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U.S. Open, Oakmont Belong Together

By: Ron Green, Global Golf Post

If you didn’t like the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay last June – and it seemed about as popular with purists as tofu casserole – then you’re probably going to love this U.S. Open.

Oakmont18gIt’s time for Oakmont, a golf course that would walk like Ángel Cabrera if it had legs, its masculinity percolating in the summer air.

Oakmont is unforgivingly difficult, a champion of double bogeys and broken spirits. It has dungeons for bunkers, a jungle of tangled rough and greens that can put the fear of four-putting into Steve Stricker.

If you like traditional U.S. Opens, the kind where birdies are treated like burps in church and pars are sacred currency, then you’re going to love this one. Nothing says U.S. Open tough like a 288-yard par-3, though Oakmont’s eighth can play a tick or two longer depending on the mood of USGA executive director Mike Davis and his cohorts.

“It’s one of the ultimate tests in U.S. Open golf,” said Ernie Els, who won there 22 years ago on the same week when Arnold Palmer waved a tearful goodbye to his national championship. “It’s just a classic, great test.”

Oakmont could not be more different from Chambers Bay. Not only do they sit more than 2,000 miles apart, they belong to different eras.

Oakmont Country Club (photo YouTube.com)

Chambers Bay is a modern design, which got a bad rap from the viewing public because its greens turned to broccoli (Henrik Stenson’s word) during the U.S. Open last year. Forget who’s to blame for the putting surfaces and promise the U.S. Open will never return unless Chambers Bay is made more fan-friendly but don’t forget what happened there.

Oakmont, with all its fearsome qualities, would love to produce a Sunday leaderboard as good as the one Chambers Bay gave us. Jordan Spieth won and Dustin Johnson three-putted away his chance to win. The top 10 also included Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Adam Scott, Cameron Smith, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day, Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy.

The best courses tend to bring out the best players so Chambers Bay has that going for it. So does Oakmont.

Consider U.S. Open winners at Oakmont: Cabrera, Els, Larry Nelson, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Sam Parks Jr. and Tommy Armour.

Want more? Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen and John Mahaffey won PGA Championships there and Bobby Jones won a U.S. Amateur there.

It’s not a place for flukes.

This U.S. Open arrives with a lush cast of characters and enough plotlines to keep a book club busy for a month. It’s missing Tiger Woods, which feels too familiar now, but it has just about everything else.

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In Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, the game has its new triumvirate and each has reason to believe that Oakmont is where they will add to their already glittering résumés. Each of the three has won recently and each has the necessary ingredients to handle what Oakmont will throw at them.

Day is the clear No. 1 at the moment because he hits it a mile, he hits it fairly straight, he has a great short game and he putts like Jordan Spieth.

As for Spieth, he’ll be reminded too often of kicking away The Masters in April but Spieth seems blessed to live in the moment while also learning from his failures. Curtis Strange knows he may not have the distinction of being the last man to win consecutive U.S. Opens for much longer.

McIlroy keeps flashing but hasn’t erupted into full glow for a while. His recent win at the Irish Open may have lit the fuse, however.

Then there is Phil Mickelson, who has collected runner-up medals the way some people collect coffee mugs from vacation spots. For all of Mickelson’s maverick moments in tournaments through the years, he understands how to play U.S. Opens.

He’s brilliant from 100 yards and in, which is where U.S. Opens tend to be won and he also shows extraordinary patience, understanding the penalty for being too brazen can be fatal.

Can Dustin Johnson finish this one? Can we imagine Bubba Watson as a U.S. Open champion? Could it finally be Sergio García’s turn? The list and the questions go on and on.

Unlike The Masters, where the players are the story, the U.S. Open is built around the course and how it plays. Eventually, the players take over or, if the setup is particularly rugged, someone finally emerges as the survivor.

In the past six U.S. Opens at Oakmont, the average winning score has been 281. That would be 1-over par now that Oakmont is a par 70 (it was a par 71 until 2007).

By its very nature, Oakmont doesn’t yield many low scores, though Miller had a sublime Sunday all those years ago. The trick for the USGA is taking Oakmont to the edge but not beyond.

There’s an appreciation in watching the best players in the world be fully and fairly tested. If the test becomes too severe, it becomes tedious.

Oakmont and the U.S. Open belong together. Bring it on.

By: Ron Green, Global Golf Post