At Oakmont, bogey golf could lead the way
Most of the trees were clandestinely removed over a period of years to fend off a faction of tree-hugging members. Trees are sacred at many clubs and the removal of even one can set off a firestorm of controversy, let alone chopping down thousands. The result was a return to Oakmont's roots.
The contestants will find that even without a canopy of trees, Oakmont is just as brutish as it's ever been, perhaps even more so. And under the stern guidance of the USGA, the course setup will make this Open one of the most difficult ever.
Fairways average 28 yards in width and some are only 22 yards wide. But the effective width on some holes is much less because the fairways are canted and tilt toward the rough on one side or the other. The rough will be 3½-4 inches in the first cut and 6-8 inches in the primary cut. That means from the first cut, players might be able to advance the ball toward the green, but have little chance of holding the green once the ball hits the putting surface. From the primary cut, players will either be chopping out sideways or trying to get the ball in play, short of the green.
Because of such conditions, Woods has said that he will use his driver little from the tee and will instead hit his patented "stinger" 3-wood, a shot that flies low and straight to keep the ball in play.
There is no breather at Oakmont and even the short holes are treacherous. Beginning the round, players will face the 482-yard first hole, a demanding start. Even the 340-yard second is treacherous, as the green slopes severely from back to front. Players will be better off short of the green chipping up the slope rather than face a downhill putt that might not stay on the green.
At the 428-yard third (), the famed Church Pews -- a large bunker with strips of grass that line up like church pews -- wait to catch a tee shot left of the fairway. The same bunker is in play at the 609-yard fourth () and should a player find the Church Pews at either hole, he will be quite happy with a bogey.
The seventh is a 479-yard par four (that is a test for anyone, but serves as a mere warm-up to the 288-yard par-three -- yes, par-three -- eighth hole (), which can stretch to 300 yards with a back hole location. Some of the short hitters might not reach the green with a driver. The 477-yard ninth () plays as a par-five for members, but is a par-four for the Open. The hole is narrow and well-bunkered and there is a reason it's usually a par-five -- five is a good score.
Coming home, the 500-yard par-four 15th has its own set of Church Pews on the left, as if the sheer distance weren't enough. The 16th is a 231-yard par three and while the 313-yard 17th () is a drivable par-four, par is still acceptable as the short hole is fraught with disaster all around.
The 484-yard 18th () is one of the best finishing holes in tournament golf. Because of strategically placed bunkers left and right and the tilt of the fairway moving to the right, the final hole is one of the most difficult driving holes on the course. If you need a par on Sunday afternoon, it will be particularly hard to come by.
In fact, par will be difficult to come by on just about every hole every day. Depending on the weather, some have said the winning score might be as high as 10 over par. Which not only makes par a good score, but in many cases, makes bogey a darn good one, as well.
Mike Purkey has been covering professional golf for more than 20 years for a variety of publications, including GOLF Magazine. He is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is a frequent contributor to NBCSports.com.
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