Father's Day week is the traditional time for the United States Open, the second major championship on the calendar. If The Masters is the opening of Spring, the U.S. Open is the Bataan Death March.
Instead of wide-open spaces in a pastoral setting at Augusta, the U.S. Open players have to walk single file down the narrow fairways knowing that a single misplayed shot can lead to their doom.
Every shot is a test. You must drive the ball in the fairway to have a chance to hit the greens. There are not any Bubba recoveries like on 10 at Augusta. The rough is deep and the greens are fast and hard. The conditions are the most trying in golf. Balls will bounce into unlikely areas. By the time the players have completed their tournament, they are mentally and physically exhausted.
The U.S.G.A. believes par is a significant number, and sets up their Open course to make par a good score.
The tournament will be played at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, on its Lake Course. There are two golf courses at The Olympic Club, the Lake Course where there is no lake, and the Ocean Course, which is not on the ocean. While close to the Pacific Ocean, there is only one ocean view on the Lake Course, off in the distance from the first fairway.
The Olympic Club was established in 1860 and enjoys the distinction of being America's oldest athletic club.
The most distinguishing feature of The Olympic Club is that the course is built on the side of a hill, so there are very few level lies. Most holes go across the terrain creating situations where the ball must be shaped into the hill to keep the ball in play. Very often the slope of the fairway is opposite the direction of the dogleg. If the course is firm and the ball is rolling, and the early prognostication is for a dry week, tee shots will roll off the fairway into the rough.
There is no other major championship course where you have to curve the ball opposite the slope of the hole to keep it in play. For example, a dogleg to the left will have the fairway slope to the right. To be successful, every player must be able to both fade and hook the ball. In fact, straight shots off the tee often put you at a disadvantage.
Another unique feature of the area is that mid-June is not really summer in San Francisco. Mark Twain once stated that "the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco." Having visited there in both June and July, it can indeed get cold. Jackets and sweaters may be the order of the day. Where the prevailing weather comes into play is that the ball does not fly as far in cooler weather. The course will play longer than its listed 7,100 yards.
The par of 70 is somewhat artificial. The first hole at 520 yards was a par 5 in the four previous Opens held at Olympic. The hole has not been shortened, but is now listed as a par 4. The fifth and sixth holes are also par 4's listed as 498 and 489 yard respectively. The two actual par 5's are back-to-back at 16 at 670 yards, longest in Open history, and 17 at 522 yards. The first six holes are considered the toughest opening stretch in golf.
While there have been some changes over the years since the first U.S. Open at Olympic in 1955. The biggest change is to the grass on the greens from poa annua (which is a weed here in Louisiana) to bent grass. Poa annua is a very tough strain that grows quickly throughout the day. This often leads to bumpy greens for the late starters. The bent grass will provide a smoother surface that will be extremely fast. There are some estimates that the greens may roll up to a 13 on the Stimpmeter. That speed should be maintained through the day.
There have been four previous U.S. Opens held at The Olympic Club: 1955, 1966, 1987 and 1998. All had very interesting finishes and in all of them the 54 hole leader did not win the tournament. One thing they all had in common was that the tournament was won by a "plodder." A plodder is a person who works in a slow and persevering but uninspired manner. The four prior winners fit that mold.
In fact plodders have a great deal of success in the Open. Andy North (twice), Corey Pavin, Steve Jones, Ernie Els (2), Retief Goosen (2), Jim Furyk, Michael Campbell, Geoff Ogilvy, Angel Cabrera and Lucas Glover prove that slow and steady is the way.
In 1955 the ultimate underdog, Jack Fleck, first tied the legend Ben Hogan in regulation, then defeated him in an 18 hole playoff the next day. The U.S. Open is the only tournament that continues to utilize an 18 hole playoff format.
In 1966 Billy Casper overcame a seven shot deficit over the final 8 holes to catch Arnold Palmer, then beat him in a playoff the next day, again coming from behind. This was the final time that Palmer was in contention at a major. It also highlighted the underappreciated career of Casper who won three majors.
In the 1987 U.S. Open Scott Simpson defeated Tom Watson by one shot in regulation. The ultimate "plodder" birdied holes 14, 15 and 16 to beat Tom Watson by one stroke. Simpson finished at three-under par, the only winning score at Olympic under par.
Lee Janzen snagged his second U.S. Open in 1998 with his triumph over Payne Stewart. Another career plodder, Janzen came from seven strokes down over the last 15 holes to nip Payne Stewart by a stroke.
With 14 different winners in the last 14 major championships the 2012 U.S. Open is wide open. Considering the history of underdogs at The Olympic Club, this week is shaping up to be a great one. After golf's "death march," you can be sure that the winner will have earned the title and will need a break to recover.
|< Prev||Next >|