A US Open Preview Way Early
Never have I been so glad that I make my living as something other than a professional golfer.
Thats not to say that Oakmont isnt fun. Its a blast, especially for students of the game and its history. But as a test of golf, its a big workout.
And that brings up thoughts of the 2007 U.S. Open, which will be the eighth to be held at this venerable club near Pittsburgh. No other club has been host to the Open that many times. (Baltusrol, site of last years PGA Championship, is currently tied with Oakmont at seven U.S. Opens.)
With the memory of the satisfyingly stout test of Winged Foot so fresh in our minds, the thought of Oakmonts challenge seems at once invigorating and scary. Oakmont has yet to shed its reputation as the paradigm of penal golf: every bunker a solid penalty, every wayward drive enrobed in rough. But that is perfectly consistent with the mental and physical endurance test that has become the modern U.S. Open standard.
Bob Ford, the pro at Oakmont since 1979 and a fine player and teacher, took us around the course, pointing out new bunkers. Tom Fazio and his associates added the hazards to enhance the challenge of the original sand pits, which Oakmont creator H.C. Fownes dropped around the course with diabolical ingenuity in 1903. The new faces are tall and grassy (but not capped with high fescue); one almost always feels subterranean when standing in these traps. The sand is medium grain. Oakmont long ago stopped raking deep furrows into its bunkers, but the crew keeps some of the old rakes around to show visitors what it was like. Imagine the feeling of waking in a cold sweat from a nightmare.
The old favorites are still there, including the famous Church Pew bunker between the par-4 third hole and the beautiful par-5 fourth. But experienced Oakmont observers will notice something new: two more turf-encrusted pews on each end of the original eight. The congregation just increased by half.
Other standards remain ' the greens are as fast and true as ever ' but some old standbys are gone. Thousands of trees, part of a centurys worth of growth, have been removed over the past decade to restore the course to the open, rangy feel that was Fowness intent. The course is not bare by any means; plenty of stately oaks remain. But almost all of the back nine is now visible from the clubhouse, enriched by the tan fescues that rim the clubs drainage ditch system. The front nine, seven holes of which are reached by two footbridges over the Pennsylvania Turnpike, is consistent. The overall look is rustic and a bit wild. For golfers, it beckons and says beware in the same breath.
In playing the course, one learns to take a certain number of lumps, as with Carnoustie and other so-called monsters. But whatever the physical demands ' Oakmont is a healthy walk over rolling former farmland above the Allegheny River ' the impression that survives the round is the mental challenge. Never have I played a course that simply will not allow you for a second to ease up on the brain power. My playing partners agreed. Even Ford, who knows the place down the grass-blade level, seems to marvel at the constant challenge of the place.
On 12, 15 and 17, its already U.S. Open time, Ford said, referring to the heavy rough already growing there as a kind of U.S. Golf Association science experiment. The players are going to have quite a time with this, he said in his usual understated way. When I yanked my drive a little on the stunning par-5 12th, Ford saw the bright side.
The maintenance guys have been through there, he said. See; the grass is tamped down a little. We may find that one.
Sure enough, we did. But I could only advance it about 20 yards. On 15, when I sliced my drive into the ankle-wrapping flora, we quickly decided to write off the ball and live with short-term capital loss treatment.
Somehow, it was hard to be mad. The club runs as a first-class operation, from pro shop to golf course to grill room. And looking back from the green at 12 to the exciting left-to-right slope of the downhill fairway, one couldnt help but look forward to another Open here.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, but was never a member at Oakmont, so this was my first time playing. Naturally, it was a special event in my golf life, big number aside. I called some friends afterwards and discussed the course, the upcoming Open, and the severity of the challenge. How did it make me feel?, one asked.
Like a bowl of cole slaw. Freshly shredded.
Yeah, but did you have fun?
You bet I did.
And even if U.S. Open participants dont exactly have fun next year, the fans sure will.
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Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open
The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:
Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)
What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.
Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.
Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.
Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.
Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday.
Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one
Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.
Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia
SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.
Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.
''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.
But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.
In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.
''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.
The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.
''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''
NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.
Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long
Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.
Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.
"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"
The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.
Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.
"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."
Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.
"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.
"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.
"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."