Olympia Fields Research

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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- It was cold and windy and wet. But it was time for field research, as they call it at the USGA. In other words, I was at the site of this years U.S. Open, approximately five weeks before the start of the tournament, to play the golf course and get a sneak peak at the preparations.
 
Yeah, yeah, its a dirty job, but somebodys got to do it. My hosts were Brian Morrison, Olympia Fields smart and encyclopedic director of golf, and Rick Disney, one of the clubs board members.
 
What I found was a wonderful old Willie Park Jr. design with greens that are more subtle than they are penal. The course will play close to 7,200 yards for the Open at a par of 70. We played it at about 6,900 yards.
 
Early on, we lost a couple of balls in the rough. No surprise that. At least not until I asked Morrison to rate the rough length on a 1-10 basis with 10 being the length the rough will play for the tournament. I wanted a number.
 
Five, he said.
 
Yikes.
 
On the other hand, the fairways already have been tailored to the width Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson will find them when the tournament begins June 12. And the interesting part is when you stand on the tees, it looks like there is a lot of room. Obviously that perspective changes when you get into the fairway.
 
Soon the inevitable question arose: Will this course, where Johnny Farrell beat Bobby Jones in a playoff for the U.S. Open way back in 1928, be a bombers paradise?
 
Morrison didnt think so. I couldnt disagree. But I think the high-ball hitter will have an advantage at Olympia Fields North course. Thats because the tougher par-4s play into elevated, smallish greens. Morrison threw out the names of Jeff Maggert and David Toms as players whose style of play should suit the set-up. I believe the majorless Phil Mickelson, who has four top-10s in the last five U.S. Opens, will once again be a major factor.
 
Meanwhile, the fingerprints of USGA set-up guy Tom Meeks are all over the fifth hole, which will probably play the toughest against par during the tournament. Under Meeks direction, the fairway has been moved to the right, trees have been cleared out on that side and - lo and behold - a creek now comes into play for any right-hander who pushes his tee ball on this 444-yard par-4.
 
Meeks Creek, Morrison has dubbed it.
 
There are 36 holes at Olympia Fields, which means there is plenty of room on the South course for corporate tents, media headquarters and a driving range. Ten tee boxes have been added (read: new length) since the USGA last visited Olympia Fields at the 1997 Senior Open.
 
What I didnt know, until Morrison educated me, was that Amos Alonzo Stagg, the late and famous football coach at the University of Chicago, was the first president of Olympia Fields. Stagg loved the Olympics and the members played many sports other than golf at the club in those days. Hence the name Olympia Fields. In the '20s there were twice as many members at Olympia Fields (1000) as there are now.
 
But the charm remains at a club that, at one time, had fescue greens and no bunkers at all. By the end of my day two things stood out:
 
First, this should be a very representative U.S. Open. Second, Im glad I dont have to make a living trying to keep the wheels on for 72 holes on tracks like these.