, regardless of the conditions.
Bob Ford, in his fourth decade as Oakmont’s head pro, predicted 4-over par will win this U.S. Open. Jordan Spieth also said over par will win unless rain significantly softens the course. Las Vegas set the over-under at 2 1/2 over par.
This is the ninth U.S. Open at Oakmont and history suggests there won’t be a fluke winner. Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Larry Nelson, Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera have won the most recent U.S. Opens at Oakmont. Sam Snead won a PGA Championship and Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur here.
Oakmont breeds thoroughbreds.
That’s why the list of favorites starts with Jason Day, Spieth and McIlroy. They’ve separated themselves over the past year or so and each arrives having won recently. If you drew any of the three in an office pool, you’d feel good about your chances.
Maybe it’s finally Dustin Johnson’s turn. Maybe this is the one Phil Mickelson finally wins. Danny Willett is tenacious enough to back up his Masters victory.
This is the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
“There’s no reprieve off the tee, there’s no reprieve into the greens, and there’s certainly no reprieve on the greens,” Mickelson said.
And there’s nowhere to hide.
Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to the Charlotte Observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org