The road to the U.S. Open, Part One - Oakmont Country Club

Posted April 19, 2016 - By Mike Dudurich,
Freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM
Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich

Spectators cross the bridge at Oakmont Country Club during the 1962 U.S. Open

The WPGA has retained Mike Dudurich to write a blog for its website. The opinions and observations contained within are his own and do not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of the Association.

When the U.S. Open is held at Oakmont Country June 13-19, it will be the ninth time in the 116-year history of the nation's championship the historic club will be the host. No other venue has hosted that many Opens and there's a very good reason for that. While there are many other great clubs and courses in the rotation none provide the complete examination the USGA strives for each year.

Through the years, it's been shown that every part of a player's game has to be spot-on if he expects to win at Oakmont. With its rolling fairways that can produce a bounce into one of the many treacherous fairway bunkers, it's gnarly, thick rough and the most severe set of greens in championship golf, OCC is not for the faint-hearted. Having said that, there have been some of the best moments in major championship golf history on this course that opened in 1903.

The most significant came in 1973 when young, brash Johnny Miller made U.S. Open history by blistering OCC with a 63 in the final round to race up the leaderboard and grabbed the title from a shocked group of players like Tom Weiskopf, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Lanny Wadkins. Miller birdied the first four holes and had a bogey and birdie to post 32 on the front nine. Starting at the 11th hole, he birdied four of the next five, had no bogeys on the back for a 31 and a 63.

The golf world will never forget the 1962 Open, when the young, cocky, chubby guy from Columbus, Ohio came to Oakmont to take on the hometown boy, Arnold Palmer, and his Army. Palmer had a chance to win the tournament on the 72nd hole, but missed a 12-foot birdie putt, forcing an 18-hole playoff with Nicklaus. Palmer's putting, which failed him throughout the tournament with 11 three-putts, kept him from getting his second U.S. Open title. The win jump-started Nicklaus' historic run in the majors.

In 1953, Ben Hogan won his record-tying fourth U.S. Open (1948, 1950, 1951, 1953). His last three triumphs were remarkable considering he and his wife were nearly killed in an automobile accident in 1949. The last one at Oakmont was a wire-to-wire effort for The Hawk, who is known as one of the great ball-strikers in the history of the game.

Johnny Miller with the U.S. Open Trophy in 1973

Part of Oakmont's greatness comes from the fact that a local golfer was able to experience his greatest moment on the club's famed layout. In 1935, Sam Parks Jr., a 25-year-old relative unknown, stopped off at Oakmont every day for a month leading up to the Open. He was the golf professional at South Hills Country Club and played nine holes a day at Oakmont in an effort to gain a home field advantage when players like Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Henry Picard and Byron Nelson got in town for the Open. And when weather conditions turned more and more nasty as the tournament evolved, so did OCC. Parks shot a 76 in the finals round to finish at 11-over par 299, two shots better than Jimmy Thomson and three better than Hagen. The victory was Parks' only major title.

Another part of Oakmont's U.S. Open history is weather, which has played a factor just about every time the USGA signs have gone up there. One of those was the 1983 Open when a tense battle between Larry Nelson, Tom Watson and, for a while, the late Seve Ballesteros. A late Sunday afternoon storm rolled through Oakmont, necessitating a Monday finish and what a finish it was. Watson was on the 14th green, Nelson on the 16th tee, tied at four-under par when play resumed early Monday. Nelson drained a somewhat miraculous 62-foot putt on 16 to take the lead, but then three-putted 18 for a bogey. He waited as Watson couldn't get up and down from a bunker on 17 and made bogey. That meant Watson needed to birdie on 18 to force a tie but his approach shot flew the green. That was his Nelson's first U.S. Open title and the second of his three majors.

The 1983 Open was also memorable because Oakmont head golf professional, Bob Ford, made the cut, becoming the first club pro to make the cut in the Open since Claude Harmon in 1959 at Winged Foot. That accomplishment has not been matched since.

The 1994 U.S. Open goes into the record books with Ernie Els winning in a playoff over Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts. It also will go down as one of the hottest Opens ever as sweltering heat enveloped western Pennsylvania that entire week. But it may well be most remembered as Arnold Palmer's final appearance in an Open. The Latrobe native made the walk up 18 on Friday afternoon to thunderous applause of appreciation from a hometown crowd. Palmer was overcome with emotion as he tried to spend time with the media and left the tent sobbing.

The U.S. Open came to Oakmont for the first time in 1927 and the competitors were greeted by the club's then-famous furrowed bunkers and, for the most part, the bunkers won. Scotsman Tommy Armour defeated Harry "Lighthorse" Cooper in an 18-hole playoff to win the first of his three majors. Armour's final-round 76 included a birdie on the 18th that forced a playoff with Cooper, who shot 77. That pair didn't break par in any round of the championship.

Armour finished with a score of 301, the highest total since 1919 and was the last time the winner posted that a total that started with a 3. Al Espinosa was the only player to break 70 in the championship, shooting 69 in the final round.

The first U.S. Open at Oakmont and the most recent one had one thing in common: the old girl was a very difficult test. In 2007, only eight players posted rounds under par. Champion Angel Cabrera was won of those, breaking par twice. He finished five over par, one shot better than Jim Furyk, who bogeyed the short par four 17th and Tiger Woods. Both needed to make birdie at 18 to force a playoff but neither did. Cabrera won his first major, but he also changed the course of the championship when he birdied the 477-yard ninth hole (his 18th) after hitting a sand wedge to two feet to take a one-shot lead halfway through. Not only was using sand wedge for his approach shot on the long hole, but that birdie moved the cut line from plus-11 to plus-10, eliminating 19 players, including Phil Mickelson, whose 30 straight cuts in majors streak came to an end.

In less than two months another field of 156 players will tee it up in Thursday morning's first round.

Will there be any history made this year? History says we're in for something special at Oakmont once again.