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Oakmont Returns to Its Roots

No other venue has hosted as many U.S. Opens as Oakmont Country Club, what makes this course so unique and what is its history with the U.S. Open?

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U.S. Open Oakmont 2007The Oakmont story begins in 1903 when avid amateur golfer Henry C. Fownes purchases 200 acres of farmland in the Pittsburg suburb of Oakmont nestled in the Allegheny River Valley. Fownes longed to build a true links style course and with a minimal crew of men and machines fulfilled his dream.

Fownes and his son worked hard to utilize the existing landscape to create a course rife with challenge and difficulty. At its opening in 1904, Oakmont played to a par of 80 at 6400 yards. Fast forward to 2007, Oakmont has hosted eight more U.S. Opens, its list of winners is a who’s who of golfing royalty, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Ernie Els, and Johnny Miller have all been crowned U.S. Open Champion at Oakmont Country Club, and the this year, the course will play a staggering 7,230 yards at par 70.

Oakmont has always been known for one thing – its difficulty. This feeling was instilled early on in the club’s life. Although it has no water hazards, Oakmont makes up for it with devilish bunkering. The first U.S. Open was held at Oakmont in 1927. W.C. Fownes set out to make it the most challenging course in the world by allowing the rough to grow up past player’s knees and increasing the number of bunkers to 220. Fownes had one more trick up his sleeve, the bunker rakes he used had widely spaced teeth in them to create furrows inside the bunkers making escaping the sandy hazards incredibly difficult even for the best players in the world. Jack Nicklaus has once again brought these rakes to the forefront of the golfing world by using them at his Memorial Tournament. While the bunker rakes are now gone, their legacy of penal bunkers and difficult course setup remains to this day among the members and management of Oakmont.

Of all the lasting images of Oakmont, none is as iconic as the Church Pew bunkers placed between holes 3 and 4. The exact origin of the Church Pews is difficult to ascertain, no one is quite sure if it was Henry Fownes or his son, W.C. who came up with the idea. What is certain is that there may not be a more penal bunker in the United States. Within the heart of the bunker lies twelve mounds planted with long fescue grass. Originally the bunker contained 8 pews, but over the years the entire bunker has been widened and the number of pews increased to 12. In preparation for this year’s U.S. Open, Head Greens Keeper John Zimmers has made some other changes to make the Church Pews even more difficult. The coarse sand formerly found in the Church Pews has been replaced with a finer grained sand to increase the chances of finding a buried lie. The former mixture of grasses found on the pews themselves has been replaced with pure fescue making even the simple task of pitching out a difficult proposition.

Oakmont Church Pews

Yet the bunkers aren’t the only defense of Oakmont. The Oakmont greens hold the unique distinction of having the most tilt of any golf course in the world. Combine that with the USGA’s pension for ramping up green speeds into the 13 foot range on the stimpmeter, Oakmont will likely be an incredibly difficult test this year. Last week, defending champion Geoff Ogilvy played his first practice round and his caddie estimated his score around 85. Ogilvy said, "It’s pretty tough, the hardest course I’ve ever seen . . . A lot of things can happen before next week, a lot of grass can be cut and a lot of rain can fall, but Oakmont is pretty tough."

Oakmont 8th HoleAs if the hazards and greens weren’t enough to cause trepidation among the best golfers in the world, one major topic of conversation has been the par 3 8th hole. While the 8th hole has traditionally played at 252 yards, it has now been stretched to a staggering 289 yards at its greatest. Reactions among players has been mixed to say the least, Retief Goosen said, "Sounds to me like it’s a bit silly, but we’ll find out when we get there." Mike Davis, Director of Rules and Competition for the USGA has said the back tee will be rotated with the shorter one playing at 252 yards, he explained the reasoning of the hole by saying, "When we were here in 2003 and we started watching players in the U.S. Amateur routinely hit 2-irons, 4-irons, 5-irons [from 252 yards], a few of us shook our heads and said, this doesn’t need to be done for the Open. We thought this distance would really put, you know, 1-irons, 3-woods, even drivers, back in the players’ hands. If we have a few players who can’t get it there, so be it."

However, Oakmont might not even be hosting the U.S. Open this year, were it not for the efforts of Mark Studer. During the 1960’s Oakmont underwent drastic changes thanks to a major tree planting effort that rewrote Oakmont’s links style character with a decidedly parkland flair. In 1995 Studer presented a plan to Oakmont’s Board which attempted to persuade them to restore the course to the links style layout H.C. Fownes originally intended. The plan was accepted over the next ten years, over 5,000 trees were removed from Oakmont. Oakmont’s plan to recapture its former glory stands in stark contrast to several other famous golf clubs which have continually made changes which take them further and further away from the intents of their founders. Yet, there is little doubt from all the pre-tournament talk this week that the Oakmont plan has produced a remarkable course, one which stays true to its original design intents, and one that will be a fitting challenge to the best golfers in the world.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. taylormadefan

    Jun 13, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Peter, you’re correct, Sam Snead won the PGA at Oakmont, not the U.S. Open, I’ve edited my article to clear that up.

    Thanks!

  2. Peter Coffey

    Jun 13, 2007 at 1:16 am

    I love the test of metal the U S Open is…. I don’t remember Snead winning one…& His is my favorite swing…

  3. Andre van der Post

    Jun 12, 2007 at 10:58 am

    This is a well written, informative piece. Really well done!!!!

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13-time major champion Mickey Wright passes away at the age of 85

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@wilsongolf

LPGA Tour legend and Hall of Famer Mickey Wright passed away on Monday after suffering a heart attack, according to the AP.

Wright won 82 titles on the LPGA Tour including 13-major titles in a career which began in 1955 and ended with her retirement at the age of just 34.

Per the 13-time major champion’s lawyer, Sonia Pawluc who was speaking to AP, Wright had been hospitalised for the last few weeks after suffering a fall.

The sporting legend is the only LPGA Tour professional to hold all majors at the same time, and Ben Hogan once described her swing as the finest in the game.

Speaking on the news of her passing, LPGA Tour commissioner, Michael Whan said

“We are deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Mickey Wright. We lost a legend, but we may also have lost the best swing in golf history today. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.”

Wright’s long list of accomplishments in the game includes the most victories in a single LPGA season (13), four consecutive LPGA money titles (1961-64), 14 successive years with an LPGA victory (1956-69) and a stunning 44 wins from 1961 through 1964.

She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1976.

 

 

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Morning 9: Tiger: Bad week inside ropes, good week outside | Scott, Park end droughts | CBS’ coverage panned (again)

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By Ben Alberstadt
Email me at ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com and find me at @benalberstadt on Instagram and golfwrxEIC on Twitter.
February 17, 2020
Good Monday morning, golf fans.

 

1. Scott gets first Tour win since 2016
Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner with a succinct breakdown…“Scott started the day in part of a three-way share of the lead, and he suffered an early stumble with a double bogey on the fifth hole. But the notoriously wobbly putter steadied his nerve down the stretch, burying birdie putts on Nos. 13 and 17 that proved to be the difference. Scott earned an unofficial victory at Riviera in 2005 when he won a 36-hole, rain-slogged event, but now he has an official title as part of his Riv credentials. It’s back-to-back worldwide wins for Scott across two calendar years, as the veteran closed out 2019 with a victory at the Australian PGA Championship. But after a number of recent near-misses, the Aussie now has his first PGA Tour win since March 2016, when he went back-to-back at Honda and Doral.”
2. …and Down Under, another title drought endeth
AP report…”Seven-time major champion Inbee Park saw a seven shot lead shrink to two shots Sunday before winning the Women’s Australian Open by three strokes to clinch her first LPGA title in almost two years.”
  • “Park started her final round three shots in front of 19-year old South Korean compatriot Ayeon Cho. She bogeyed the ninth hole but still turned five shots ahead of the field and went out to a seven shot lead early on the back nine at the Royal Adelaide Golf Club.”
3. …and on the Korn Ferry Tour
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Andrew Novak birdied each of his final two holes to earn his first career Korn Ferry Tour victory at the LECOM Suncoast Classic.”
  • “Novak, 24, started the final round in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., one shot off the lead, and he was part of a crowded leaderboard as the tournament entered the closing stretch. But thanks in large part to birdies on Nos. 17 and 18, two of the seven hardest holes at Lakewood National GC, he closed with a 6-under 66. That left him at 23 under, one shot ahead of John Chin and two shots clear of Taylor Montgomery, both of whom closed with rounds of 64.”
4. Not the weekend he wanted
PGATour.com’s Ben Everill…”It was another week to lament at the famed course where Woods started his PGA TOUR career as a 16-year-old. He faded on the back nine of his rounds on Thursday and Friday and then shot 76-77 on the weekend to be 11 over par, some 22 shots behind winner Adam Scott.”
  • “Woods was full of praise for the event he and his foundation put on in its new elevated status, but could only try some self-deprecating humor when asked of his personal on course efforts.”
  • “I did not do much well today. Good news, I hit every ball forward, not backwards, a couple sideways. But overall, I’m done,” he said. “I’ve been in this position many times unfortunately. Just keep fighting hole by hole, shot by shot and try to make some birdies, which I did not do.
ESPN’s Bob Harig on what he saw…“Woods was still not moving great. While he looked good at times, his overall game was a shell of what he produced three weeks ago at Torrey Pines, let alone in December at the Presidents Cup or October at the Zozo Championship.”
  • “This was simply a day to endure, not make matters worse — and then hand the tournament trophy to winner Adam Scott, who finished 22 strokes ahead of the tournament host.”
  • “And it was yet another reminder: Woods is 44 years old, has a fused spine, had three previous back surgeries prior to that, and counts himself lucky to be playing the game at all, let alone a high level.”
Full piece. 
5. Chubb champ: Scott Parel
Greg Hardwig of the Naples Daily News…”Scott Parel lost two opportunities at victories last year in playoffs. He wasn’t going to take that chance Sunday in the Chubb Classic.”
“Parel, 54, birdied six of the first 12 holes to come back from five shots off the lead and went on to win at The Classics Country Club at Lely Resort for his third PGA Tour Champions victory. Parel tied the tournament record at 17-under 196 on the par-71 course, and won $240,000 out of the $1.6 million purse.”
6. Rave review for CBS’ golf coverage…
Joel Beall with a (incomplete) tally of some of the (many) errors…
  • “An incorrect score board from the LPGA’s Women’s Australian Open, caught by No Laying Up. The tournament ended Saturday night.”
  • “A singular Korn Ferry Tour highlight, featuring a putt from Peter Uihlein. Although Uihlein entered the day with the lead, he finished T-20 at the Suncoast Classic, which had already been decided when the event update was televised.”
  • “Delayed footage of Harold Varner III topping his tee shot at the iconic 10th hole. Varner was tied at the time of the miscue, which was noted by CBS Sports analyst Ian Baker-Finch. Varner’s top was eventually shown in a highlight package some 90 minutes after it occurred.”
  • “The relative broadcast absences of Max Homa, one of the more popular PGA Tour players on social media, and Joel Dahmen. As the Twitter handle Deep Fried Egg pointed out, at one juncture Homa, then a stroke back of the lead, had only a single shot televised while Rickie Fowler-who was not in the field-had two highlights during the program.”
7. Rory talks Brooks & more
Adam Woodard at Golfweek draws on more of Rory McIlroy’s conversation with journalist Paul Kimmage…a few morsels…
  • “So, I go out in the final round and my midset was . . . It’s another round of golf . . . a great opportunity . . . I’m going to try to play well. And I was beaten on the day,” McIlroy remembered. “Obviously, Brooks played great and shot 65 but I think, more than anything, I was beaten by his intensity and his desire. I was too relaxed.”
  • “Later on in the season, McIlroy learned of a text Koepka sent to his friends before the final round in Memphis: “I’m going to crush him.”
  • “Yeah, and f*** he sort of did,” said McIlroy. “Well, Brooks and I have always got on great – we do get on great – but he was obviously taking that mindset, ‘It’s me and him’. And I guess it was a good thing that he thinks highly of me, or not highly of me, if he was saying he was going to crush me.”
8. Unplanned break ahead
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols…”When Muni He triumphed at LPGA Q-Series last November, she seized control of something every professional golfer holds dear: her schedule…”
  • “He, 20, decided early on that she’d skip the first three LPGA tournaments that she was eligible for and start 2020 on a three-week stretch in Asia, playing off of sponsor exemptions in limited-field events in Thailand and Singapore and the Blue Bay LPGA in her native China.”
  • “No one could’ve predicted that her first three starts would be canceled due to threats from the coronavirus. That control He worked so hard for went up in a puff of smoke. She’ll now make her first start of 2020 in late March at the LPGA event in Phoenix.”
9. Genesis a big success for Tiger…outside the ropes
Golf Digest’s Daniel Rapaport rightly points out…”It was not his week on the course, obviously. But Woods’ time here was about more than how he fared inside the ropes. He has hosted this event for the last three years in conjunction with his TGR Live venture, but this was the first year the tournament formerly known as the L.A. Open was no longer an open. It’s an Invitational now, which means a reduced field size to 120, an increased purse and an elevated status.
  • “And the first year was, by any measure, a marked success-four cloudless days, a challenging Riviera that flashed its teeth all week and a bunched leader board that didn’t sort itself until late Sunday afternoon, when Adam Scott prevailed for a two-shot victory.”
  • “From a tournament perspective, it couldn’t have gone any better,” Woods said. “We’ve had perfect weather, people have come out and supported this event. Our elevation, being a part of the new invitational status, look at the players that come out and supported this event that have played this week, we couldn’t have asked for a more dream scenario. The golf course was fantastic. Everything couldn’t have been any better from that side.”

 

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Tour Rundown: Scott’s grit and guile, Queen Bee, Wofford’s pride

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The PGA Tour’s Cali Swing came to a close for 2020, while the Champions Tour returned to the continental USA after a stint in Morocco. The ladies of the LPGA stood tall in Australia, just as the Korn Ferry tour also docked in the lower 48, after time spent in South America. As the world of golf considers the pros and cons of a world tour, it’s easy to look around and see how such a grand plan might come to pass. As the globe continues to orbit, we take our turn in running down this week’s results.

PGA Tour: Scott claims 14th tour title with grit and guile

Say what you must about the back nine at the Augusta National, but I will stand the inward half at Riviera as the ultimate gut-check site in golf. For starters, we saw Tiger Woods go out in 4-under par on Thursday, stoking the embers of bonfires of hope everywhere. El tigre played the inward half in 36-38-41-39, so we know which high-school crush still makes him nervous! Wasn’t much different for the rest of the field; play the inward half well and you stand a chance. How about Adam Scott? After an inexplicable 37 on Thursday, he back-nined Riviera for 31-33-35. For those (like me) not counting, that’s the essential difference between what Tiger tallied, and what the tournament victor posted. Scott had his hands full, as players like Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy, and late to the party: Sung Kang and Scott Brown. Both Kang and Brown closed fast, reaching -9, joining Kuchar in a tie for 2nd. They call Riviera Hogan’s Alley, for the playing record of the wee ice mon over its 18 holes. It begs the question, which Riviera was Hogan playing, that he could get that good, that repeatedly, over these beguiling, 18 holes?

LPGA: Queen Bee secures 20th title in Royal fashion. Could gold be next?

Inbee Park has been many things over the years: Major champion (she won her first LPGA event at the 2008 US Open); Olympic Gold Medalist (yup, that was her in Rio, wearing the bling); and now, comeback kid. Park was injured in 2017, and despite a victory in 2018, has yet to capture the stature that thrust her to #1 in the world, and 18 tour victories. Watch out, world; she might be back. Park stood sooo tall after three rounds; 67-69-68 had her at  15-under par over the glorious, Royal Adelaide course in Seaton. Only Ayean Cho managed to find similar altitude, with 3 rounds of 69 for -12. Would Cho solve the mystery of the final round, the one that eluded her last week, when she gave back a lead over the final 9 holes? In a word, no. She closed with 77 and dropped to -8 and a tie for 6th place. All part of the learning curve, as they say. With her playing partner stalled, Park played things close to the safety vest. She finished with a +1 74 on Sunday, good for a 3-putts margin of victory over new runner-up Amy Olson of the USA. If Inbee is rounding into form now, she’ll be a certain threat to claim a second gold medal this summer, in Japan.

Korn Ferry: Wofford’s pride birdies final two holes for 1st victory

You know you’re small when … your small town isn’t the bigger of the two small towns in an arguably-metro region. Spartanburg ain’t no Greenville, says no one in those parts, but it’s true. And Wofford College is a charming, southern institution of higher learning, located in the middle of Spartanburg. And Andrew Novak found a golf and learning home at Wofford. And now, he has a title and Wofford again has a pro tour winner. Again? You mean another Boston Terrier has won on tour? Uh-huh, one William McGirt, at the 2016 Memorial Tournament. According to my researchers, that’s all. The dynamic duo of McGirt and Novak.

Right, back to Andrew Novak. He and 5 other golfers reached 20-below par at the Lakewood National (not to be confused with other, national golf clubs) near Sarasota. Greyson Sigg, Chandler Blanchott, and David Kocher ran out of gas there, and tied for 4th. Taylor Montgomery actually reached -22, before a bogey at the last dropped him to -21 and solo 3rd place. John Chin had 5 birdies throught 7 back-nine holes, but failed to summon a 6th, and ended his run at -22. And Novak? He birdied 17 and 18, to jump from 3rd to 1st in the blink of an eye. Novak moved all the way from 26th to 3rd on The 25 chase for PGA Tour cards. He’ll certainly earn his for 2020-2021, but might he manage 2 more victories, for a battlefield promotion? Keep closing and the answer will be uh-huh. #GoTerriers

Tour Champions: The ultimate grinder peppermills his third Senior victory

Bernhard Langer, Stephen Leaney, and Chris DiMarco went out on Sunday and shot wonderful rounds … for the conclusion of a US Open. Hovering near par, on any day, would not bring baubles at the Chubb Classic. Bob Estes went out and posted 64, his best round of the week by 3, to reach 15-under par. He blazed past the aforementioned trinity, but could not reach the brass ring. That plum went to Scott Parel, probably the only Georgia Bulldog who never was … a Georgia Bulldog. Parel posted 63 on Sunday, eclipsing Estes’ 198 by 2 shots. The victory was Parel’s 3rd on the late-stage circuit, and was his first since October of 2018. Parel graduated from the large, state school in Athens, but never competed for the varsity squad. He made his living as a computer programmer, but never gave up his dream of playing professional golf. As a size 50+, he is now living that dream. Langer salvaged a tie for 3rd (with Kevin Sutherland) at -13. Ironically, Parel has been in two Champions playoffs in his career, and has lost both of them … to Kevin Sutherland. Good thing for him that the California native could “only” close with 67

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