This just in: the USGA wants the U.S. Open to be the hardest championship to conquer.
And all this time, you figured maybe it was the John Deere Classic.
If there’s a course built to host the second major of the season, it’s probably Oakmont Country Club in suburban Pittsburgh.
“It’s got this pedigree,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s Executive Director/CEO and the person most responsible for setting up what traditionally becomes the longest week in golf, at a recent media day. “What the USGA has wanted for over a century is really the ultimate test. We’ve seen that time and time again at Oakmont.
“It’s closer to a U.S. Open on a daily basis than any other place we play. The members like to joke that we could bring the U.S. Open here with just a few weeks notice. If we didn’t have to put up tents and grandstands, we could do that.”
In mid-June the Open will return there for a record ninth time, one of four USGA championships that are being held in Pennsylvania this year (the Women’s Amateur is at Rolling Green Golf Club in Delaware County the first week of August). It just doesn’t happen. There’s a reason.
“It’s really in (the club’s) DNA,” Davis said. “It’s been said that, and maybe somewhat in jest, when the USGA comes to town Oakmont must cut the rough, slow down the greens and utilize easier hole locations. I hope it’s in jest. But you get the drift.”
Or, as Paul Goydos told him before the 2007 Open when assessing the par-3 eighth hole, which during one round was stretched out to 300 yards: “In my two decades on the (PGA) Tour we’ve never had a hole where you could have a long-drive contest and closest to the pin on the same hole.”
It’s interesting that Oakmont and Merion, which hosted its fifth Open in 2013 following a 32-year hiatus, were ranked sixth and fifth, respectively, in the latest Top 100 courses in America according to Golf Digest. Yet they couldn’t be more different. What they both have in abundance is some serious character. There were those who felt Merion was no longer worthy enough to hold a modern Open. They were wrong. There has never been any debate about Oakmont’s credentials.
The national championship is booked through 2024. Conventional wisdom suggests that it could come back to Ardmore in 2030, which would be the 100th anniversary of Bobby Jones completing the grand slam by winning the U.S. Amateur there. Or maybe even sooner.
“When we played there (three years ago), we could not have been happier with the experience,” Davis emphasized. “I can’t say enough good things about dealing with that club. When you think about all the operational challenges with that small piece of land, the support from the community was just great. Let us not forget that we had really tough weather that week. And the golf course still performed beautifully.
“I can’t imagine the USGA not going back one day with (another) U.S. Open ... if they keep inviting us.”
Oakmont oozes history too. Gene Sarazen won the 1922 PGA there, Jones the 1925 Amateur, Sam Snead the 1951 PGA and Ben Hogan the 1953 Open. It’s also where Jack Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff in the 1962 Open, and where Johnny Miller closed with a 63 to take the 1973 Open. Nine years ago, Angel Cabrera beat Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk by a stroke. And don’t forget 1994, when Ernie Els survived a three-way playoff while the world was glued to what was going on out in Los Angeles with O.J. Simpson.
Jordan Spieth, who was in position to win the last five majors, is your defending champion. At last month’s Masters, where he was also defending, he blew a big lead on the final nine to give England’s Danny Willett a green jacket.
But back to Oakmont, which also has some drivable par 4s if the powers that be are in a good mood ...
“If we hear some complaining by the players, in some ways that’s a compliment,” said Davis. “As long as we haven’t set it up unfairly, where good shots aren’t rewarded. We want it to be hard.
“I don’t think any of us take (criticism) personal. But it’s the U.S. Open.”