AND SO WE welcome the year’s second great golf tournament. The US Open Championship returns to Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania which has hosted more Open and PGA championships than any other course in the United States of America and, depending on which camp you are in, the course is either a monument to classic design or a complete brute that will simply make the slow game that is professional tournament golf even slower.
Already America has seen one slow moving disaster this year at what some commentators sloppily refer to as ‘The unofficial fifth major’, namely the Players Championship held at Sawgrass in Florida. Golfing nadir occurred on day three when the remainder of world’s finest were attempting to hunt down world number one, Jason Day, only that never happened because, to quote one report, ‘Gusting winds and the choice to turn Sawgrass’s notoriously small and sloping greens into linoleum floors led to a scoring disaster.’
The highest number of three putts were recoded on that fateful Saturday, 149 of them, in the tournament’s history and that is after half the field were already back home with their feet up. And as well as intensely irritating an awful lot of players, the decision by the directors and greens’ staff to deliver putting surfaces that were rolled heavily and a misreading of the weather- low humidity and a 20 mph wind- created the perfect storm of rounds approaching six hours as players such as Jason Day four-putted from 18 feet whilst both Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia five-putted from eight feet.
Given that Day is far from the fleetest of golfers and Jordan Spieth, coming into the US Open fresh from his victory in the Dean & Deluca Invitational at Colonial CC, regularly engages his caddy in lengthy discussions over putts any longer than six inches we could be in for some worryingly slow golf at Oakmont particularly as the only word to describe the set-up for this year’s tournament is brutal.
Short but thick rough will envelop the ball and the greens have been set up to rival Sawgrass in speed. Forget the players, as far as the USPGA is concerned the star of the show has to be the golf course. Already players have been posting clips on social media of balls rolling yards past the hole following little more than a brush with the putter face, and at Oakmont there are so many intricate little breaks that are barely noticeable to the naked eye. It is depressing simply to imagine how long Spieth and his caddy will be engrossed in conversation.
Then there are the bunkers. The notorious Church Pew bunkers (see picture above) are situated on the left of the third fairway although there are more on the right that are no fun either. Designer, Henry C Fownes, built no other course but Oakmont and set out with the intention of making it as hard as possible.
When it opened in 1904 there were 300 hundred bunkers although today’s players will encounter 210, averaging just under 12 a hole. The last winner of the US Open here, Angel Cabrera, finished five over par, and one shot ahead of Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. Only eight rounds under par were recorded over the four days and Woods played brilliantly in the third round hitting 17 out of 18 greens in regulation yet only just broke par.
At 7,219 yards, par 70 and with a par three eighth a shade under 300 yards, spectators and armchair viewers should not expect to see many scores in the 60s this year as the pros simply try to grind out par, going through their interminable pre-shot routines as they do so. Watching televised highlights seems favourite.
But the USPGA only has itself to blame as the number of three putts at Oakmont may well be higher than at the Players’ Championship and super slick greens make slow play inevitable. So in one breath tour players are being told by the organisers to play more quickly yet those very organisers are making faster play impossible because of the course lay outs. They can’t make the courses any longer, they won’t change the compression of the ball, so they make the greens roll at 13 on the stimp meter.
And how many youngsters are going to be attracted to a game that takes six hours to play and where putting becomes well nigh impossible for most amateur golfers?