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The U.S. Open's Oakmont: Average golfers stand a fighting chance

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Oakmont - 2007 US Open host
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Oakmont opened its doors to select media on the Monday after the U.S. Open. (Brandon Tucker/GolfPublisher.com)

Tiger Woods famously quipped that a 10-handicapper didn't stand a chance at breaking 100 at Oakmont Country Club, site of this year's U.S. Open. WorldGolf.com's resident 10-handicapper, playing the golf course a day after championship Sunday, took that as a personal challenge.

OAKMONT, Pa. - "A 10-handicap doesn't break 100 on Oakmont," Tiger Woods said during the U.S. Open, trying to justify why he and other PGA Tour pro golfers spent the week in the rough and making mistakes reserved for a Sunday hacker.

Well, I'm about a 10-handicap and I took offense, so much in fact that I finagled my way onto the Oakmont course the day after the tournament.

So after hearing numerous pros complain about how unfair Oakmont is, I'm here to tell you it's all overblown - and I only got one shot at this course (with no warm-up). Guys like Tiger and Phil Mickelson can come out just about whenever they please. Ernie Els is a member. They know the course inside and out. There is no excuse.

But the rest of us get one shot, and, on a course like this, it makes a huge difference. Never play a member for a nickel here if it's your first time. It's hard to identify landing zones on a lot of tee shots or good places to leave a second shot on a par-5.

Then there are the greens, said to make Augusta look "ordinary." Few spots are flat enough for a fair pin location, and few places yield any backspin.

This is a golf course you need to play at least a dozen times - with local knowledge in your group - to really know what's going on.

A caddie can help a little. On the second hole, I was looking at putt of about 40 feet. I thought it might break 5-6 feet left-to-right. Wrong. He had me turn 90-degrees left and hit it about 10 feet to the top of the mound. About 20 seconds later it was about two feet below the hole.

The approach on the famous third hole is completely blind, except for a TV tower that is your line. The tabletop green holds nothing, but miss it short and it slopes down the hill. Someone in our foursome managed to put an approach to six feet. We're not sure how it happened.

Oakmont is also different to the 10-handicapper because some holes most feared by the pros for being very difficult pars, are actually relatively easy bogies. We don't mind a bogey. It's the doubles and triples that hurt our scorecard.

This was the case on the par-4 10th hole - labeled by Dave Pelz as the most difficult par-4 in American golf because the green slopes front to back and holds nothing. That's true: It doesn't. But, for the average player, it's a downhill par-4 where you think to yourself, "Great, I can club down on my approach." The landing zone is also a little wider and is more bowl-shaped than most other 22-25-yard landing zones. No matter which iron you hit in the fairway, your approach breezes through the green and ends up in the back rough, you chip to about 12 feet and have a go at par. That's what happened to me, I missed the putt and walked off with a bogey - and I was happy.

The par-4 11th back up the hill is opposite. Pros think "birdie" here. But there is enough trouble and tricks; an average player will feel very uncomfortable from tee to green. The best score in my foursome was a triple.

The greens are firmer than any links course in Scotland or course in Ireland I've played. I watched a 90-yard sand-wedge shot hit the green on the 15th and roll about 40 feet off of it and down a hill into the rough. The green was a trampoline.

One disappointment in the round (other than the tiny $5 hotdogs at the halfway house) was that lightning in the area chased us off the course after the 16th hole (which I parred by the way). That didn't stop us from ripping a drive off the 18th tee since we were walking back that way anyways. And, like Tiger's drive on Sunday, I hit a beauty down the middle, but a few kicks right put it on the intermediate cut of rough.

U.S. Open venue Oakmont: The verdict for the rest of us

Tiger was right when he talked about not a single hole being easy or even moderate. You can't take a shot off here. There are no lucky bounces.

Even our caddie, who can play Oakmont every Monday, stopped taking advantage of free golf on one of the most storied but infamous courses in the United States.

"It just isn't fun anymore," he grimaced.

So would I have broken 100? Well, I was 18-over after 16 with two triple bogeys and four pars. But, if a 10-handicap played a week of practice rounds before keeping score, I'd say he's more worried about breaking 90. It's tough, yes. But it's just a golf course. Don't let the hype psych you out. Keep it in your head that you're there to beat the course, not the other way around. Make good swings and find the fairway and you have a chance. That was my attitude in the back nine, and I played much better.

And, I must say, the course I played the next day had the biggest fairways and softest, flattest greens I've ever seen.

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Oakmont's "Church Pews"
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Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • average 10

    marc r wrote on: Jun 27, 2007

    It is way harder thn he said. He played it from the member tees which is about 1000 yards shorter than the tips. I have played it so I know. Also, they cut the rough befoe the "crybabies" got there. the usga was afraid the pros would not finish. they also watered the greens!

    Reply

  • 10 Handicaper at Oakmount

    J.O'Malley wrote on: Jun 26, 2007

    So what did you end up shooting?? That the question. What the answer?
    John

    Reply

  • Oakmont...anyone?

    CB Maxwell wrote on: Jun 26, 2007

    Okay then...18 over with 17 and 18 to go...to more bogeys and you get your ninety. Excellent! However, take the caddie out of your round...and 100 here we come!

    Reply

      • RE: Oakmont...anyone?

        Johnny Hall wrote on: Jun 26, 2007

        The only question I really have is "did you play the same length course the pro's played"?????? If so, great round! If not, apples and oranges!

        Reply


 
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