Members Always Knew Oakmont Wasnt Easy

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2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- There are times Mark Pope walks off the course at Oakmont Country Club and wonders if it's possible he could be that bad, that his game could have deserted him so quickly.
 
And this is a guy who once shot 68 in the club championship.
 
That moaning and groaning the pros are doing at this week's U.S. Open is drawing smiles from some of the members at Oakmont. The Open players are the best in the world, and they're struggling just to survive a few days here. Imagine what it's like playing Oakmont on a regular basis.
 
'When you join here, you make a deal with yourself that you want to be challenged every day,' said Mickey Pohl, Oakmont's general chairman for the U.S. Open. 'It's a little different philosophy.'
 
When Henry C. Fownes designed Oakmont in 1903, he wanted a course that would test every single shot in his game. Not just his driving. Not just his putting. Not just his short game. Everything.
 
So the greens are fast and tricky, with undulations that create lines and breaks not seen anywhere else. The bunkers are treacherous, not simply decorative. The rough can grow so thick that small children and lapdogs get swallowed up by it.
 
'A shot played poorly should be a shot irrevocably lost,' Fownes' son, William, once said.
 
'For years, anybody who could play golf and was a good player wanted to play here,' said Gene Farrell, a member for 37 years and a two-time club champion. 'If you can play well at Oakmont, you're proud of that fact.'
 
Which is why this week has been so much fun for the members.
 
There's never any shortage of griping from players at the Open. The fairways are ribbon thin, the rough thick and bushy and the greens like linoleum. But at most courses, it takes some primping -- in some cases, a full-scale makeover -- to get ready for the Open. At Shinnecock three years ago, the greens were so dried out they played like slabs of concrete.
 
If courses were in those conditions normally, members would probably decide it was time to concentrate on their tennis game.
 
Not at Oakmont.
 
What the pros saw this week wasn't that much different from the torturous conditions members say they endure week in and week out. But the members don't play from the championship tees -- a fact Tiger Woods said makes all the difference.
 
'If you're a 10-handicapper, there is no way you're breaking 100 out there,' he said after shooting a 4-over 74 Friday. 'If you played all out on every shot, there is no way.'
 
But members take some offense at that. There are 650 members with handicaps. Of those, 196 are in the single digits. The U.S. Golf Association hasn't done much to change the course from what it looked like a few weeks ago.
 
'Sometimes the speed of the greens play faster than the USGA has them,' said Dick Fuhrer, a member for 47 years and the guy who had the bright idea to grow the rough when the Open was here in 1983.
 
'It tests you pretty good,' he added. 'In fact, it tests you more than you are capable of handling.'
 
When Pope shot his 68, he said the greens were as fast as they are for the Open.
 
'It really was, probably, one of the greatest rounds ever shot. In all of golf,' Pope said. He was joking. Maybe.
 
When the USGA said it was going to cut the rough, some members actually e-mailed Pohl to complain.
 
'There would be some members,' Pohl said, 'who would set it up even harder.'
 
The pros would say it's plenty hard already.
 
Phil Mickelson is nursing a bum wrist thanks to his practice rounds at Oakmont, and there are dozens more tending wounded egos this weekend. Only four players shot under par the first two rounds, and the average score Friday was 76.933.
 
'It's a different range of shots here,' Pohl said. 'People aren't used to seeing this huge variety of tough shots.'
 
Ask the members why they joined Oakmont instead of another club and the answer is usually the same: The challenge. You can golf anywhere. Play at Oakmont, and your game will always get a workout.
 
'We may joke about being tortured. But the reason I come back here is not to be punished,' said Stan Druckenmiller, a member for 30 years. 'When you play well here, it's so rewarding and it feels so good.
 
'It is brutal,' he added. 'But you want to be tested. You want to be challenged.'
 
And seeing the best in the world get a taste of what it's like for them every week has made the Open that much more enjoyable.
 
'I'm not a masochist,' Fuhrer said. 'I want to see them play well. I know how frustrating it is when you don't.'
 
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