The United States Open at Oakmont Country Club. It’s just another golf tournament at just another golf course. Yeah, right.
In an ultimate one-and-done success story, Oakmont is the only course that Henry Clay (H.C.) Fownes ever designed. Yet, no American test is feared and respected as much, this despite the absence of water and trees in play. As it once was, so it is again, not that the National Historic Landmark (designated as such in 1987) east of Pittsburgh requires additional hazards to test the best players in the world and, as the saying goes, reveal the game’s best talent.
There are blind tee shots into narrow, often cantered fairways that are bordered with the epitome of rough. They will consume wayward drives. The scattering of 210 bunkers is highlighted by the Church Pews that contribute to the boundary between the third and fourth holes. And while that omnipresent danger demands the attention of every qualifier in the 156-man field, managing one’s game on approach and on the greens just might be the greatest challenge for each, not just this week or this season, but during their entire careers. Relatively large targets are defended with scores of undulations, bunkers, run-off areas and a Stimpmeter reading expected to touch 14 in favorable conditions.
This is the 116th edition of the national championship. Oakmont is hosting for a record ninth time. Seventeen of the 63 who made the cut in its last turn as host in 2007 are scheduled to compete this week, including champion Ángel Cabrera and co-runner-up, 2003 U.S. Open champ and regional native Jim Furyk. Four others who finished inside the top 10 are also here, three of whom are major champions (David Toms, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose).
The course is a stock par 70 and tips at just 7,254 yards, three yards shorter than nine years ago. It wears a badge as a long track because five of the par 4s exceed 475 yards and two of the par 3s can stretch to beyond 230 yards, including the eighth hole, which can play 288 yards. Neither par 5 is a cakewalk, either. Both list at over 600 yards; the 12th hole maxes at 667 yards.
Taking into account scoring averages of all courses on the PGA TOUR since data was first maintained in earnest in 1983, the 2007 U.S. Open ranks second-highest in relation to par at 5.705 strokes over par. (Only the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie was harder.) The 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont (as a par 71 at 6,972 yards) is third-highest at 5.134 strokes over par. When Cabrera authored a one-stroke victory at 5-over 285 in 2007, the par-4 14th was the easiest hole at 0.050 strokes over par.
So, while all facets of one’s game are tested, one’s temperament to accept, embrace and even be entertained by the challenge figures to be the X-factor. Statistically, hitting greens in regulation and avoiding three putts are premiums, but those prerequisites will be given a great assist with tee balls that can be struck cleanly. After all, this is the United States Open at Oakmont Country Club, where par is a fantastic score.
An active weather pattern midweek will likely impact play during the opening round, but the forecast is downright beautiful for the weekend. Daytime highs in the 80s will be accompanied by light winds, relatively low humidity and the fastest greens of the year.
POWER RANKINGS: U.S. OPEN
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 1 Jason Day 2 Rory McIlroy 3 Patrick Reed 4 Dustin Johnson 5 Henrik Stenson 6 Adam Scott 7 Matt Kuchar 8 Jordan Spieth 9 Justin Rose 10 Brooks Koepka 11 Hideki Matsuyama 12 Sergio Garcia 13 Phil Mickelson 14 Danny Willett 15 Brandt Snedeker 16 Lee Westwood 17 Charl Schwartzel 18 Louis Oosthuizen 19 Daniel Berger 20 Branden Grace
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week's event. Look for the following features later this week:
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Fantasy Insider, Comfort Zone, Sleepers
THURSDAY: Most-picked players
* = Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM's Expert Picks, which also publishes on Tuesdays.