As the much anticipated U.S. Open draws closer I am constantly flooded with memories from the last U.S. Open held at Oakmont back in 1994. It was a week that I will never forget. And while most of the memories are great there are some that are bittersweet but more about that later.
Oakmont is without a doubt one of my favorite venues in championship golf. It is a very stern test with the most difficult set of putting surfaces I have ever seen. But in a couple of weeks we will be seeing a new Oakmont. Length has been added. (If the USGA decides to use a back hole location at number 8 we may well see our first 300 yard par 3.) Bunkers have been added. (Including more rows to the famous church pews between the 4th and 5th holes) And many of the bunkers have also been made deeper. But the most notable difference will be the look of the golf course. Nearly 5000 trees have been removed, restoring the treasured layout to its original character. It will look breathtaking on television.
Its been thirteen years since Oakmont CC last hosted a U.S. Open but it sure doesnt seem that long ago to me. With his Monday playoff victory Ernie Els captured his first major championship and clearly established himself as one of the game's elite players. It was blustering hot that day nearly 100 degrees and Colin Montgomerie nearly melted in his outfit of navy blue pants and shirt actually he did, shooting a 78. The entire playoff seemed awkward to me. In fact on the short par 4 second hole Els, Montgomerie and Roberts combined for a total of 18 strokes! But my most vivid memory of the week didnt come from that Monday, it came on Friday afternoon and no matter what else happens in my broadcast career there was a minute that will always be my favorite.
Arnold Palmer was playing in his final U.S. Open and having grown up just outside the Pittsburgh area you can image what the scene was like at Oakmont. As Arnold approached the 18th green on Friday it was clear that he would not make the cut. This would be his last hole. The reception was deafening. I was in the area adjacent to the scoring trailer when Arnold came out after signing his scorecard. We were just about to go off the air on ESPN as a live World Cup Soccer game was about to begin. Even though the area was literally packed with media Arnold walked straight over to me. The next minute seemed like ten to me. I asked a question, Arnold could not talk. Then there were tears. Then I could barely talk. Not much was actually said but its a moment Ill never forget.
Now for the bittersweet part; having begun my career at ESPN in 1986, I had then worked for NBC Sports from 1988-1991. After the Ryder Cup in 1991 I left to go to work for ABC for several reasons including money. Another reason was that ABC had the U.S. Open television package and the U.S. Open has always been my favorite championship. However in 1993, the USGA awarded the U.S. Open television package to NBC. The 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont would be ABCs last. I was devastated.
NBC Sports began its U.S. Open run at Shinnecock Hills in 1995. I was there only watching. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to rejoin the NBC Sports golf team in 1998. Now I get to go back to Oakmont in a couple of weeks to work at what I think will be a fabulous U.S. Open. I cant wait!
Thats My View.
Editors Note: Mark Rolfing, a Maui resident, is one of the leading forces in sports event marketing and production in Hawaii. As NBC Sports award-winning golf commentator, Rolfing continues to cover top golf events such as the prestigious Ryder Cup, The Players Championship and The U.S Open. Rolfing also hosts Golf Hawaii on The Golf Channel. Golf Hawaii, now in its twelfth season is one of the longest running sports shows in the nation.