Greens Set Oakmont Apart from Open Venues

By Associated PressJune 13, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- This was no magic trick, just Oakmont.
 
Steve Stricker was standing next to his bag marking his golf balls before his final practice round Wednesday at the U.S. Open when he dropped one on the green. He watched it trickle around the bag, appear on the other side and hit someone in the foot, a 180-degree turn over an area of 5 feet.
 
Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, and Luke Donald
Luke Donald is watched by Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia Wednesday at Oakmont. (Getty Images)
The smile on his face disguised a wince.
 
Stricker is among the best putters in golf, and even he took a breath on the eve of an Open that will be held on a course reputed to have the fastest greens in the land.
 
This is his 12th U.S. Open, and he has come to expect narrow fairways, shaggy rough, firm greens, frayed nerves. 'The setup is comparable from the tee until you reach the green,' Stricker said. 'But once you hit the green, it's another game.'
 
More than its reputation as the toughest course in America, more than the Church Pew bunkers, with or without 5,000 trees, what sets Oakmont apart from other U.S. Open venues is the greens.
 
Oakmont opened in 1903, and while there have been changes over the years, the greens remain virtually untouched.
 
'These are the toughest greens we'll ever play in U.S. Open history, or even any other tournament for that matter,' said Ernie Els, who won at Oakmont in 1994. 'With the rough and these greens, this is going to be a very, very tough test.'
 
But that was before a thunderstorm moved into Pittsburgh and pounded the course with four-tenths of an inch of ran in an hour. USGA officials were hopeful it would not change the course dramatically, but it figures to take some of the fright out of firm and fast conditions.
 
'It's not going to be what we planned for,' USGA agronomist Tim Moraghan said. 'Things were moving along quite well. We thought we'd have a true, hard test for players on Thursday. The rain has altered this a little bit.'
 
Moraghan said the rain should not affect the speed on putts, but softer greens would more easily hold shots from the fairway.
 
Before the storms, it was not surprising to see so much activity on the putting green, an extension of the ninth green at Oakmont. Tiger Woods took the day off, except to hit balls on the range and work on his putting. He hit one that missed on the low side and then rapped another that found the bottom of the cup while the first one continued to roll away until he walked over to pick it up.
 
'They are by far the most difficult greens I've ever played,' Woods said. 'I thought Winged Foot was pretty tough. Augusta is pretty tough. But both courses have flat spots. Augusta may have these big, big slopes, but they have these flat shelves that they usually put the pins on. Here, I'm trying to figure where a flat shelf is.'
 
Mike Davis, the senior director of rules and competition who sets up the course, set a tube of lip balm on the top part of the second green and was gently stroking putts at it.
 
'We're trying to see what to do with the four hole locations,' Davis said. 'Actually, we're trying to find four hole locations.'
 
That's why Padraig Harrington suggested earlier this week that the USGA has more control of the scoring at Oakmont than perhaps any other course it visits. Stick the pins in tough spots and no one breaks par. Find more gentle sections of the green, and there's a chance.
 
'I wouldn't be putting my house that 8 over par is going to win this tournament, but I think it's certainly got a chance,' Harrington said. 'If the USGA wants us to shoot level par this week, the winning score will be level par. It's much more in their control than it is in any player's control. If somebody goes out and shoots 66 the first day, God help us. But I don't see that happening.'
 
The rough is thick enough that most players doubt they will be able to get out of it and onto the greens. That's not unusual at a U.S. Open. The smart play is to wedge out of the hay, leave 100 yards to the green and try to hit another wedge close to the hole.
 
'You hit that wedge shot that takes a big hop and stops,' Stricker explained. 'But here, it takes the big hop and stops, and then it continues to roll. And when you're on the green, some of those putts are treacherous. You think you've hit a decent putt, and it keeps trickling away. It's tough to get inside that 4- to 5-foot area, and you better make those.'
 
Any relief from Wednesday's rain is likely to be temporary. There's no rain in the forecast the rest of the week until a slight chance on Sunday.
 
Oakmont was soaked the day Johnny Miller shot 63 in the final round to win in 1973, but it still was a round that might never be matched. Not this year, anyway.
 
'I could put a great player on every green 15 feet away, and he's not going to make nine of them,' Oakmont head pro Bob Ford said.
 
But before anyone breaks out a white towel, Ford offered some hope. The greens are fast, but they also are smooth.
 
'Although our greens are the most difficult in the world, they're also the most pure,' Ford said. 'Guys get the right line and they can make everything. Winged Foot was slow, bumpy, and everybody was leaving it short. A 6-footer here is like a 3-footer somewhere else.'
 
The greens are but the final piece of the puzzle this week.
 
It starts with a tee shot that must be kept in the fairway to have any reasonable shot at the green, and no miss is a good one. Along with the graduated rough -- the farther from the fairway, the deeper it gets -- the bunkers are so deep that the only priority is getting out.
 
The USGA always says it wants to have the most rigorous test in golf.
 
So far, it will get no argument on this one.
 
'Oak-monster,' Rory Sabbatini called it. 'You have to be fully in control for 72 holes. This golf course will test every single shot you ever thought you'd need and every single shot you never thought you'd need.'
 
Geoff Ogilvy won last year at 5-over 285, and most players figure that would win going away at Oakmont. Some have suggested 10 over par would win, while Sabbatini placed a friendly wager with his caddie that whoever finished last on Sunday would be 40 over par?
 
Hyperbole? We'll soon find out.
 
'This one has been built up as being tougher than the rest,' Harrington said. 'It does make Winged Foot seem very pleasant.'
 
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    McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

    Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

    McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

    Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

    McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

    Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

    “That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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    Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

    Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

    ''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


    Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


    First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

    ''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

    David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

    The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    ''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.