My Memories of Oakmont
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.
Woods on firing shot into crowd: 'I kept moving them back'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It added up to another even-par round, but Tiger Woods had an eventful Friday at The Open.
His adventure started on the second hole, when he wiped a drive into the right rough. Standing awkwardly on the side of a mound, he prepared for a quick hook but instead fired one into the crowd that was hovering near the rope line.
“I kept moving them back,” he said. “I moved them back about 40 yards. I was trying to play for the grass to wrap the shaft around there and hit it left, and I was just trying to hold the face open as much as I possibly could. It grabbed the shaft and smothered it.
“I was very, very fortunate that I got far enough down there where I had a full wedge into the green.”
Woods bogeyed the hole, one of four on the day, and carded four birdies in his round of 71 at Carnoustie. When he walked off the course, he was in a tie for 30th, six shots off the clubhouse lead.
It’s the first time in five years – since the 2013 Open – that Woods has opened a major with consecutive rounds of par or better. He went on to tie for sixth that year at Muirfield.
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.
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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.
Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.
But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.
“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”
Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.
“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”
After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.
In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.
No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.
Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.
“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”
And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.
Let it go.
Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.
“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”
It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.
During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.
Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.
“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.
McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.
It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.
“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”
The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.
Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.
The only thing left to do?
Let it go.