OAKMONT, Pa. – In 2007, when the U.S. Open was last played at Oakmont, eventual champion Angel Cabrera hit more greens than just two players, yet ranked 48th for the week in driving accuracy.
A survey of players in this week’s field suggests that likely won’t be the case this time around.
“If you don’t put the ball in the fairway you not only won’t have a chance to contend you won’t be here on the weekend,” said swing coach Butch Harmon.
For the man who walked every step with Cabrera in ’07, that disconnect is likely the result of a golf course he predicts will play harder this week than it did nine years ago.
Cabrera’s longtime swing coach Charlie Epps said Oakmont, which had a field scoring average of 75.705 in ’07, will be more difficult this time because of the rough and the increased difficulty playing from bunkers.
“There’s been more rain this time, everything is greener. The rough is harder, the rough is deeper, the ball goes down,” Epps said. “In ’07, there were some shots where you could hit it out and get it to the green. But this week, there are some shots that you’re going to have a hard time getting to the fairway.”
Players have also talked about how the sand in Oakmont’s bunkers is “fluffier” this week, with the golf ball sinking, which will make it difficult to assure a solid shot.
“They blow the sand. You watch them maintain it, they get in there with those blowers and I think that changes the way that top layer is,” Epps said. “The ball goes down further. It’s a strange way they maintain their sand. When it comes out you’re not able to spin it.”
Epps specifically pointed to Cabrera’s shot on the 10th hole during the final round in ’07 after hitting into a fairway bunker off the tee. Cabrera hit a 9-iron to about 15 feet for a two-putt par. “Magical shot,” Epps said.
With the conditions of the bunkers this week, Epps said Cabrera would probably not be able to hit the same shot because his golf ball would be sitting down in the sand.
Cabrera finished at 5 over par in ’07 to beat Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods by a stroke. Asked if fans should expect a similar grind this year at Oakmont, Epps had no doubt.
“Is over par going to win? Yes. If there’s any wind it’s really going to get scary,” he said.