Oakmont a traditional, very stern U.S. Open test

By Randall MellJune 15, 2016, 7:31 pm

OAKMONT, Pa. – Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ...

If you didn’t like the U.S. Open’s radical departure from its classic roots in the modern era, you’re relishing its return to Oakmont Country Club this week.

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood ...

If you thought the championship was miscast at Pinehurst No. 2, where there was no rough two years ago, and at Chambers Bay, with its moonscape look last year, you’re reveling in the return to a more traditional setup this week. The U.S. Open is back with par defended by this championship’s more familiar fortresses, by lush, penal rough, narrow fairways and fast greens.

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit ...

William Shakespeare was long gone when Henry Fownes built Oakmont in 1903, but the lines Shakespeare wrote in Henry V should resonate with players trying to muster fortitude for the U.S. Open’s return to its most formidable venue. Oakmont is still “an ugly old brute,” as Herbert Warren Wind once wrote. It still possesses “all the charm of a sock in the head,” as Gene Sarazen once said.

“This is the ultimate U.S. Open test,” said Ernie Els, who won at Oakmont in ‘94. “This one is going to test your resolve: mental, physical, everything.”

Oakmont is in many respects the model for a U.S. Open in the modern era.

“Henry Fownes and his son, William, were really the patriarchs of Oakmont Country Club, and it's interesting because they not only came from the penal school of golf course architecture, but, in some ways, they invented it,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “If you think of the golf courses in this country that are really tough tests, Oakmont was really the first.”

Davis has left his fingerprints all over U.S. Opens since he moved in charge of setups in 2006, sometimes controversially. He brought graduated rough to the championship. He brought a more liberal use of variable tees, more dramatically changing distances day-to-day to alter strategy and make players think. He annoyed Jordan Spieth changing the 18th at Chambers Bay from a par 5 to a par 4 in the middle of the championship.

Davis has relished the USGA moving to venues that haven’t fit the modern era’s traditional U.S. Open look, like Chambers Bay, the renovated Pinehurst No. 2 and Erin Hills, home to next year’s U.S. Open.

In so many ways, Davis has enhanced and elevated the championship, but there is an old guard who hasn’t liked his departures from tradition.

A few years back, NBC’s Johnny Miller questioned whether the U.S. Open had “lost its identity” with Davis making such radical alterations. Miller posted that famed final-round 63 when he won at Oakmont in 1973. He believes in penal rough as a U.S. Open staple.

There was no rough at all at Pinehurst in ’14 and again at Chambers Bay in ’15.

Davis has sometimes infuriated players.

After Davis moved the tees up 101 yards at the par-5 16th hole at the Olympic Club in the final round in 2012, Jim Furyk questioned how a player was supposed to prepare for that. Furyk snap-hooked his tee shot into some trees, made bogey and finished second to Webb Simpson.

In the final round at Merion in 2013, Phil Mickelson complained about not being able to reach the third hole, a 274-yard par 3. He made double bogey on his way to yet another second-place finish at the U.S. Open.

“During U.S. Open week, there are probably a lot of players cursing Mike Davis under their breath,” Geoff Ogilvy told Golf Channel in a “Live From” feature Tuesday night. “I think he is very respected, and I think everyone understands he is trying to present a more difficult challenge in a more interesting way.”

Geoff Shackelford, a golf course architect and author, has heard the backlash from players and traditionalists.

“They feel like he’s playing God, or being the Wizard of Oz, behind the curtain and pulling strings,” Shackelford said.

Oakmont will look like the setup traditionalists want for a U.S. Open. While there is graduated rough this week, it’s still quite penal.

Davis was asked Wednesday about how he views the U.S. Open’s identity and how venues as diverse as Pinehurst, Chambers Bay and Oakmont encompass that.

“We want to test all of the shot-making skills of the players, and we also want to test their course management skills and their ability to handle nerves,” Davis said. “I think when we're looking at golf courses that could potentially take a U.S. Open, what we really want to do is take it, first and foremost, to one of the country's great golf courses. So it's got to be a golf course that tests all those aspects.”

This is where Davis’ vision of the U.S. Open departs from traditionalists. He doesn’t like “cookie cutter” setups for the championship. He believes the U.S. Open should showcase the best American courses, and that means some courses that weren’t intended to be played with thick, gnarly rough.

When the U.S. Open was played at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999, the USGA grew rough around the fairways. Before the ’14 U.S. Open, architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore restored the course to Donald Ross’ original design, with wider fairways, no rough and native grasses.

“There is not necessarily a right or wrong,” Davis said. “There is just preference. It’s like a piece of art. Some people like a certain painting and some don’t.”

Traditionalists like the way Oakmont is painted, as Wind’s “ugly, old brute.” Next year, at Erin Hills, which will play more like Pinehurst No. 2 did two years ago, they probably won’t. For Davis, that’s just how art works.

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Vegas helicopters in to Carnoustie, without clubs

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 9:33 am

Jhonattan Vegas did some range work, putted a little and strolled to the first tee for his 5:31 a.m. ET start in the 147th Open Championship.

Everything before that, however, was far from routine.

Vegas' visa to travel to Scotland expired and the process to renew it got delayed - and it looked like his overseas' flight might suffer the same fate. Vegas, upon getting his visa updated, traveled from Houston, Texas to Toronto, Canada to Glasgow, Scotland, and then took a helicopter to Carnoustie.

He arrived in time on Thursday morning, but his clubs did not. Mizuno put together some irons for him and TaylorMade got him his preferred metal woods. He hit the clubs for the first time on the range, less than 90 minutes before his start.

"I'm going to go out there and play with freedom," Vegas told Golf Channel's Todd Lewis.

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on GolfChannel.com.  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; GC.com=GolfChannel.com or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.