Language Of Winning at Oakmont

By Brian HewittJune 16, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- The two best lines Ive heard all week'so far'are both funny and informing.
 
Kirk Triplett is getting most of the credit for being the player who said this of the 288-yard, par-3 eighth at Oakmont: Its the only hole I know where they can have a long drive contest and a closest to the pin.
 
Somebody else sized up Saturdays final pairing of Bubba Watson and Angel Cabrera and said this: The only thing they have in common is neither one speaks English.
 
Cabrera being from Argentina, dont you know. And Watson hailing from rural Florida.
 
Actually they both share otherworldly length off the tee. But the point of all this is how disorienting Oakmont can be and how important it has become for players to learn Oakmonts unique language.
 
Enter Tiger Woods, golfs polylinguist extraordinaire.
 
In the end Sunday, the winner will be the player who will have best blended a mixture of skill, resolve and golf Berlitz. For the 107th U.S. Open, it turns out, is a quadratic equation--X and Y variables all over the place. Solve it and youve got a chance to win.
 
'They say for every four pars you make it's like a birdie,' said Jeff Brehaut, who fashioned a taut 70 Saturday. 'That's about right. Just do the math.'
 
Enter Tiger Woods, golfs calculating calculist.
 
His challenge, and make no mistake he will relish it, is to track down Australian Aaron Baddeley Sunday. Woods is 4 over after 54 holes. Baddeley is 2 over. They will be playing in the final pairing. Note this: Woods has never come from behind after 54 holes to win any of his 12 major victories.
 
They say theres a first time for everything. For his part, Baddeley has been striking the ball with confidence all week and his putting has been better.
 
But a word of warning: The language of grind, it turns out surprisingly, may be counterproductive here. The weekend player tells the sad story about the four and a half hour round of golf where he can only concentrate for four. The other 30 minutes ruin his round.
 
The best players in the world are mentally conditioned to grind four days with few mental lapses. But even Woods has limits to his reservoir of grind. And Oakmont is a place where those limits can be reached.
 
On Day One here Nick Dougherty blithely made his way around in 68 pops. Led the championship and talked afterward about how much fun he had and how much he enjoyed the noises of the American crowds. This was Doughertys way of turning off the pressure. It lasted a day. He carded 77 Friday.
 
After his Friday 66, which will undoubtedly stand as the championships lowest round, Paul Casey also addressed the zone that, when achieved, can protect a player from the rigors of a golf course like Oakmont. In 1973 when Johnny Millers final round 63 won the U.S. Open here at Oakmont, one of the first questions asked after his round was, What was going through your mind?
 
Absolutely nothing, Miller responded. Or words to that effect.
 
Told of Millers comments back then, Casey said, Theres rarely anything going through my mind when Im playing golf.
 
At least not good golf.
 
Casey, by the way, actually counted his strokes in Wednesdays last practice round. It was 1-under 69 and he won a dinner bet from Victor Garcia, Sergios father. The method to this madness was Caseys first round struggles in majors. In April at Augusta Casey opened with 79 and followed it with 68. Here it was 77-66. Wouldnt Paul Casey, three back of Baddeley now, love to have that 69 back and be able to count it Sunday?
 
Stephen Ames, also three back of Baddeley, caught himself in the middle of his second round. As the day was going on, I realized that I was slowly starting to get into a rut of thinking score and stuff, Ames said. So I started to crack some more jokes.
 
The result was a 69, the only other round under par for that day.
 
'You have to switch gears,' Brehaut said.
 
Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, appears to have overthought the whole process. On an extended pre-championship visit he injured his wrist. And it didnt recover in time. He shot 74-77 and missed the cut by a shot.
 
Im going to have to change things, Mickelson said before getting out of town. Only time will tell exactly what that means.
 
But one of the lessons of Oakmont so far has been this: Let the game come to you. Or, failing that, make sure to stay true to yourself.
 
Youve got to figure out what works best for you, Woods said. Thats the hard part. I know I cant play as stoic as Hogan, and I cant talk as much as Trevino; you have to be your own person.
 
And, at Oakmont, you have to understand that Oakmont is going to be its own golf course.
 
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    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

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