The 102nd U.S. Open takes place this week at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y. The 7,214-yard par-70 Black Course ' the longest layout in Open history ' will be the venue. Fittingly enough, this will be the first time that the most democratic of all events will be contested on a public course. Of course, Pebble Beach and Pinehurst No. 2 are open to the public ' but in excess of $300-a-pop. You can play the Black Course for the tidy sum of $31 Monday-Friday, and eight bucks more on the weekends.
Typical of a U.S. Open venue, the fairways are tighter than Charles Howells pants; the roughs thicker than Andrew Coltarts accent; the greens are faster than Colin Montgomeries exit after a missed cut; and theres more sand than Jesper Parnevik could eat in a lifetime.
Over the past month, only a handful of players have had the opportunity to get a sneak peak at this maiden set-up. World No. 1 Tiger Woods played May 28 with good buddy Mark OMeara under the cloak of secrecy. Its not known what he shot then, but he did comment that anything under par could be the winning number this week - though certain circles believe it may take double digits.
The serene South African, Retief Goosen, is the defending champion. His missed two-footer on the 72nd hole a year ago will forever live in golf lore, as will the grit he showed in winning an 18-hole playoff over Mark Brooks the following day.
Defending ones title at the Open is a rare accomplishment. Curtis Strange was the last to win back-to-back, in 1988 and 89; before him, it was Ben Hogan in 1950 and 51.
This years venue will lend itself to the length and accuracy. The level putting surfaces will give players a chance to score, if they find the fairways off the tee ' and control their long irons.
At 7,214 yards, the Black Course is three feet longer than the previous biggest beast ever tackled at a U.S. Open ' Congressional Country Club (1997). Four par-4s exceed 475 yards in length and three of the four par-3s are over 200 yards.
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The test is so severe that reigning U.S. Senior Open champion Bruce Fleisher declined his invitation to play, saying the demand was too much.
The course was originally designed in 1936 by famed architect A.W. Tillinghast ' who also designed Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y.; Baltusrol in Springfield, N.J.; and Five Farms in Baltimore, Md. Rees Jones then renovated the layout in the late-'90s, making it Open worthy.
This will be the first time that the Empire State has played host to a U.S. Open since Corey Pavin won at Shinnecock in Southampton in 1995. It will also mark the first major championship the state has seen since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Patriotism will resonate throughout the Long Island area, and judging by history, theres a solid chance an American will hoist the trophy come Sunday.
Only 27 times has a foreign-born player captured the seasons second major, and not since Tony Jacklin, in 1970, has a European held high the hardware. Since Jacklins accomplishment, Americans are 27-for-31 in winning their nations championship. Australias David Graham won in 1981, and South African Ernie Els preceded his countryman Goosen in 1994 and 97.
As for playoffs, theyre slightly more occasional than a foreign champion. Before Goosens 18-hole redemption, Els was the last player to win a playoff, doing so at the expense of Loren Roberts and Montgomerie in 94. There have been 32 playoffs in tournament history.
This year, though, the venue is as much a story as the competition itself.
The Black Course is renowned for its participants enthusiasm and dedication ' well before it was named a U.S. Open site.
Bethpage actually has five courses ' Black, Red Blue, Green and Yellow. But, of course, the Black is the peoples choice.
Those wishing to play must arrive in their vehicles ' foursomes intact ' usually a day and a half before their desired tee times. One individual must remain in the temporary housing at all times. And when the starter shines his flashlight into your blood-shot eyes prior to sunrise, youd better be organized, coherent and primed for play.
The sign on the first tee reads, The Black Course is a very difficult golf course, designed for highly-skilled golfers only.
And thats just what it will get this week ' 156 of them, to be exact.
Full Coverage of the 102nd U.S. Open